Representations of imaginary, nonexistent, or nonfigurative objects

Cognitio 7 (2):277-291 (2006)
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According to the logical positivists, signs (words and pictures) of imaginary beings have no referent (Goodman). The semiotic theory behind this assumption is dualistic and Cartesian: signs vs. nonsigns as well as the mental vs. the material world are in fundamental opposition. Peirce’s semiotics is based on the premise of the sign as a mediator between such opposites: signs do not refer to referents, they represent objects to a mind, but the object of a sign can be existent or nonexistent, a feeling or an idea, something merely imaginary or even something false. The paper examines the nature of imaginary, nonexistent, and nonfigurative objects, such as unicorns, phoenixes, or nonrepresentative paintings, and shows why verbal or visual representations of imaginary beings and even nonfigurative paintings, which seem to represent nothing, are fully developed signs with a variety of objects determining their representation.
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