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116 Agnes Petocz

Implications of Realism: Revisiting the Current Situation

First, if we take seriously our explicit commitment to realism, then we must recognise
that there is no fundamental divide between the physical or natural sciences and the social or
human sciences (cf. Petocz, 2001). Each deals with situations in the world that have their own
logical and empirical structures, spatio-temporal locations, and conditions of occurrence.
Semiotic phenomena involve relational situations of signification or meaning, themselves
incorporating the relational situation of cognition/perception. That these relational situations
require living organisms with physiological equipment of a particular kind does not put them
somehow outside the natural world and its deterministic constraints. Thus, investigation of
meaning, hermeneutic inquiry, is embedded within, rather than at odds with, causal situations.
Indeed, from a realist scientific point of view, hermeneutic and causal inquiry are not only
compatible, but warranted in all those situations that focus on aspects of human behaviour
that occur in the context of the human semiosphere. It follows that, as Barclay & Kee (2001)
suggest, "psychology cannot progress further towards being accurate, towards being
scientific, until it takes semiosis, the process of meaning-making, as an essential component"
(p. 684). Furthermore, as I shall elaborate in the following sections, the externalist relational
nature both of mind and of meaning precludes any coherent conception of internal mental
representations. Hence, the putative resolution of the problem of how mental representations
get their meanings by appeal to the syntactic nature of the mind-machine is revealed to be
completely misguided and unjustified.
Secondly, taking realism seriously undermines mainstream psychology‘s scientific
practicalism and clears up its metatheoretical confusion.^10 If critical inquiry is taken to be the
core method of science, then not only does conceptual analysis regain its rightful place in the
mainstream's approach to research, but also the mainstream prejudice against nonquantitative
methods, a prejudice that is at odds with the realist self-understanding of scientific
psychology (cf. Michell, 2004) is successfully challenged. This opens the door to a
systematic, scientific investigation of semiotic phenomena.
Thirdly, although psychology is correct in its perception that semiotics has typically been
assimilated into antirealist ideologies, it becomes clear that there is no necessary connection
between semiotics and relativist, subjectivist or constructionist philosophical approaches. If
there is no gulf between Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften, if relational
phenomena (such as cognition and meaning) are legitimate subjects for scientific
investigation, if practicalism is appropriately subordinated to the scientific aims of
discovering and explaining how things are in the world, then mainstream psychology is
already well on the way towards developing a realist semiotics.
Finally, although semiotics has, again typically, elided the person or user, a realist
semiotics not only returns the sign user to its rightful place within the semiotic triad, but also,
in doing so, acknowledges the central role of psychology within semiotics.
In sum, once mainstream psychology takes seriously its own explicit commitments to
realism and to science, not only is there no good reason to neglect semiotics, but also there

(^10) This, of course, is unlikely to be welcomed while ever scientific practicalism (to which the search for truth is
subordinated) is reinforced within the current profit-driven academic instititutions (cf. Nussbaum, 2010), and
metatheoretical confusion is disguised as potentially fruitful eclecticism and open-mindedness (cf. Lambie,
1991). In psychology, the "powerful impact of disciplinary socialization practices" (Good, 2007, p. 286)
constitutes an almost insurmountable obstacle to scientific progress.

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