Semiotics as a Resource for Human-Nature Relationship

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I believe we need to take this modern environmental crisis not as a disease itself but as “a sign” or an effect of the disease (which needs to be examined). Here a distinction has to be made regarding our understanding of the environment or, we may call it, our external (natural) world. The natural world operates independent of what we (humans) think of it. Our perceptive understanding of this external world changes and grows as a result of our growing knowledge and comprehension of it. As Charles Peirce, the American philosopher and pragmatist said that we can only know the “human aspect” of things, and that is “all the universe is for us” (Peirce, 1934). So whatever is real and external to humans is in some way independent of our mental picture or our rational construction. And equating our understanding or our beliefs about that external world or reality to be equal to ‘the external reality’ itself can be a grave mistake.

The understanding we have of the world (which is external to us) goes beyond our ‘language’. We formulate, conceptualize, and put together our thought in how we ‘interpret’ our experience of this external world. But it does so by going beyond the human. Nonhuman natural world also represents the world. This more expansive perspective of representation is difficult to appreciate because our social theory—“whether humanist or posthumanist, structuralist,or poststructuralist—conflates representation with language. We conflate representation with language in the sense that we tend to think of how representation works in terms of our assumptions about how human language works.” (Kohn, 2013).

I believe that Peirce’s semiotics (the study of how signs represent things in the world) can give us the analytical tools to understand this human to non-human relationships. Semiotics entails the project of ‘cutting’ minute portions of the process and actualizing them as signs for observation, formal study, analysis, and synthesis. (Queiroz, 2006). On the other side the pragmatism of Pierce, Dewey and James provide the “mediating” philosophy, which can help us to understand the dualistic nature of the problem i.e. the intimate relationship between ‘Human’ and ‘Nature’. And this relationship can be further scrutinized by looking at the source of the pragmatic maxim, which is to “Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.”(CP 5.402), this crucial definition entails that ideas are real when and because they have a real external counterpart.

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