Bateson, Peirce, and the Sign of the Sacred

  • Deborah Eicher-Catt
Part of the Biosemiotics book series (BSEM, volume 2)

I argue that Gregory Bateson and Charles Sanders Peirce, although holding different beliefs about God and religion, share much in common concerning how the body and mind operate as an integrative, recursive communication system. Regardless of their different points of departure on the topic of communication, their philosophic paths necessarily cross at an “interface” that constitutes an epistemological matrix between them. Herein, I explore this matrix and argue that Bateson’s epistemology of the sacred is best understood within a triadic frame of relations offered by semiotician, Charles Sanders Peirce. Specifically, Bateson’s triadic relations of aesthetics, consciousness (mental process), and the sacred are understood by way of Peirce’s existential semiotic categories of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness. Hence, we come to know sacred existence as a phenomenological sign action of human semiosis. As a result, Bateson’s epistemology of the sacred becomes more accessible as a philosophy of human existence. We see that his epistemology fosters pragmatic insight concerning the relations between aesthetic perceiving and mental process that supports the characteriological growth of human beings in particular and scientific inquiry in general.


Gregory Bateson Charles S. Peirce semiotics communication sacred 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine.Google Scholar
  2. Bateson, G. (1979). Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. New York: E.P. Dutton.Google Scholar
  3. Bateson, G. & Bateson, M. C. (1987). Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred. New York: Bantam Books.Google Scholar
  4. Bateson, G. (1991). In R. Donaldson (Ed.), A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Gregory Bateson. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  5. Berger, C. R. & Calabrese, R. (1975). Some explorations in initial interaction and beyond: Toward a developmental theory of interpersonal communication. Human Communication Research, 1, 99–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Catt, I. (2000). The institution of communitarianism and the communicology of Pierre Bourdieu. The American Journal of Semiotics, 15/16 (1–4), 187–206.Google Scholar
  7. Catt, I. (2002). Communicology and narcissism: Disciplines of the heart. Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 4, 389–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Colapietro, V. M. (1989). Peirce’s Approach to the Self: A Semiotic Perspective on Human Subjectivity. Albany, NY: SUNY.Google Scholar
  9. Deledalle, G. (2000). Charles S. Peirce’s Philosophy of Signs: Essays in Comparative Semiotics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Eicher-Catt, D. (1996). Searching for the Sacrality of Motherhood. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.Google Scholar
  11. Eicher-Catt, D. (2001) [printed in 2003]. A Communicology of female/feminine embodiment: The case of non-custodial motherhood. The American Journal of Semiotics, 17 (4), 93–130.Google Scholar
  12. Eicher-Catt, D. (2003) [printed in 2006]. The logic of the sacred in Bateson and Peirce. The American Journal of Semiotics, 19 (1–4), 95–126.Google Scholar
  13. Eicher-Catt, D. (2005a). Advancing family communication scholarship: Toward a Communicology of the family. Journal of Family Communication, 5 (2), 103–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Eicher-Catt, D. (2005b). The authenticity in ambiguity: Appreciating Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s abductive logic as communicative praxis. Atlantic Journal of Communication, _13 (2), 113–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gergen, K. (1991). The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  16. Harries-Jones, P. (1995). A Recursive Vision: Ecological Understanding and Gregory Bateson. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  17. Hospers, J. (1967). Problems of aesthetics. In P. Edwards (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 1 (pp. 35–56). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  18. Jung, C. (1965). Septem sermones ad mortuos. In A. Jaffe (Ed.), Memories, Dreams and Reflections (pp. 378–390). New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  19. Lanigan, R. L. (1988). Phenomenology of Communication: Merleau-Ponty’s Thematics in Communicology and Semiology. Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Lanigan, R. L. (1992). The Human Science of Communicology: A Phenomenology of Discourse in Foucault and Merleau-Ponty. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Lanigan, R. L. (2000). The self in semiotic phenomenology: Consciousness as the conjunction of perception and expression in the science of Communicology, The American Journal of Semiotics, 15&16(1–4), 91–111.Google Scholar
  22. May, R. (1977). Gregory Bateson and Humanistic Psychology. In J. Brockman (Ed.), About Bateson: Essays on Gregory Bateson (pp. 75–99). New York: E.P. Dutton.Google Scholar
  23. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962) Phenomenology of Perception (C. Smith, Trans.). New York: The Humanities Press.Google Scholar
  24. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964). The Primacy of perception, (J. Eclie, Ed.), Chicago, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Millar, F. (1990). Reflexivity and Recursiveness. Paper presented at the Western Communication Association Conference, Phoenix, AZ.Google Scholar
  26. Peirce, C. S. (1955). In J. Buchler (Ed.), Philosophical Writings of Peirce. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  27. Rieber, R. W. & Green, M. (1989). The psychopathy of Every day Life: Antisocial Behavior and Social Distress. In R. Rieber (Ed.), The Individual, Communication, and Society (pp. 48–89). Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Ruesch, J. & Bateson, G. (1987). Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
  29. Thayer, L. (1997). Pieces: Toward a Revision of Communication/Life. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Press.Google Scholar
  30. Wilden, A. (1987). The Rules Are No Game: The Strategy of Communication. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deborah Eicher-Catt
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of CommunicationCalifornia State UniversityHaywardUSA

Personalised recommendations