AbstractThe paper rethinks a proposal for a unified cognitive semiotic framework, The Semiotic Hierarchy, in explicitly phenomenological terms, following above all the work of Merleau-Ponty. The main changes to the earlier formulation of the theory are the following. First, the claim that a general concept of meaning can be understood as the value-based relationship between the subject and the world is shown to correspond to the most fundamental concept of phenomenology: intentionality, understood as “openness to the world.” Second, the rather strict nature of the original hierarchy of meaning levels made the model rather static and one-directional, thus resembling an old-fashioned scala naturae. Reformulating the relationship between the levels in terms of the dynamical notion of Fundierung avoids this pitfall. Third, the phenomenological analysis allows, somewhat paradoxically, both a greater number of levels (life, subjectivity, intersubjectivity, sign function, language) and less discrete borders between these. Fourth, there is an intimate relation between (levels and kinds of) intentionality and normativity, making the normativity of language a special case. Fifth, to each level of meaning corresponds a dialectics of spontaneity and sedimentation, with corresponding normative structures (e.g., habits, emotions, conventions, signs and grammar) both emerging from and constraining, but not determining, subject-world interactions. Sixth and finally, the analysis follows the basic phenomenological principle to examine the phenomena without theoretical preconceptions, and without premature explanations. This implies a focus on human experience, even when dealing with the “biological” level of meaning, with the possibility of extending the analysis to non-human subjects through empathy. The intention is that this phenomenologically interpreted version of the Semiotic Hierarchy may serve as a useful tool against any kind of meaning reductionism, whether biological, mental, social or linguistic.
Cognitive Semiotics – de Gruyter
Published: May 30, 2018
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