A world beside itself : Jakob von Uexküll, Charles S. Peirce, and the genesis of a biosemiotic hypothesis

Clements, Matthew (2018) A world beside itself : Jakob von Uexküll, Charles S. Peirce, and the genesis of a biosemiotic hypothesis. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the conceptual origins of a biosemiotic understanding of the human as a consequence of the vital role of signs in the evolution of life. According to this challenge to definitions of man as the sole bearer of knowledge, human society and culture are not only characterised by the use and production of signs, human life and thought are the products of ongoing processes of semiosis. Along with Thomas Sebeok’s argument concerning animal architecture, examples from Modernist and Contemporary art are presented to introduce a new perspective on the natural and cultural significance of acts of inhabitation. By tracing its historical development in the nineteenth and twentieth century via the concept of the environment, this perspective on both human and non-human life is shown to contest those methods of modern science that are rooted in anthropocentrism The precedents of this perspective are then elaborated through an explication of the work of two of the forefathers of biosemiotics: the biologist Jakob von Uexküll and the philosopher Charles S. Peirce. Uexküll’s theory of the Umwelt demonstrated that in order to make sense of its surroundings each living organism must be situated within an integral world of signs. Peirce’s philosophical account of semiotics explained the evolution of signs in terms of processes of habit formation and the abductive power of thought. Together Uexküll and Peirce provide an impetus for reconsidering the metaphorical implications of aesthetics in terms of the semiotic inheritance of ecological systems. While having critically interrogated their differences especially with respect to their derivation from Kantian philosophy and German Idealism, in conclusion, the ideas of Peirce and Uexküll on the reciprocity of life and signs are shown to mutually contribute to a more advanced comprehension of human subjectivity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: London Consortium
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2018 15:37
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2018 15:37
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/338

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