On The Prospects of A Semiotic Theory of Learning



Taking as its exegetic point of departure Peirce's outline of a semiotic theory of cognition from the mid 1890s, this paper explores the relevance of this outline to a theory of learning and also to a broader, normative vision of education. Firstly, besides providing for fallibilism in philosophical inquiry Peirce's outline accords with critical strategies of his fellow pragmatists, such as William James's detection of the ‘psychologist's fallacy’ and John Dewey's rejection of the ‘philosophical fallacy’. It is pointed out that this merit of Peirce's outline is due to his abstract and often neglected notion of a prespecialised scientific intelligence. Secondly, the paper shows that Peirce's semiotic approach to prescientific learning processes conditioning all kinds of theoretical activity may indeed complement James's and Dewey's contributions: giving careful attention to the work of linguistic and paralinguistic signs in such learning processes Peirce's analysis captures indexical and iconic aspects, as well as symbolic aspects of linguistic interaction and experientially constrained dialogue. Following Peirce's analysis the paper considers how the iconicity of linguistic structure, ostensive acts and the practical situatedness of language use are pre-conditions of experiential learning in every day life as well as in scientific learning. It is also shown how this semiotic analysis is connected with Peirce's important notion of abduction. Finally, it is pointed out that a broader vision of education may issue from Peirce's semiotic analysis and that such a vision would emphasise that the life experience of individuals entering educational institutions should be made to bear on the objectives as well as the teaching practices of educational institutions.