Consciousness and the Philosophy of Signs: How Peircean Semiotics Combines Phenomenal Qualia and Practical Effects

Cham: Springer (2018)


It is often thought that consciousness has a qualitative dimension that cannot be tracked by science. Recently, however, some philosophers have argued that this worry stems not from an elusive feature of the mind, but from the special nature of the concepts used to describe conscious states. Marc Champagne draws on the neglected branch of philosophy of signs or semiotics to develop a new take on this strategy. The term “semiotics” was introduced by John Locke in the modern period – its etymology is ancient Greek, and its theoretical underpinnings are medieval. Charles Sanders Peirce made major advances in semiotics, so he can act as a pipeline for these forgotten ideas. Most philosophers know Peirce as the founder of American pragmatism, but few know that he also coined the term “qualia,” which is meant to capture the intrinsic feel of an experience. Since pragmatic verification and qualia are now seen as conflicting commitments, Champagne endeavors to understand how Peirce could (or thought he could) have it both ways. The key, he suggests, is to understand how humans can insert distinctions between features that are always bound. Recent attempts to take qualities seriously have resulted in versions of panpsychism, but Champagne outlines a more plausible way to achieve this. So, while semiotics has until now been the least known branch of philosophy ending in –ics, his book shows how a better understanding of that branch can move one of the liveliest debates in philosophy forward.

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Author's Profile

Marc Champagne
Kwantlen Polytechnic University



Six chapters ago, I argued that philosophical worries about the qualitative dimension of consciousness should not be taken so seriously that they trigger a scientific search for qualia, but neither should those worries be belittled or dismissed. Throughout the book, I drew on the ideas of C. S. Peir... see more

Informational Flow Implies Informational Pause

In the previous chapter, I tried to keep ordinary colour perception from being philosophically dismissed. In this chapter, I want to argue that countenancing such qualities at a fundamental level is more promising than waiting for those qualities to emerge at higher levels of complexity. Although co... see more

Seeing Things as They Are

In the previous chapter, I added similarity-based signs or icons to the standard menu of referential options. In this chapter, I want to explore the ramifications of this addition for perception. Peirce saw good reason to push his prescissive analysis of iconicity down to a single quality. I thus co... see more

Enlarging the Menu of Referential Options to Include Icons

In the previous chapter, I looked at why phenomenal-consciousness must, by definition, repel all experimental testing. In this chapter, I want to explore an important consequence of this, namely “the meaning objection.” This objection asks how a qualitative experience with no detectable effects coul... see more

Using Prescission and the Type/Token/Tone Distinction

In the previous chapter, I argued that Peirce was on the right track when he approached the mind from a semiotic perspective. Having offered a primer on semiotics, I now want to use some of those helpful resources. Ned Block distinguishes access-consciousness and phenomenal-consciousness. Convinced ... see more

Calling on the Helpful Resources of Semiotic Inquiry

The name “semiotics” comes from John Locke, but the branch of philosophy that this name picks out remains mostly unknown in the mainstream literature on consciousness. This chapter will thus offer a primer on semiotics, both as an abstract inquiry and as an organized pursuit. The starting assumption... see more


In this introductory chapter, I preview how philosophy of signs can advance current debates about consciousness. Many philosophers have urged us to distinguish between what an experience does and what an experience feels like. This distinction seems sensible enough, but it renders scientific inquiry... see more

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