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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Shapiro letter to the NY Times

The New York Times published this letter from Michael Shapiro, on the Internet October 28, 2011 and on paper on October 30, 2011 on page BR6 of the N.Y.T. Sunday Book Review.  Shapiro's letter was in response to an essay "I Was an Under-Age Semiotician" by Steven Johnson in the Sunday Book Review October 16, 2011, on the 1980s semiotics scene and some of its intellectual and verbal excesses.  For my part, I remember SemioTexte; it was such that, twenty or so years later, I balked when I started reading Peirce for his categorial work only to find him deeply focused on semiotics; but I kept reading, joined Joe Ransdell's peirce-l, and came to appreciate Peirce's sem(e)iotic as something quite different.  I don't know how Shapiro restrained himself from adding that, for Peirce, signs (including books) are indeed about things. Shapiro's letter:
To the Editor:

Having taught at Brown for 16 years, including a course on Charles Sanders Peirce, the modern founder of sign theory, I found Steven Johnson's essay to be a depressingly accurate characterization of the academic times during his college years. However, readers should know that his identification of semiotics as a field of study by linking it with Peirce, an American philosopher, and the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure is a serious, albeit common, misconception. Saussure's version is defective next to Peirce's, and not curable by patch-up. That it was Saussure's ideas about signs, and not Peirce's, that gave rise to the Continental form Jacques Derrida and others propagated — and gullible American academics swallowed whole — should not be so glibly elided. Peirce is the greatest intellect the Americas ever produced, and it is his whole philosophy, including his semeiotic (note the spelling and the singular number) that now bids fair to prevail as doctrine.

New York

The writer is an emeritus professor of Slavic and semiotic studies at Brown University.
Shapiro is well known among Peirce scholars as editor of the five-volume series Peirce Seminar Papers (1993–2002) and author of numerous works on linguistics and semiotics.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jerry Dozoretz

Jerry Dozoretz passed away earlier this month. Condolences to his beloved wife Ann and family. Ann emailed Nathan Houser, Gary Richmond, and me about it yesterday.

Denver Post obituary (August 12-14) .

Jerry had a Ph.D. in Philosophy from University of Californis, Santa Barbara. He was an Instructor and Assistant Professor of Philosophy from 1970 to 1983. An article of his was published in Peirce Studies 1. Starting in 1983 he worked in the private sector, eventually going into business for himself. He had five children.

Jerry was the chief operating officer of the Peirce Group, which owns the Arisbe website and peirce-l, which were created and long maintained by Joe Ransdell, who passed away in December 2010. Jerry was working on their relocation to the Institute for American Thought at I.U.P.U.I. He was also working on the relocation of Joseph Ransdell's voluminous papers and library to the I.A.T.

In a peirce-l post yesterday, [name deleted at request of the named — B.U. 11/27/2015] said,
I am very sorry to hear this.

Jerry and I exchanged email in January. He was open and kind, generous with his support and friendship. He was greatly affected by Joe's passing and wanted very much to ensure the future of peirce-l and related materials. It had been on my todo list to follow up with him.

My best wishes and condolences to Jerry's friends and family.
Jerry was a pleasure to work with. I've been at a loss for words. In our last phone conversation Jerry told me that he and Joe Ransdell had been friends since childhood. As usual he sounded well and upbeat and 20 years younger than he was.

Update October 4, 2011. I thought that Jerry said that they had been friends since childhood; I remember responding during that phone call with that understanding uncontradicted by him. But I must have misunderstood. They were born over 15 years apart.

Joseph Ransdell  June 5, 1931 — Dec. 27, 2010

Jerry Dozoretz  Jan. 11, 1947 — Aug. 5, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Michael Shapiro - Course Announcement

Post last revised/repaired August 2, 2011. - B.U.
The Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University presents


CPLS G4340, 3 pts

Interpretation: Theory and Practice

Michael Shapiro
W 2:10pm-4pm, location: Fayerweather 311

Relying on Charles Sanders Peirce's theory of interpretation in the context of his semeiotic, this course develops a common language powerful enough to underwrite modern interdisciplinary studies in the 21st century. It explores three themes in particular: signs and cognition; the analogy between grammar and nature; historical explanation in the humanities and the sciences.

For more information, please contact ICLS at (212)854-4541 or
send email to [graphic image of address]
(contact information is at this link).
Registrar link:

CourseWorks page:

Note: For more information on the works by Peirce listed below, go to the Main Editions section of the sidebar on the right.

Sem I, 2011-12; Wed 2:10-4:00
Office Hours: Wed 10-12
HB 1-6, Heyman Center
Michael Shapiro
send email

Relying on Charles Sanders Peirce's theory of interpretation in the context of his semeiotic, this course develops a common language powerful enough to underwrite modern interdisciplinary studies in the 21st century. It explores three themes in particular: signs and cognition; the analogy between grammar and nature; historical explanation in the humanities and the sciences.

MEETING DATES: Sep 7, 14, 21, 28; Oct 5, 12, 19, 26; Nov 2, 9, 16, 23; Dec 7

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: (1) two short papers (3-5 pp.) on a topic to be approved by the instructor, due Oct 26 and Nov 16, resp.; (2) EITHER a longer research paper (10-15 pp.) OR a take-home final exam, due Dec 23.


  • C. S. Peirce, The Essential Peirce, 2 vols. (Indiana U.P.)
  • T. L. Short, Peirce’s Theory of Signs (Cambridge U.P.)
  • Supplementary Readings[= SR] (Course Packet)


  • Jerome Bruner, Acts of Meaning (Harvard U.P.)
  • Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (Basic Books)
  • E. H. Gombrich, Meditations on a Hobby Horse and Other Essays on the Theory of Art (Phaidon Press)
  • Roman Jakobson, On Language (Harvard U.P.)
  • James J. Liszka, A General Introduction to the Semeiotic of Charles Sanders Peirce (Indiana U.P.)
  • Ernst Mayr, Toward a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist (Harvard U.P.)
  • Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue with Nature (Bantam Books)
  • Marshall Sahlins, Culture and Practical Reason (U of Chicago Press)

    RESERVE LIST (in addition to the above):

  • Carolyn Eisele (ed.), A History of Science: Historical Perspectives on Peirce’s Logic of Science
  • Max H. Fisch, Peirce, Semeiotic, and Pragmatism
  • Eugene Freeman (ed.), The Relevance of Charles Peirce
  • Michael Cabot Haley, The Semeiosis of Poetic Metaphor
  • Charles S. Hardwick (ed.), Semiotic and Significs: The Correspondence between Charles S. Peirce and Victoria Lady Welby
  • Robert S. Hatten, Musical Meaning in Beethoven : Markedness, Correlation, and Interpretation
  • Kenneth L. Ketner (ed.), A Comprehensive Bibliography of the Published Works of Charles Sanders Peirce with a Bibliography of Secondary Studies
  • Kenneth L. Ketner (ed.), Peirce and Contemporary Thought

    RESERVE LIST (cont.)

  • Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers, 8 vols.
  • Charles S. Peirce, Philosophy of Mathematics: Selected Writings
  • Charles Sanders Peirce, Pragmatism as a Principle and Method of Right Thinking
  • Charles Sanders Peirce, Reasoning and the Logic of Things
  • Charles S. Peirce, The New Elements of Mathematics, 4 vols.
  • Charles S. Peirce, Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition, 7 vols.
  • David Savan, An Introduction to C. S. Peirce’s Full System of Semeiotic
  • Michael and Marianne Shapiro, Figuration in Verbal Art
  • Michael Shapiro (ed.), The Peirce Seminar Papers: Essays in Semiotic Analysis, 5 vols.
  • Michael Shapiro, The Sense of Change: Language as History
  • Michael and Marianne Shapiro, The Sense of Form in Literature and Language, 2nd ed.
  • Michael Shapiro, The Sense of Grammar: Language as Semeiotic

READING ASSIGNMENTS (except for pages in Gombrich, all references are to chapters):

    I (Sep 7 – 21): Peirce's theory of signs
  • Essential Peirce I: 1, 2, 3
  • Essential Peirce II: 2, 11, 12, 15, 16, 22, 28, 32, 33
  • Liszka: 1
  • Short: 7, 8, 9
  • SR: 1, 2, 3
    II (Sep 28 – Oct 26): signs and cognition; grammar and nature
  • Essential Peirce I: 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
  • Bruner: 3
  • Geertz: 1, 2
  • Gombrich: 1, 12, 45, 56
  • Jakobson: 4, 5, 6, 7, 20, 21, 23, 27, 28, 29
  • Liszka: 2
  • Mayr: 1, 2, 3
  • Prigogine & Stengers: 3, 4, 5, 6
  • Sahlins: 2
  • SR: 4, 5, 6
    III (Nov 2 – Dec 7): historical explanation
  • Bruner: 2
  • Geertz: 3, 5
  • Gombrich: 86, 106
  • Jakobson: 2, 9, 10, 25
  • Mayr: 5, 6, 7, 8
  • Prigogine & Stengers: 7, 8, 9
  • Sahlins: 5
  • Short: 4, 5, 6
  • SR: 7, 8, 9, 10

General Description

This course is inspired by the life and work of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), widely acknowledged as an American Renaissance man, our country's greatest thinker, and the only native son who ranks among the world's great philosophers. It is distinguished by its interdisciplinary scope and its orientation towards Peirce's theory of signs (what he called the semeiotic, following Locke), which offers the hope that it may reveal and also foster links of method and of aim among the "three worlds"––the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities (including here the academic disciplines, criticism, and the creative arts). Peirce's whole philosophy, of which his theory of signs is the centerpiece, is an immense synthesis of the key ideas of modern science with the classical logical paradigm that traces its origins from Aristotle through the Stoics, Locke, and Kant. Peirce's great achievement is the addition of the theory of interpretation. The course's significance, therefore, derives in part from its focus on interpretation as the key to understanding the foundations of the separate disciplines.
The purpose of the course is to introduce students to a common language that has the power to underwrite modern interdisciplinary studies––in this century and beyond. Peirce's theory of interpretation, which is at the heart of his semeiotic, treats ideas as integral to the "reality" of human experience, whether the data are derived from observation of the natural world, the earth and the heavens, or people and societies. Science adds to our knowledge, advancing from the known to the unknown, by a coordinate use of both abductive hypothetical) and inductive inference, both by the recognition of similarities and the shock of contrast and opposition. Peirce's conception of the interpretant as a law or rule, invariably instantiated in individual signs, is his most radical advance and provides a systematic understanding of the way this coordination does its work.
The course will draw upon various theoretical and methodological perspectives: the study of behavior and of the structural generalities that bind individuals and groups typologically and historically; the study of ideology or of a culture's representation of itself in its visual and verbal forms; and the study of the articulation of meaning, wherever it might be situated, whether in scientific analysis or in humanistic discourse. Each of these approaches and emphases offers important insights into the role of interpretation in defining the foundations of the various disciplines in their interconnections.
The centrality of interpretation will be brought out by pursuing three themes, which have been chosen to give students of diverse backgrounds and interests a feeling for the kind of synthesis that a coherent interdisciplinary perspective can provide. The themes, in order of presentation during the semester’s work, together with their associated issues, are as follows:

1. Signs and cognition. Peirce conceived of his semeiotic as a theory of cognition (following Plato and Locke). What research program will enable sign theory and cognitive science to join hands successfully with the natural sciences? Like many other philosophers and scientists, Peirce was fascinated by the morphology of the natural world. How can modern cognitive science, particularly linguistics, implement Peirce's understanding that the natural world's diversity and complexity cannot be explained merely by reference to physical, mechanical, or thermodynamic forces? What is the role of interpretation and the structure of thought in relation to the various disciplines? How can Peirce's sign theory and his concept of final causation be understood as congruent with contemporary notions in evolutionary biology such as genetic program? Peirce's theory proposes general answers to some of the questions enumerated above, specifically in alignment with his pragmatist conception of meaning and reality.

2. The analogy between grammar and nature. The course will raise questions about language as a foundational metaphor, an issue that goes back beyond Aristotle to prehistory and is to be found in almost all cultures. Should one attempt to analyze the language of nature like the human body, or the human psyche, "grammatically?" Which aspects of nature are (so to speak) its nouns, verbs, and adjectives? What is its syntax? Pursuing the analogy between grammar and nature in the spirit of such queries will necessarily involve confronting various disciplinary paradigms in their conceptual foundations. The semeiotic approach in Peirce's sense takes anything whatever, including inorganic matter, as potentially significant: anything is capable of signifying if taken to be a sign, i.e., capable of "causing" an interpretation.

3. Historical explanation in the humanities and the sciences. Since historical explanation is the mode of explanation in all disciplines where the agent's purpose is central, what kind of logic do we need in order to deal with historical and evolutionary change as well as action? To what extent is the idea underpinning historical method, that a good description constitutes an explanation, applicable to the language-oriented disciplines? What is the relationship between synchronic and diachronic explanation? Can any given state of affairs (the "synchronic slice") be explained with a more exact understanding of its causality by its evolution? Historical inquiry can be called a "science" in the measure that it utilizes rules of appropriateness grounded in schemas of practical inference. Do these schemas provide an objective framework for the explanatory practice of historians as well as all who utilize (retrospective) interpretation, like biologists and linguists? Peirce's entire philosophy is based on a profound understanding of the role of history and evolutionary growth in the structure of knowledge. His theory of final causation is coordinated with the theory of signs in an organic way.
The major objectives and emphases of this course can be characterized by considering the "eccentric" position peculiar to human beings and the "third world" (in Karl Popper's terminology) which expresses our eccentricity. Peirce's conception of man as a sign, and of the universe as a semeiotic universe, is perhaps the deepest, most fertile, most imaginative, and most practically applicable form of this fundamental matrix of the human universe. Our bodies make us members of the physical world, permeated by forces and energies, events and interactions. Our psyche is a center, a perspective of feelings, emotions, and efforts, tendencies, dreams, by which the world of bodies is captured, tasted, chewed, swallowed, digested, or spewed back in disgust or enjoyment. Our eccentricity lies in the third world, the world of dialogue between the external and the internal worlds--what Peirce (early in his career) called the "Tuistical" ( and (later) the Semeiotic World.

Although Peirce was a mathematician, logician, and scientist, his semeiotic recognizes the importance of feeling, emotion, sensation, sentiment, action. Put another way, the semeiotic offers us not only a way to understand science as a human enterprise, it also offers an approach to literature and the arts, to religion, to society, to the whole of the third world that lies between the private incommunicable interior and the vast spaces of the exterior universe.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Joseph Morton Ransdell

Joseph Morton Ransdell
June 5, 1931 - December 27, 2010.

I've discussed things with Joe for years on peirce-l and occasionally off-list.
I owe him; but for him and peirce-l I might have remained intellectually isolated and semi-articulate. I spoke with him for the first and only time, on November 19th by phone. His intelligence was as energetic as ever, but he was ill. I'm glad I called him and managed to mention that I look up to him.

Joe opposed the concept of intellectual authority; but he was marked by something similar but genuine: possession of ideas and understandings to which those who are interested in the same matters owe attention and response.

The obituary was posted today at Somebody added it to the Peirce article at Wikipedia and that's how I found out (so I emailed peirce-l). Robert Lane soon followed with this:

From: "Robert Lane"
To: [The Charles S. Peirce Society]
Sent: Thursday, January 06, 2011 1:16 PM
Subject: Peirce Society: Joe Ransdell

Fellow members of the Charles S. Peirce Society,

I have just learned the sad news of the recent death of Joe Ransdell. Joe was a Peirce scholar who taught at Texas Tech University from 1974 until his retirement in 2000. Among his contributions to the study of Peirce and to the community of Peirce scholars were his creation of the "Arisbe: the Peirce Gateway" website ( and his founding of the Peirce-L Discussion Forum, for which he also served as moderator. Joe was a Fellow of the Peirce Society, having served as our president in 1999.

An online obituary is here:

A memorial service will be held this Saturday, January 8, in Lubbock,
Texas. Details are here:


Robert Lane, Ph.D.
Secretary-Treasurer, Charles S. Peirce Society
Associate Professor and Director of Philosophy
Department of English and Philosophy
University of West Georgia
Carrollton, GA 30118

[phone number & email removed]

I've just received this note on Joe from a past peirce-lister:
Blessed repose and eternal memory...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Perennial philosopher

Just a quick note to draw folks' attention to Cosma Shalizi's remark in the course of his 1998 review of Deborah G. Mayo's Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge (University of Chicago Press 1996). Here it is, with yellow highlight added:
In the next to last chapter Mayo tries her hand at one of American philosophy's perennial amusements, the game of Peirce Knew It All Along. (If, as Whitehead said, European thought is a series of footnotes to Plato, American thought is a series of footnotes to Peirce --- and Jonathan Edwards, worse luck.) Usually this is a mere demonstration of cleverness, like coining words from the names of opponents, or improving on the proof that if 1+1=3, then Bertrand Russell was the Pope. But in this case it seems that Mayo is really on to something. It is sometimes forgotten that Peirce was by training an experimental scientist, was employed as an experimental physicist for years, and as such lived and breathed error analysis. His opposition to subjective probabilities and paint-by-numbers inductivism is plain. For him "induction" meant the experimental testing of hypotheses; the probabilities employed in induction are the probabilities of inductive procedures leading to correct answers:
The theory here proposed does not assign any probability to the inductive or hypothetic conclusion, in the sense of undertaking to say how frequently that conclusion would be found true. It does not propose to look through all the possible universes, and say in what proportion of them a certain uniformity occurs; such a proceeding, were it possible, would be quite idle. The theory here presented only says how frequently, in this universe, the special form of induction or hypothesis would lead us right. The probability given by this theory is in every way different --- in meaning, numerical value, and form --- from that of those who would apply to ampliative inference the doctrine of inverse chances [i.e., Bayes's theorem]. [2.748, quoted p. 414]
Well, Shalizi seems a bit jaded at the amount of crediting of Peirce, but his "Peirce Knew It All Along" remark is too delicious to pass up. As to Shalizi, he's an assistant professor in the statistics department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his original training was in the statistical physics of complex systems.

Note: I redid Shalizi's broken link on coinages to go to the Internet Archive version of that to which he linked. The recentest version is the 2008 edition at an unrelated URL .

(Now let's see whether for once I've done a post that I don't need to revise afterward! Update: No such luck. I had omitted the year of Shalizi's 1998 review.)