The Tetrast
Sketcher of various interrelated fourfolds.

Semiotics: collaterally based recognition, the proxy, and counting-as.

March 13, 2005.
(Latest significant change: Wednesday, May 3, 2006) (A change where I was mistaken about Peirce is shown.)
Note: My discussion of semiotics in my post “Why tetrastic?” makes some distinct points and has grown to such length that it has its own subheading there.

I accept C.S. Peirce’s object-sign-interpretant triad as part of a tetrad. Pragmaticism itself entails beyond the famous Peircean triad a further relationship whereby the interpretant is brought to the test against that which it merely represents. This is because Pragmaticism holds that truth is reached through research adequately prolonged. For the time being I will call my fourth semiotic element the “recognizant” and define it as recognition of the object such that the recognition is formed or recalled as collateral to object’s sign and interpretant in those respects in which the sign and interpretant represent the object. In the semiotic context I mean “recognition” primarily in the sense of the recognition which the mind gives to something as being legitimate, sound, authoritative, etc. The recognizant is a recognitive observation/experience of the object (or of something counting as the object — more on that later) such that the observation/experience is conducted or recalled as collateral to the sign and interpretant in respect of the object. Some of Peirce’s discussions of collateral observation are at .

For Peirce the sign is _other_ than its correlated object and there is correspondingly a need for experience collateral to the sign system in respect of the object in order to know what sign and interpretant sign denote — such that if one does not have sufficient such collateral experience already, one must acquire it. This applies not only to concrete singular objects but to qualities and so on. (E.g., a symbol may denote an unfamiliar quality which happens not to be adequately iconically embodied in the given semiosis.) Collateral experience was Peirce’s characterization of how we bridge the denotational otherness from sign to object. Such was Peirce’s purpose with the conception of collateral experience, but its ramifications go far beyond that. Any confirmatory experimentation will involve such experience of the object or of something legitimately counting as the object as established by other such observations and is therefore not reducible to a mere interpretant, since the interpretant conveys no experience of the object. The addition of the element “recognizant” puts the semiotic elements into rough correlation to the classic info-theoretic setup:

object ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ source
sign ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ encoding
interpretant ~ ~ decoding
recognition ~ ~ recipient

But semiotics is logic, not information theory, and does not reduce to coding. The sign may temporally precede the object (while the encoding, so far as I understand, never precedes the source). Human language in particular is not a code, at least not in any usual sense. On the other hand, there is this similarity: the decoding clarifies but does not verify; that’s up to the recipient. Likewise the interpretant clarifies while verification is up to the recognizant. The recognizer observes the mathematical diagram to check the interpretive inference; the recognizer checks the premisses and the conclusion by observation of that which is represented by sign and interpretant to be the case. An experimentation which amounts to induction and which conveys familiarity with the object to the experimenter concludes not in an interpretant but in a recognition, though further interpretants continue to be generated. The recognition is where the semiosis “returns” to the object and, by “closing” the circle, escapes the “bad” circle of representations which keep evolving without being tested or which are tested “outside” semiosis. I tend to think (though my opinion is not scholarly enough to be worth much) that Thomas L. Short (search on Peirce & all variants of Thomas Short’s name) is wrong to see revolutionary changes[1]
[1] in “The development of Peirce's theory of signs,” T. L. Short, in The Cambridge companion to Peirce, Carol Misak, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press.
as having taken place in Peirce’s thinking and philosophy in the later decades, but I agree with him that the Pragmatic Maxim is not adequately built into the structure of the semiotic triad. I don’t know whether Peirce conceived the “Ultimate logical interpretant” (which Peirce says is not a sign) as a solution to this as Tom thinks, but I think that as a solution it is merely to crack the door open; if it is not a sign, then we ought to recognize that it is not an interpretant. The difference between sense and nonsense is learned through adequate experience and research; but the semiotic triad does not encompass this and doesn’t lead to a way to distinguish sense from nonsense, and that has been Tom Short’s way of putting it. I put it another way; the semiotic evolution leads to a series of “hopeful monsters” as they say of evolution. Where is the semiotic relationship whereby evolved representations are brought to the test against the reality which they represent? Peirce certainly believes in testing and verification. But the interpretant is, itself, a mere _construal_. Familiarity-dependent understanding of the object, says Peirce, is outside the interpretant. Moreover, it does not convey experience with the object the way it conveys meaning. This is what Peirce reiterates: sign and interpretant convey no experience of the object. But a recognition of the object is experience of the object, and such a recognition formed as collateral to sign and interpretant in respect of their object is semiotically determined by interpretant, sign, and object qua their object.

This is an observational or experiential recognition, and is therefore not reducible to interpretant, sign, or their object. From various viewpoints, a thing may variously be interpretant, sign, or semiotic object. By shifts of semiotic frames of reference one may analyze observation/experience/etc., into signs, interpretants, etc., and thus supposedly “reduce” it to them, but this method exacts a prohibitive cost in entailing the same kind of supposed “reduction” of the interpretant to “mere” sign and of sign to object. The collateral experience or observation is not interpretant, sign, or semieotic object, in those relations in which it is collateral experience or observation.

One might argue, as Gary Richmond and Bernard Morand have argued at Joseph Ransdell’s peirce-l electronic forum, that the recognition, observation, etc., are the “integrity” of the triad or of the evolvent semiosis over time, and are their totality and locus. Yet the recognitional and observational relationships are distinguishable from the triadic relationships of objectification, representation, interpretation, since the relevant observation/recognition is collateral to sign and interpretant in respect to the object, and is not merely their totality and locus while not really being anything more than them. Furthermore, by the same method one could argue that the interpretant sign is really just the “integrity” or maybe instead the “clarity” of an object-sign dyad and that no further distinct relationships need be invoked in order to conceive of the interpretant. And so forth.

— Gary has also argued that since he is the sign, he already is the observation, they aren’t different things etc. (In a similar argument, he argues that the universe is an interpretant and already has all its observations, etc.) Yet this involves ignoring the shifts of semiotic reference frame whereby we say that a thing is a semiotic object in one sense or set of relations, and is a sign in another sense or set of relations, etc., and it leads to a hypostatization of object, sign, etc., even while Gary claims that it avoids the hypostatization to which he claims that the conception of the recognizant amounts. Furthermore, by the same method one could argue that one is already the pre-interpretant sign, one doesn’t need a “separate” interpretant, it would just be a hypostatization, one is both and it’s all one, etc. Meanwhile, the recognizant is not a hypostatization; something is no more a recognizant in every set of relations than it is an interpretant in every set of relations, or a sign in every set of relations, or a semiotic object in every set of relations. Gary’s arguments are, in a sense, too powerful; they “reduce” the semiotic triad itself away.

— There remains the argument that collateral experiences, recognitions, etc., are not “semiotic” and don’t belong with object, sign, and interpretant. Yet, that’s just to say that verification, disconfirmation, etc., are concerns at best adjacent to, but still outside of, logic and semiotics; the scientific process, then, for example, falls outside of semiotic concerns to the extent that the scientific process is verificational, disconfirmatory, etc. Yet Peirce and others have treated the scientific process in its full dimensions as a semiotic concern. Therefore, in terms of ramifications for subject matter, the recognizant, the collaterally based recognition, seems semiotic enough.

— Furthermore, the recognizant is defined by its relations to object, sign, and interpretant and is defined such that it is semiotically determined by them. Thus the recognizant seems semiotic enough in terms of definitions and the Peircean conception of semiotic determination.

— The interpretant itself amounts to a clarification of the sign in terms of conceivably practically relevant experience, and is thus addressed to the recognizant just as sign is addressed to interpretant. It is in the interpretant’s addressal of the recognizant that the Pragmatic Maxim begins to get incorporated into the structure of basic semiotic elements, and it is only by the addition of the recognizant that the Pragmaticist theory of truth as being reached by adequate research (which includes observation) gets incorporated into the structure of the basic semiotic elements. Prior to that, the incorporated truth-theoretic perspectives are those only of
• _independence and determination_ (the “true” or real object is what it is irrespectively of what you or I think of it and semiotically determines the mind (yours or mine etc.) to the extent that the mind is right about it),
• _correspondence and determination_ (a true sign corresponds to its object and is semiotically determined by it), and
• _coherence and correspondence and determination_ (an interpretant “true to its sign” is valid or well inferred from and semiotically determined by the sign in accordance with semiotic norms — the validity or well-inferredness is the “coherence” as the truth-theoretic concept is now called — and the interpretant sign true of the object corresponds to the object and is semiotically determined by it.

My fourth in addition to Peirce’s index, icon, and symbol, is the “proxy.”

In general any sign is a surrogate. And “proxy” has a meaning similar to “surrogate” — in certain contexts a “surrogate” means something a lot like a proxy. Sometimes the word “proxy” is used in a weakened sense such that it is generally interchangeable with the word “surrogate.” I use the word “proxy” in a strong sense, like of an authorized AGENT, authorized to ACT and MAKE DECISIONS on another’s behalf. In its primary English-language sense, that’s what a proxy is. The word “proxy” is cognate with “procure.”
1. A person authorized to act for another; an agent or substitute.
2. The authority to act for another.
3. The written authorization to act in place of another.

The proxy is defined by an evidentiary sign power such that it can “act” and “make decisions” legitimately on “behalf” of the object — it would merit recognition by an observer such that it would count as the object in those respects in which it is a proxy for the object. The observer can perform experiments on it, experiments which count. I hold that the mathematical diagram is not an icon, because it can fail to resemble its object in appearance and can appear utterly dissimilar while retaining an isomorphism with its object — thus does mathematics build two-way bridges across vast phenomenal gulfs. The mathematical diagram is, as Peirce says, for the conduct of mathematical observations and experiments, and the conception of the recognizant leads to the gain of being able to characterize the diagram as a proxy so that it is defined by such object-valid observability and interact-ability, instead of characterizing the diagram as an icon, a sign defined as a semblance of its object. To call a mathematical diagram a semblance of its object(s) is hardly less strained than to call a symbol an index or subindex for an idea in the mind or quasi-mind. (I think that the parallel of strainednesses may reflect something interesting about the structure of kinds of sign.) (At least once Peirce said that the diagram is not a true icon but only an image a hypoicon, since insofar as it doesn’t have an object a legend or label and lacks a substantive. I say that it, as a whole and not just in its internal relations, does have an object, just not one that necessarily looks like it, and has, indeed, indefinitely many objects[2].)
[2] “A possibility alone is an Icon purely by virtue of its quality; and its object can only be a Firstness. But a sign may be iconic, that is, may represent its object mainly by its similarity, no matter what its mode of being. If a substantive be wanted, an iconic representamen may be termed a hypoicon. Any material image, as a painting, is largely conventional in its mode of representation; but in itself, without legend or label it may be called a hypoicon.
“Hypoicons may be roughly divided according to the mode of Firstness of which they partake. Those which partake of simple qualities, or First Firstnesses, are images; those which represent the relations, mainly dyadic, or so regarded, of the parts of one thing by analogous relations in their own parts, are diagrams; those which represent the representative character of a representamen by representing a parallelism in something else, are metaphors.” ('A Syllabus of Certain Topics of Logic', EP 2:273, 1903)

But compare with 1906, where the related correlates themselves as well as their interrelations are considered to be represented. I would add that the related correlates can be considered as objects but also collectively, or polyadically, as “an” object, which is the sense in which I meant that a diagram, as a whole, has an object, indeed indefinitely many such an object. But if that’s too stretched a sense, I can drop it.

“...a Diagram is an Icon of a set of rationally related objects. By rationally related, I mean that there is between them, not merely one of those relations which we know by experience, but know not how to comprehend, but one of those relations which anybody who reasons at all must have an inward acquintance with. This is not a sufficient definition, but just now I will go no further, except that I will say that the Diagram not only represents the related correlates, but also, and much more definitely represents the relations between them, as so many objects of the Icon.” ('PAP [Prolegomena for an Apology to Pragmatism]', NEM 4:316, c. 1906)
Quotations retrieved from the Commens Dictionary of Peirce's Terms at
A mathematical diagram certainly doesn’t have to be geometric in appearance, it may consist in the behavior of algebraic expressions. The proxy is defined by its relation to the recognizant, while the symbol is defined by its relation to its interpretant, the icon to its own sign ground, and the index to its object. Therefore the proxy is no more reducible to symbol, icon, or index, than is the recognizant to interpretant, sign, or object. Furthermore, the evidentiary sign power to count as the object in some respect or to some degree, is not limited to proxies, any more than meaning/implication/entailment/significance is limited to symbols, or connotation to icons, or denotation to indices. When we say that x indicates y and mean not just that x directs one’s attention to y, but that x ’ s being present counts (epistemically) as y ’ s being present, that’s the evidentiary power. The power of counting-as.

Update & Revision May 3, 2006

I revise this portion now. I’ve just made up my mind about it and won’t have a copious amount to say, though I implicitly raise new questions. I had said that the interpretant embodies the sign’s value, importance, and meaning in almost the full varied sense of the word “meaning”. I no longer hold this view. “To mean” in the sense of to logically imply is to conditionally establish, by conditionally counting-as, even though the implication is basically evoked through symbols. Also, I tried to regard connotation as mainly connotation of qualities and predicates; this was based on what I was taking as Peirce’s spirit. I now return to the standard logical sense of “connotation” which is that of intension, and accept that a personal name all at once connotes, denotes, and designates its object.

I earlier had:
~ semiotic element ~ sign kind ~ correlated power non-definitive of sign kind
1. object ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ index ~ ~ ~ denotation and designation
2. sign ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ icon ~ ~ ~ ~ connotation
3. interpretant ~ ~ ~ symbol ~ ~ meaning, significance, entailment, implication
4. recognizant ~ ~ ~ proxy ~ ~ ~ counting-as

Now I have instead:
semiotic elementcorrelated kind of signcorrelated power capable of defining a kind of sign:
unintended, "natural" / intended
correlated mode of connotation
1.objectindexpoint at / point todesignate
2.signiconresemble / portrayconnote a modification in describing
3.interpretantsymbolevoke / connoteconnote a whetherhood in ascribing / attributing / endowing
4.recognizantproxycount as / stand proxy forconnote an object(s)-to-object(s) mapping in mapping-between

Now, to count-as differs from to connote or evoke. It’s the difference between importance, value, sense, which are formed into the interpretant, — and legitimacy, validity, authority, etc., which are formed into the recognizant. That, which is other than the object yet counts as the object, is a sign which may serve as evidence or confirmation of an interpretant as corresponding to the object.

We should not confuse the conception of the proxy, or of any other sign’s serving to count as the object, with the conception of the immediate object. A sign counting as the object is, phenomenologically, still a sign, something both other than the object and standing for the object. On the other hand, the immediate object is the object for the mind, which is why it is called an object, but it is not really the object (from the potential viewpoint of a semiotician analyzing the situation), which is why it is called the immediate object.

Now, whetherhoods, logical relations, probabilities, etc., while representable with the aid of icons, are not qualities or any kind of primary modifications, and evocation and intension are the sign power which is related to them, as resemblance & portrayal are related to qualities and primary modifications, and as pointing is related to substantive things/events. A given symbol’s meaning may be that one should imagine a certain quality, form a mental icon.

End of Update & Revision May 3, 2006

Update March 2005: I’ve received an email from Gary Richmond which he says I can post here. I’ve added a link to a Webpage where one can access a presentation which he conceived and wrote and which I produced in PowerPoint.

Ben, congratulations on your new blog. It looks good and is stimulating to at least this reader’s thinking — two essentials for good blogging in my book. May myriad interesting discussions happen at The Tetrast. But for now I’ll just try to summarize some of the “basics” of my position in these matters of collateral observation and the putative need for a fourth semeiotic term.

In the matter of collateral observation, my position has ever been that semeiosis needs a place, a locus, a center & nexus of semeiotic activity for it to occur at all. I wouldn’t even be adverse to your term recognizant as designating this locus, and especially in its expression as human semeiosis since it seems at least kin to my notion that an individual retains collateral experience in living memory (which he re-cognizes in recall, etc.) This ongoing semeiosis within some context, and characteristically as some person, is prime example of what Peirce calls the living, growing, hopefully evolving symbol.

A symbol (say a person, or a novel, or a “social movement”) does this cumulatively much as a character in or, perhaps better, the plot of a novel grows as the author creatively imagines it [cf. the representation vector in trikonic]. This would be the living symbol that might be “a great newspaper”; or the etymological history of a word, etc., etc. no doubt ad infinitum. Nothing you have written has convinced me — yet! — that what you are calling a fourth semiotic term is anything but this particular, individual locus and nexus of semeiotic activity. In short, a fourth specifically semeiotic term seems to me not only not needed but having a potential to diminish (not augment) the entire Peircean semeiotic project. Because of his grasp early on of the reality of three categories, later his valency theory and the reduction thesis, three semeiotic terms are strictly “necessary and sufficient” for semeiosis to occur throughout Peirce’s voluminous writings and decades of considering matters from the perspective of logic as semeiotic.

[One small comment on your prefatory note re: Peirce’s spelling of semeiotic. I personally think it should be reserved for Peirce’s triadic semeiotic theory for the important purpose of distinguishing it from such dyadic semiotics as Saussure’s and dyadic-triadic amalgams as Umberto Eco’s. To my mind it is the unique triadic analysis which “makes the difference” that ought be designated semeiotic. You characterize your semiotic as “in some sense, an augmented semeiotics,” while I think that this is a hypothesis yet to be confirmed. Until it is I would reserve semeiotic as the spelling of Peirce’s triadic approach to the science.]


Thank you for liking the blog, Gary! I certainly do hope that people will find it stimulating. I accept your suggestion about spelling and have excised my prefatory note on it and changed mine to “semiotic” in order to reflect my non-triadicity.

By “recognizant” I mean a kind of recognition just as particularizable as an interpretant or interpretation, so I wouldn’t want its meaning changed to that of the context of semiosis. I mean, for instance, one’s recognition of a pot of soup as having turned out as one interpretively expected that it would, a recognition which differs by its correlates from one’s recognition that a person wore a hat for that reason which one had interpreted the person to have. If one has been observing a hat when one had agreed to be observing the boiling soup, then the distinguishability of the observations will certainly be regarded as inarguable. These mundane recognizants or collaterally based recognitions are like lines-and-anchors tying things into one’s world, and locating them spatially and temporally in one’s world. Recognizants and observations are not only tied to one another but also tied to, and informed and semiotically determined by, signs and interpretants by being formed as collateral to them in respect of objects. A conception of a total complexus of observations and experiences, as total context, locus, center, nexus, for evolvent semeiosis, is perfectly valid but happens not to be what I’ve been talking about. A totality or fund of stored recognizants may be conceived of as memory or accumulated experience; in a sense, that world and context into which recognizants are anchored are the very entanglement of many recognizants, many lines-and-anchors together, in an evolving structure, locus, nexus, center. In that sense, recognizants bring ideas down to earth. So, recognizants tie things into landmarks in the context, but are easily distinguishable, at the very least in their correlates and often in other ways, from one another in everyday ways in accordance with common notions. The moment that someone distinguishes two recognitions, my point is granted. A recognizant is as distinguishable from the total context of semiosis, as the idea formed as an interpretant is distinguishable from the total universe of ideas. If one goes to the extreme of denying real differences among recognitions and real differences among interpretants, then apparent differences of some kind continue playing the same role for the semiotician which the real ones did; and meanwhile the problem of reduction remains untouched. The recognizant can’t be reduced to object, sign, or interpretant in those relations in which it is the recognizant, and the proof of this is, that, in the relevant relations, the recognizant is a kind of experience/familiarity/observation of the object, while sign and interpretant are not. The recognizant is that observation or experience which is formed or recalled as collateral to the sign and interpretant in respect of the object and which tends to support them. (An observation which disconfirms an interpretant is a recognizant which supports an interpretant contrary or contradictory to the disconfirmed interpretant.) The recognizant is crucial to semiosis, for semiosis is quite devoid of ways to proceed positively and to evolve and to test its hopeful monsters with any hope of positive results and to learn to distinguish sense from nonsense, except, as strictly required by Pragmaticism, by research or observation that obtains sufficient positive results to count as a reasonable observational establishment of the correspondence of sign and interpretant to object in those respects in which the object was represented beyond that which was already observed. That reasonable observational establishment, which truistically is neither object nor sign nor interpretant in the relevant relations, is what I call the recognizant, and it is already there in Pragmaticism. I hold that it merely awaits recognition as a semiotic element, a recognition which I expect to argue is required by various related recognitions.

I should additionally note that the conception of the recognizant actually brings about a welcome partial slackening of the conceived requirement of direct observation of the object itself. Since the conception of a fourth semiotic element requires there to be conceptions of signs defined in relation to it, one is led by that requirement to the conception of a sign defined in its sign-power by the recognition which it would merit from an observer such that the sign would be recognized to count as the object in some respect or other for purposes of observation and experimentation, and I call this sign the proxy, and discuss it above. The evidentiary power of counting-as may also be exerted by other signs, ones not defined by said power, also as discussed above.

As for whether the incorporation of a fourth element would help semiotics rather than hurt it, I think that it would help and that the possibility of this can be seen in outline. In terms of functions of origination, carrying forth in implicitness, rendering explicit, and verifying or recognizing, there is a one-to-one functional parallelism between object-sign-interpretant-recognizant and the information-theoretic source-encoding-decoding-recipient, a parallelism which suggests the possibility of building clearer and more direct bridges between philosophy and descriptive and inductively inferential areas of information theory, without one’s having to submit to the costly reduction of semiotics to coding. The correlation of the interpretant to an evolution’s possibly precarious product and of the recognizant to the result of the evolutionary product’s testing by experience, makes the semiosic picture more recognizable, in its elements, as the familiar evolutionary picture. It would unify Pragmaticism with semiotics by finally building the Pragmaticist theory of truth as reached by adequate research, into the very structure of the semiotic elements. In doing this it would also bring semiotics into that fuller-ranging pertinence which Pragmaticism already has to the modern interest in problems of confirmation, verification, disconfirmation, etc., while yielding not a micron of the deeper, more far-reaching, more encompassing, evolutionary perspective which semiotics shares with Pragmaticism.


Thank you again, Gary, for your stimulative email and your interest!
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