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On Peirce’s Pragmatic Notion of Semiosis—A Contribution for the Design of Meaning Machines


How to model meaning processes (semiosis) in artificial semiotic systems? Once all computer simulation becomes tantamount to theoretical simulation, involving epistemological metaphors of world versions, the selection and choice of models will dramatically compromise the nature of all work involving simulation. According to the pragmatic Peircean based approach, semiosis is an interpreter-dependent process that cannot be dissociated from the notion of a situated (and actively distributed) communicational agent. Our approach centers on the consideration of relevant properties and aspects of Peirce’s pragmatic concept of semiotics. Upon developing this approach, we have no pretensions of our being able to present an exhaustive analysis of the differences between Peirce and other theoretical positions. Nevertheless, our contribution will serve to demonstrate how theorists contribute toward revealing certain fundamental ‘semiotic constraints’ that will be of interest and importance.

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  1. 1.

    ‘Meaning Machines’; available at:

  2. 2.

    We shall follow the practice of citing from the Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (Peirce, 1931–1935, 1958) by volume number and paragraph number, preceded by ‘CP’; the Essential Peirce by volume number and page number, preceded by ‘EP’. References to the microfilm edition of Peirce’s papers (Harvard University) will be indicated by ‘MS’, followed by the manuscript number.

  3. 3.

    For further on categories, see: Hookway 1985; Murphey 1993; Potter 1997; Merrell 1997; Short 2007.

  4. 4.

    Emergence theory in the context of complexity sciences and applied to semiotic systems, and computational experiments that simulate this process, are described elsewhere (see Queiroz and El-Hani 2006; Gomes et al. 2007).

  5. 5.

    The idea that all kind of knowledge or thought is a sign can be found in many sections of Peirce’s philosophical work (e.g. CP 5.234, 5.251, 5.318; NEM 3: 883), and comprises a pragmatic theory of cognition originating from the years 1868–1869 (W2: 193–272). This idea has many forms, and culminate in another form of correspondence: “Logic, in its general sense, is, as I believe I have shown, only another name for semiotic ({sémeiötiké}), the quasi-necessary, or formal, doctrine of signs” (CP2.227; see also CP1.539, 1.191, 1.313, 7.355, 8.191).

  6. 6.

    See Whobrey (2001) for a detailed interpretation of Fetzer’s arguments.


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We are indebted to J. H. Moor, and anonymous reviewers of our paper for their comments. J. Q. thanks the Brazilian National Research Council (CNPq) and the State of Bahia Foundation for Research Support (FAPESB).

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Correspondence to João Queiroz.

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Queiroz, J., Merrell, F. On Peirce’s Pragmatic Notion of Semiosis—A Contribution for the Design of Meaning Machines. Minds & Machines 19, 129–143 (2009).

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  • Meaning
  • Semiosis
  • Semiotic systems
  • Simulation
  • C. S. Peirce