Advertisement

Biosemiotics

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 315–329 | Cite as

Why Was Thomas A. Sebeok Not a Cognitive Ethologist? From “Animal Mind” to “Semiotic Self”

  • Timo MaranEmail author
Original Paper

Abstract

In the current debates about zoosemiotics its relations with the neighbouring disciplines are a relevant topic. The present article aims to analyse the complex relations between zoosemiotics and cognitive ethology with special attention to their establishers: Thomas A. Sebeok and Donald R. Griffin. It is argued that zoosemiotics and cognitive ethology have common roots in comparative studies of animal communication in the early 1960s. For supporting this claim Sebeok’s works are analysed, the classical and philosophical periods of his zoosemiotic views are distinguished and the changing relations between zoosemiotics and cognitive ethology are described. The animal language controversy can be interpreted as the explicit point of divergence of the two paradigms, which, however, is a mere symptom of a deeper cleavage. The analysis brings out later critical differences between Sebeok’s and Griffin’s views on animal cognition and language. This disagreement has been the main reason for the critical reception and later neglect of Sebeok’s works in cognitive ethology. Sebeok’s position in this debate remains, however, paradigmatic, i.e. it proceeds from understanding of the contextualisation of semiotic processes that do not allow treating the animal mind as a distinct entity. As a peculiar parallel to Griffin’s metaphor of “animal mind”, Sebeok develops his understanding of “semiotic self” as a layered structure, characterised by an ability to make distinctions, foremost between itself and the surrounding environment. It appears that the history of zoosemiotics has two layers: in addition to the chronological history starting in 1963, when Sebeok proposed a name for the field, zoosemiotics is also philosophically rooted in Peircean semiotics and German biological philosophy. It is argued that the confrontation between zoosemiotics and cognitive ethology is related to different epistemological approaches and at least partly induced by underlying philosophical traditions.

Keywords

Thomas A. Sebeok Donald R. Griffin History of zoosemiotics Cognitive ethology Semiotic self Animal mind Animal language controversy 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence CECT, Estonia) and by Estonian Science Foundation Grant No. 7790.

References

  1. Allen, C., & Bekoff, M. (1999). Species of mind: The philosophy and biology of cognitive ethology. Cambridge: The MIT.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, C., & Bekoff, M. (2007). Animal minds, cognitive ethology, and ethics. The Journal of Ethics, 11(3), 299–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bateson, M. C. (1991). Our own metaphor. A personal account of a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation. Washington, London: Smithsonian Institution.Google Scholar
  4. Bekoff, M. (1999). Cognitive ethology. In W. Bechtel & G. Graham (Eds.), A companion to cognitive science. Blackwell companions to philosophy (pp. 371–379). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bekoff, M. (2002). Minding animals: Awareness, emotions, and heart. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bekoff, M., & Allen, C. (1997a). Intentional communication and social play: How and why animals negotiate and agree to play. In M. Bekoff & J. A. Byers (Eds.), Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives (pp. 97–114). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bekoff, M., & Allen, C. (1997b). Cognitive ethology: Slayers, skeptics, and proponents. In R. W. Mitchell, N. Thompson, & L. Miles (Eds.), Anthropomorphism, anecdotes, and animals (pp. 313–334). New York: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  8. Burghardt, G. M. (1985). Animal awareness: current perceptions and historical perspective. American Psychologist, 40(8), 905–919.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Conferences. (1961). Current Anthropology, 2(2), 139–144.Google Scholar
  10. Conferences. (1966). Conferences. Current Anthropology, 7(2), 251–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Deely, J. (2003). The quasi-error of the external world. An essay for Thomas A. Sebeok, in memoriam. Cybernetics and Human Knowing, 10(1), 25–46.Google Scholar
  12. Griffin, D. R. (1976). The question of animal awareness: Evolutionary continuity of mental experience. New York: Rockefeller University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Griffin, D. R. (1977). Expanding horizons in animal communication behaviour. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), How animals communicate (pp. 26–32). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Griffin, D. R. (1981). The question of animal awareness: Evolutionary continuity of mental experience (Revised and enlarged ed.). New York: The Rockefeller University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Griffin, D. R. (1982). Introduction. In D. R. Griffin (Ed.), Animal mind—human mind. Report of the Dahlem workshop on animal mind—human mind, Berlin 1981, March 22–27 (pp. 1–12). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  16. Griffin, D. R. (1994). Animal minds. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  17. Griffin, D. R. (2001). Animal minds: Beyond cognition to consciousness. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kull, K. (2003). Thomas A. Sebeok and biology: building biosemiotics. Cybernetics and Human Knowing, 10(1), 7–20.Google Scholar
  19. Maran, T., Martinelli, D., & Turovski, A. (2010). Introduction. In T. Maran, D. Martinelli, & A. Turovski (Eds.), Readings in zoosemiotics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  20. Martinelli, D. (2007). Zoosemiotics. Proposal for a Handbook (= Acta Semiotica Fennica 26). Imatra: Finnish Network University of Semiotics; Imatra: International Semiotics Institute; Helsinki: Semiotic Society of Finland.Google Scholar
  21. Munz, T. (2005). The bee battles: Karl von Frisch, Adrian Wenner and the honeybee dance language controversy. Journal of the History of Biology, 38(3), 535–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Peirce, C. S. (1994). The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. [Electronic version (Folio Bound Views); vols. 1–6, C. Hartshorne, P. Weiss (Eds.), 1931–1935; vols. 7–8, A. W. Burks (Ed.), 1958.] Cambridge: Harvard University Press. [In-text references are to CP, followed by volume and paragraph numbers].Google Scholar
  23. Radick, G. (2005). Primate language and the playback experiment, in 1890 and 1980. Journal of the History of Biology, 38(3), 461–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ristau, C. A. (Ed.). (1991). Cognitive ethology. The minds of other animals. Essays in Honor of Donald R. Griffin. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  25. Sebeok, T. A. (Ed.). (1968a). Animal communication: Techniques of study and results of research. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Sebeok, T. A. (1968b). Zoosemiotics. American Speech, 43(2), 142–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sebeok, T. A. (1972a). Perspectives in zoosemiotics (= Janua Linguarum. Series Minor 122). The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
  28. Sebeok, T. A. (1972b). Semiotics and ethology. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Perspectives in zoosemiotics (= Janua Linguarum. Series Minor 122) (pp. 122–161). The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
  29. Sebeok, T. A. (1979). Prefigurements of art. Semiotica, 27(1–3), 3–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sebeok, T. A. (1981a). Close encounters with canid communication of the third kind. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), The play of musement (pp. 117–133). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Sebeok, T. A. (1981b). Smart simians: The self-fulfilling prophecy and kindred methodological pitfalls. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), The play of musement (pp. 134–209). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Sebeok, T. A. (1981c). The ultimate enigma of “Clever Hans”. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), The play of musement (pp. 260–265). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Sebeok, T. A. (1986). Vital signs. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), I think I am a verb: More contributions to the doctrine of signs (pp. 59–79). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  34. Sebeok, T. A. (1990a). Essays in zoosemiotics (= Monograph Series of the TSC 5). Toronto: Toronto Semiotic Circle; Victoria College in the University of Toronto.Google Scholar
  35. Sebeok, T. A. (1990b). Naming in animals, with reference to playing: A hypothesis. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Essays in zoosemiotics (= Monograph Series of the TSC 5) (pp. 77–92). Toronto: Toronto Semiotic Circle; Victoria College in the University of Toronto.Google Scholar
  36. Sebeok, T. A. (1990c). ‘Talking’ with animals: Zoosemiotics explained. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Essays in zoosemiotics (= Monograph Series of the TSC 5) (pp. 105–113). Toronto: Toronto Semiotic Circle; Victoria College in the University of Toronto.Google Scholar
  37. Sebeok, T. A. (1990d). Zoosemiotic components of human communication. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Essays in zoosemiotics (= Monograph Series of the TSC 5) (pp. 49–75). Toronto: Toronto Semiotic Circle; Victoria College in the University of Toronto.Google Scholar
  38. Sebeok, T. A. (1990e). Zoosemiotics: At the intersection of nature and culture. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Essays in zoosemiotics (= Monograph Series of the TSC 5) (pp. 37–47). Toronto: Toronto Semiotic Circle; Victoria College in the University of Toronto.Google Scholar
  39. Sebeok, T. A. (1991a). Communication. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), A sign is just a sign (pp. 22–35). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Sebeok, T. A. (1991b). In what sense is language a “primary modeling system”? In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), A sign is just a sign (pp. 49–58). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Sebeok, T. A. (1991c). The semiotic self. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), A sign is just a sign (pp. 36–40). Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Sebeok, T. A. (1991d). The semiotic self revisited. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), A sign is just a sign (pp. 41–48). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Sebeok, T. A. (2001a). Biosemiotics: Its roots, proliferations, and prospects. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Global semiotics (pp. 31–43). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Sebeok, T. A. (2001b). Signs, bridges, origins. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Global semiotics (pp. 59–73). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Sebeok, T. A. (2001c). “Tell me, where is fancy bred?” The biosemiotic self. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Global semiotics (pp. 120–127). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Sebeok, T. A. (2001d). The cognitive self and the virtual self. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Global semiotics (pp. 128–134). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Sebeok, T. A., & Ramsay, A. (Eds.). (1969). Approaches to animal communication (= Approaches to Semiotics 1). The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
  48. Smith, W. J. (1965). Message, meaning, and context in ethology. American Naturalist, 99(908), 405–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sorabji, R. (1983). Animal Minds & Human Morals: The Origins of the Western Debate. Cornell Studies in Classical Philology. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Vauclair, J. (1996). Animal cognition. An introduction to modern comparative psychology. Cambridge; London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SemioticsUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia

Personalised recommendations