Biosemiotics 5 (3):301-312 (2012)

In his well-known essay, ‘What Is a Sign?’ (CP 2.281, 285) Peirce uses ‘likeness’ and ‘resemblance’ interchangeably in his definition of icon. The synonymity of the two words has rarely, if ever, been questioned. Curiously, a locus classicus of the pair, at least in F. M. Cornford’s English translation, can be found in a late dialogue of Plato, namely, the Sophist. In this dialogue on the myth and truth of the sophists’ profession, the mysterious ‘stranger’, who is most likely Socrates’ persona, makes the famous distinction between eikon (likeness) and phantasma (semblance) (236a,b). For all his broad knowledge in ancient philosophy, Peirce never mentioned this parallel; nor has any Peircean scholar identified it. There seems to be little problem with eikon as likeness, but phantasma may give rise to a puzzle which this paper will attempt to solve. Plato uses two pairs of words: what eikon is to phantasma is eikastikén (the making of likeness [235d]) to phantastikén (semblance making [236c]). In other words, icons come into being because of the act of icon-making, which is none other than indexicality. Witness what Peirce says about the relationship between photographs and the objects they represent: “But this resemblance is due to the photographs having been produced under such circumstances that they were physically forced to correspond point by point to nature.” (Ibid.) Thus the iconicity which links the representamen (sign) and its object is made possible not only by an interpretant, but also by idexisation. Their possible etymological and epistemological links aside, the Peircean example of photographing and the Platonic discussion of painting and sculpturing in the Sophist, clearly show the physio-pragmatic aspect of iconicity. The paper will therefore reread the Peircean iconicity by closely analysing this relatively obscure Platonic text, and by so doing restore to the text its hidden semiotic dimension
Keywords Peirce  Plato  Likeness  (Re)semblance  Sign  Iconicity  Indexicality
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DOI 10.1007/s12304-011-9134-0
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Theaetetus. Plato - 1890 - Clarendon Press.
Foundations of Cognitive Grammar.Ronald W. Langacker - 1983 - Indiana University Linguistics Club.
Sophist. Plato - 1993 - Hackett Publishing Company.

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