Peirce and Deacon on the meaning and evolution of language
According to Charles Peirce's theory of meaning, known as pragmaticism, the meaning of signs is in the habitual practices and activities according to which we acquire information that connect signs with other signs and their objects. In The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain (henceforth SS, Deacon, 1997), Terrence Deacon takes meaning to be explicated by the uniquely human capacity for symbolic reference. The evolution of language is couched in adaptive co-evolution that overcomes the symbolic threshold by increased social selection pressures. Peirce, on the other hand, understood evolution "agapastically": it is not the selective mechanisms that direct the adaptation, say, of neural structures, but the growth of habits of action that are in continuous interaction with one another. I argue that Deacon's and Peirce's positions on the meaning of signs and the evolution of linguistic meaning share some similarities but also differ in a couple of fundamental respects.
Pietarinen, A. J. (2012)., Peirce and Deacon on the meaning and evolution of language, in T. Schilhab, F. Stjernfelt & T. W. Deacon (eds.), The symbolic species evolved, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 65-80.
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