Some Challenges to the Evolutionary Status of Semiosis

Biosemiotics 12 (3):405-421 (2019)
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Abstract

The prevalent idea that semiosis is evolutionary is a driving point for biosemiotic research, starting from the Peircean premises of continuity and including a large number of views on how signs evolve. In this paper I wish to add a small pinch of skepticism to an otherwise productive point of view. Briefly, the question to be asked is: Is there any proper and fair connection between the logical abstraction of signs, genetic expressions interpreted as signs and the animal usage of signs? And how do we go about answering this? Instead of attempting a negative account of the possibility of an evolutionary view of biosemiosis, I will attempt to make an argument in favor of skepticism as a way to make a more fine-grained distinction across the areas where biosemiotic thinking seems to have some impact. The aim is then to find philosophical strategies to overcome this skepticism when possible, while also raising some awareness about the possible limits of current biosemiotics regarding the ideal evolutionary chain of signs. Ultimately, the idea is reexamining some core assumptions of the biosemiotic point of view at its most general, accounting for some possible ways in which theory may move forward. The potential incompatibility of theoretical standpoints between some of the different approaches that may be taken is, it will be argued, a desirable outcome for biosemiotic research. That is, the way we deal with the possible theories on the evolutionary continuity of signs will also affect our different research programs, and having a nuanced philosophical discussion on it can only contribute to the expansion and clarification of where different positions within biosemiotics currently stand.

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