Re-Thinking the Pragmatic Theory of Meaning: Repensando a Teoria Pragmática do Significado

Cognitio 10 (1):61-79 (2009)
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A close reading of Peirce’s pragmatic maxim shows a correlation between meaning and purpose. If the meaning of a concept, proposition or hypothesis is clarified by formulating its practical effects, those also can be articulated as practical maxims. To the extent that the hypotheses or propositions upon which they are based are true, practical maxims recommend reliable courses of action. This can be translated into a broader claim of an integral relation between semiosis and goal-directed or teleological systems. Any goal-directed system, to be propagating, must be capable of coordinating the information in its internal or endergonic processes with exergonic information found in its environment. Signs are critical links between these two sources of information and must also serve as steering mechanisms for that system as well. If signs detected or represented information in the environments without using that information to steer the system, it would have no practical effect on the system; conversely, if a system could steer itself, but had no representation of exergonic information, it would fail to be propagating. Obviously, to get food, it must not only find it, but must also use that information to direct its behavior in a manner that makes use of that food. Using concepts found in complex systems and modern information theory, it is argued that this analysis requires a distinction between information and meaning. The result of this investigation is the claim that meaning can be understood as the propagating work of information. The remainder of the paper follows some of the ramification of this analysis for Peirce’s semiotic theory.
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