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Scaffolding Development and the Human Condition

Abstract

This paper addresses the concept of semiotic scaffolding by considering it in light of questions arising from the contemporary challenge to the humanities. This challenge comes from a mixture of scientistic demands, opportunism on the part of Western governments in thrall to neo-liberalism, along with crass economic utilitarianism. In this paper we attempt to outline what a theory of semiotic scaffolding may offer to an understanding of the humanities’ contemporary role, as well as what the humanities might offer to the elucidation of semiotic scaffolding. We argue that traditional humanist positions adopted in defence of the humanities fail to articulate the enhancement of humanity that semiotic scaffolding represents. At the same time, we note that the concept of scaffolding is sometimes in danger of taking on a functionalist perspective which understanding the humanities modus operandi is likely to dispel. Putting forward these arguments, we draw on the work of Peirce, Cassirer and Sebeok in elucidating the structural and ‘future-orientated’ benefits of the scaffolding process as it suffuses the humanities.

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Notes

  1. In an important book, Lassègue (2015) charts how the notion of “symbolic form” in Cassirer emerged out of two often-overlooked sources. One is Felix Klein’s systematic generalization of geometry by means of group theory, after the grand challenge to mathematics posed by the appearance of non-Euclidean geometries in the mid-nineteenth century. His famous Erlangen program envisaged a general system of all possible geometries, defined by the related sets of invariances and transformations characterizing each of them - thereby opening also for the further development of future geometries for special purposes. Cassirer was deeply impressed by this result and took it as a model for Symbolic Forms more generally: the idea that, e.g. artistic expressions or languages might also be articulated as an open system where each single language could be characterized by its set of invariances and transformations. The second source was Einstein’s relativity theory - to which Cassirer dedicated a (1920) book immediately before embarking on the grand symbolic forms project, seeing, in effect this project, generalizing Kant, as an equivalence in philosophy to Einstein’s generalization of Newton.

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Cobley, P., Stjernfelt, F. Scaffolding Development and the Human Condition. Biosemiotics 8, 291–304 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12304-015-9238-z

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Keywords

  • Semiotic scaffolding
  • Humanities
  • Science
  • Andy Clark
  • Cassirer
  • Peirce
  • Sebeok
  • Hoffmeyer