, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 181–191 | Cite as

Meaning Matters: The Biosemiotic Basis of Bioethics

  • Jonathan BeeverEmail author
Original Paper


If the central problem in philosophical ethics is determining and defining the scope of moral value, our normative ethical theories must be able to explain on what basis and to what extent entities have value. The scientific foundation of contemporary biosemiotic theory grounds a theory of moral value capable of addressing this problem. Namely, it suggests that what is morally relevant is semiosis. Within this framework, semiosis is a morally relevant and natural property of all living things thereby offering us an ecological, as opposed to merely environmental, ethic. A consequence of this semiotic theory is that living things are accorded inherent moral value based on their natural relational properties—their ability to signify. This consequence establishes a hierarchy of inherent moral value based on the scope of signification: the larger the Umwelten, the greater the value. This paper argues that a robust semiotic moral theory can take into account a much wider scope of inherent value.. These consequences have positive ramifications for environmental ethics in their recognition of the natural ecological networks in which each organism is bound. This presentation of a biosemiotic model of value offers a justificatory strategy for our contemporary moral intuitions concerning our semiotic/moral relationships with living things while also productively pushing our normative ethical boundaries.


Biosemiotics Ethics Moral considerability Moral value Semiosis Peirce 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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