Studies in Philosophy and Education

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 185–204 | Cite as

Learning from people, things, and signs

  • Michael H. G. Hoffmann
Original Paper


Starting from the observation that small children can count more objects than numbers—a phenomenon that I am calling the “lifeworld dependency of cognition”—and an analysis of finger calculation, the paper shows how learning can be explained as the development of cognitive systems. Parts of those systems are not only an individual’s different forms of knowledge and cognitive abilities, but also other people, things, and signs. The paper argues that cognitive systems are first of all semiotic systems since they are dependent on signs and representations as mediators. The two main questions discussed here are how the external world constrains and promotes the development of cognitive abilities, and how we can move from cognitive abilities that are necessarily connected with concrete situations to abstract knowledge.


Lifeworld dependency of cognition Implicit knowledge Distributed and situated cognition Cognitive apprenticeship Scaffolding Internalization Shared intentionality Semiotics Diagrammatic reasoning Pragmatism Peirce Vygotsky 



I thank Falk Seeger for many eye-opening discussions over the past decade and his remarks on an earlier version of this paper. Thanks also to Klaus Hasemann for initiating a new direction of my thinking on problems of learning and for providing the examples, to Inna Semetsky for the invitation to write this paper and her comments on an earlier version, and to Nancy Nersessian, Bryan Norton, Jan Schmidt, Bob Kirkman, and Paul Hirsch for a fruitful discussion of this version’s predecessor.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

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