This article addresses the semiotic problem of how meaning is agentially grounded: how actual meaning is possible and is justifiably supported by agents’ capabilities and purposes. This article is particularly focused on human agential grounding; however, to a great degree, insights presented here can be extended to other living beings. Specifically, agential meaning is examined here inside the framework of agentive semiotics and embodied, situated and enactive cognition theories, in line with the mind-life continuity general thesis (which intends to naturalize mind and experience). To offer clarity and methodological precision about agential grounding, three explanation categories (called recurrences) are proposed: phylogenetic recurrence, the evolutionary basis for corporal/embodied grounding; ontogenetic recurrence, the developmental basis for individual meaning grounding; and collective recurrence, the basis for meaning recognized, attributed and assigned inside social contexts. These recurrences are conceived as three types of general processes that constantly enclose possibilities for purpose and meaning emergence in humans. As a result of these types of recurrences, two categories of human agendas or purposes are also proposed: individual and collective. Finally, remarks about how these categories can be useful for semiotic analysis and further research are suggested.
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Within cognitive science discipline, Lawrence Barsalou and others have used the term grounded cognition to refer to the modal states basis of cognition (cf. Barsalou 2008). However, although grounded cognition is related to what is called here agential grounding, both concepts are not equivalent.
Even though it is based on important philosophical and cognitive science traditions, the development of the general framework of agentive semiotics is still in an early stage. This article intends to establish connections between biosemiotics and agentive semiotics’ insights, and to propose a viable theory of meaning agential grounding.
See (Tønnessen 2015) for a review of the common uses of the term agency in biosemiotic approaches.
The term ‘recurrence’ is inspired by Enrico Coen’s scientific divulgation book Cells to civilizations (2012), in which the author introduces what he calls the ‘seven ingredients of life’s creative recipe’, including among them the ‘principle of recurrence’. Coen defines this principle broadly as a process where adaptation builds on adaptation, and is “spurred on by what went before” (p. 50). However, in his usage, recurrence is not associated to semiotic problems such as meaning grounding.
In this regard, see Read’s (2003) analysis about problems concerning sociobiology, dual heritage, and memetics theories.
In a previous version of this article I proposed three types of agendas: basic, individual and collective. Nevertheless, as extended syntheses theories (niche construction, epigenetics and evodevo) have proven (cf. Lindholm 2015), a sharp distinction between purposes resultant from phylogeny and ontogeny is problematic and unlikely; development, evolutionary change and environment transformation get affected reciprocally and are intertwined processes.
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This work was financed with funding from ‘Jóvenes investigadores e innovadores COLCIENCIAS’ program, under the special cooperation agreement No. 0189 of 2014 established between Fondo Nacional De Financiamiento para la Ciencia, la Tecnología y la Innovación Francisco José de Caldas and Fundación Universidad de Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano in Colombia. This work was discussed inside Mente, Lenguaje y Sociedad Research Group with significant support from the Master in Semiotics’ professors from Fundación Universidad de Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano.
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Rodríguez, S. Recurrences and Human Agential Meaning Grounding: Laying a Path in Walking. Biosemiotics 9, 169–184 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12304-016-9267-2
- Agentive semiotics
- Meaning grounding
- Embodied cognition