Interpretation of Nature: Peirce’s Theory of Interpretation

“Interpretation of Nature: Peirce’s Theory of Interpretation,” Contemporary Pragmatism, 15(1)  (February 2018), 1-14.

Link to Contemporary Pragmatism


The main purpose of this paper is to investigate Charles S. Peirce’s theory of interpretation, with special regard to the theory of determination. In his theory of interpretation, Peirce’s attention is drawn to the work of “mind,” especially its appropriation of signs. Mind manifests nature by using signs in every form of inquiry. Peirce fleshes out his theory of interpretation out of the three categories that perpetually turn up in Peirce’s intellectual career. The three kinds of signs are, as Peirce names, icon, index, and symbol, which are based on Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness in Peirce’s categories. Based on the three categories, Peirce defines interpretation as a determinate process of interpretations of interpretations. Communicative process thus means, instead of just being determined as an interpretant by an object, that the interpreter is determined by a “communicative effort.” In the communicative effort, for Peirce, temporal unit is the necessary condition of meaning. In other words, in order to mean something, the communicative effort has to be performed in a continuum from a past to a future. For instance, the possibility of communication between computers and human beings can be explained by aid of Whitehead’s concept of “flat loci” as well as Peirce’s theory of interpretation. A flat locus is essentially a spatial region that represents the finite arrangement of ones and zeroes. A computer turns what it “sees” (the visual information to which it is exposed) into ones and zeroes according to mereo-topological schemata. Thus, concealed possibilities can be actualized when the continuum is “broken,” genuinely divided. Peirce truly acknowledges that the possibility can be actualized when it is broken into parts.

Keywords: Peirce, Interpretation, Communication, Whitehead, C. Hausman


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