The Semiotic Triangle

Several times already, we have come across problems whose resolution requires a set of semiotic tools. [To develop such an organon,] we would like to begin with Charles Sanders Peirce’s pragmatist semiotics. In the trivalent relation of the semiotic triangle he developed, object and means of signification are differentiated by an interpretant. Meaning—and this is congruent with our reflections on part-to-whole relations—always comes about in a holistic context. It emerges in a whole that is formed by a triad of elements. Part-to-whole relations require a triadic relation; they cannot exist in semiotic dyads.

Pierce’s theory of the sign is to assist us in giving an account of an experimental trait at the basis of lingual attributions of meaning. Just like Peirce himself did, we seek to guard ourselves against a practice-determined abbreviation of his semiotic pragmatism: signs are not merely determined by their everyday use. They are used daily, to be sure, but they were developed for the purpose of knowing reality. The production of signs is therefore not just determined by practice but also by poiesis. A semiotically-informed poetics is interested in the use of language as a site of knowledge. 

Pierce’s semiotic triad outlines a field on which it is possible to capture processes of interpretation that go far beyond language. . . .

But first we have to show to why a poetics interested in the ontogenesis of sense must in principle also consider semiotic aspects. Does a semiotic approach reach so far that it can take in our questions about the specifically poietic dimensions of language and thought as well?

Just as the field outlined by Peirce is a broad one, so the interpretations of the semiotic triangle vary widely (in terms of philosophy or of a logic of representation), a variety that finds its expression in different ways of labeling the semiotic triangle. Many interpretations even contradict one another. Yet the different versions of labeling in different discourses allow us to read off, as it were, their insights into the way the triangle functions. Our goal, however, is precisely not to transform the different readings into a more “adequate” one but to make them fruitful for a lingual ontology that can only be articulated with the help of semiotic reflections.

Excerpt from: Armen Avanessian and Anke Hennig: Metanoia or: How Reading Changes our World. A Philosophical Consideration of Linguistic Consciousness (Manuscript). PDF