Between Representation, Enaction, and Phenomenology. Some Keys to Cognitive Semiotics
Göran Sonesson, Centre for Cognitive Semiotics
The notion of sign had a very brief history in semiotics, before it was ousted by leading thinkers such as Greimas and Eco, who preferred semiotic squares and sign processes. The exception here is of course the followers of Peirce, but their notion of sign is so broad that it is unclear whether it really excludes anything. The (apparently) parallel notion of representation has had a long history in cognitive science, but, recently, is has been argued in many quarters that there are no representations, or that representations are really a kind of action, basically of a more concrete and often unconscious kind. At least in the form of ”radical enactivism”, to use Daniel Hutto’s term, this conception seems to amount to a rejection of any mental aspect of meaning, similar to the case of (philosophical) behaviourism. Although Hutto sometimes marks his distance to “really radical enactivism”, it is no accident that the message taken home has often been of the latter kind. From the epistemological point of view, this history is problematical is several ways. First, it is not clear why we should not be able to consider meaning from different perspectives, whatever is most convenient at the time, as an entity, a process, or something in between, as suggested, notably, by Humboldt, Bühler, Hjemslev and Coseriu. In the second place, no matter whether meaning is a process or an entity, we are not dispensed from analysing the sign function as a specific mode of meaning, which, as Piaget suggested, is attained at some specific moment in the development of the child (and which may never be attained by other animals, except by some apes raised in a human environment). On one hand, when Evan Thompson translates the phenomenological analysis of mental images made by Edmund Husserl and Eduard Marbach in terms of enaction, he misses the point by not contrasting them with real pictures. On the other hand, Husserlean and Marbachean phenomenology may be at fault in not explaining in what way even mental images and memory may be double-faced, although not in the way of signs.