Peircean Semiotic Indeterminacy and Its Relevance for Biosemiotics

In Vinicius Romanini (ed.), Peirce and Biosemiotics (2014)
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This chapter presents a detailed explanation of Peirce’s early and late views on semiotic indeterminacy and then considers how those views might be applied within biosemiotics. Peirce distinguished two different forms of semiotic indeterminacy: generality and vagueness. He defined each in terms of the “right” that indeterminate signs extend, either to their interpreters in the case of generality or to their utterers in the case of vagueness, to further determine their meaning. On Peirce’s view, no sign is absolutely determinate, i.e., every sign is indeterminate to at least some degree and so exhibits some degree of generality or vagueness. If Peirce was right about this, then no instance of biosemiosis is completely determinate—every biosign must be general or vague to some degree. I show that on Peirce’s view, whether a sign is general or vague depends on its immediate object, “the idea which the sign is built upon,” and I explain how Peirce would go about identifying the immediate object of a sign lacking both a minded utterer and a minded interpreter—an identification that must be possible if any biosign is indeterminate.



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Robert Lane
University of West Georgia