Semiotics 1980 pp 109-120 | Cite as

Antecedents to Peirce’s Notion of Iconic Signs

  • John N. Deely


I was led to do some historical work--not a work of Peirce scholarship--dealing with a Renaissance term, idolum. The problem of how to translate it led me eventually across the term icon in Peirce, CP, 4.447 (c. 1903?):

An icon is a representamen of what it represents and for the mind that interprets it as such, by virtue of its being an immediate image, that is to say by virtue of characteristics which belong to it in itself as a sensible object, and which it would possess just the same were there no object in nature that it resembled, and though it never were interpreted as a sign. It is of the nature of an appearance, and as such, strictly speaking, exists only in consciousness, although for convenience in ordinary parlance and when extreme precision is not called for, we extend the term icon to the outward objects which excite in consciousness the image itself. A geometrical diagram is a good example of an icon. A pure icon can convey no positive or factual information; for it affords no assurance that there is any such thing in nature. But it is of the utmost value for enabling its interpreter to study what would be the character of such an object in case any such did exist.


Sense Impression Internal Sense Modern Thought Cognitive Power Iconic Sign 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • John N. Deely
    • 1
  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentLoras CollegeDubuqueUSA

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