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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Volume 2013, Issue 193


Peirce, meaning, and the Semantic Web

Catherine Legg
Published Online: 2013-02-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2013-0007


This paper seeks an explanation for the challenges faced by Semantic Web developers in achieving their vision, compared to the staggering near-instantaneous success of the World Wide Web. To this end it contrasts two broad philosophical understandings of meaning and argues that the choice between them carries real consequences for how developers attempt to engineer the Semantic Web. The first is Rene Descartes' “private,” static account of meaning (arguably dominant for the last four-hundred years in Western thought), which understands the meanings of signs as whatever their producers intend them to mean. The second is Charles Peirce's still relatively unknown “public,” evolutionary account of meaning, according to which the meaning of signs just is the way they are interpreted and used to produce further signs. It is argued that only the latter approach can avoid the unmanageable attempts to “preprocess” interpretation of signs on the Web that have dogged the project in its many stages, and thereby do justice to the scale, rapid changeability, and exciting possibilities of online information today.

Keywords: pragmatism; Semantic Web; Peirce; Descartes; meaning; interpretant

About the article

Catherine Legg

Catherine Legg (b. 1967) is a senior lecturer at University of Waikato 〈clegg@waikato.ac.nz〉. Her research interests include philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology, and American philosophy. Her publications include “Argument-forms which turn invalid over infinite domains: Physicalism as supertask?” (2008); “The problem of the essential icon” (2008); “Letting reality bite” (2008); and “The hardness of the iconic must: Can Peirce's existential graphs assist modal epistemology?” (2011).

University of Waikato

Published Online: 2013-02-22

Published in Print: 2013-02-22

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2013, Issue 193, Pages 119–143, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2013-0007.

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