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Re-Thinking the Place of Semiotics in Psychology... 117

are very good reasons for embracing semiotics, albeit critically and selectively. Furthermore,
as I shall show in the discussion that follows, in considering the question how a realist
semiotics-psychology integration can contribute to psychological research, new light is cast
on existing perceptions about exactly where the problems and challenges lie. Old insoluble
problems disappear, giving way to new but more promising challenges.



Conceptual analysis is a form of theoretical research which both precedes and then
accompanies observational (including experimental) research. Therefore, it is to be expected
that discussion of psychological research will address both conceptual and empirical issues.
In general, within a coherent realist framework, integrating semiotics with psychology can
serve psychology in a number of ways involving clarification, redirection, unification and
expansion. I propose to illustrate these by focusing on the following five contributions:
clarifying the irreducible tripartite relational nature of meaning; extricating the legitimate
concerns of representation in the information sciences from incoherent epistemological
representationism; applying the Peircean distinctions between different types of sign (viz.
icon, index and symbol) to solve problems in information representation research; using
iconicity as the bridge between conceptual metaphor and nonconventional symbolic
phenomena; and promoting increased methodological sophistication by underscoring the
scientific legitimacy of nonquantitative methods.

Clarifying the Irreducible Tripartite Relational Nature of Meaning

The first contribution that a realist semiotics-psychology integration can offer is to assist
psychology to negotiate its way through the minefield that is the terrain of "meanings".
Psychology appears to deal with many different kinds of meaning, and, as Cassirer (1944)
observed, ―There is perhaps no more bewildering and controversial problem than ̳the
meaning of meaning‘‖ (p. 112). Not surprisingly, despite the existence of partial
classifications of meaning (in linguistics, semiotics and philosophy), there has not yet
appeared any attempt to develop a complete descriptive treatment of the meanings of
―meaning‖. But that is no reason for scientific psychology to shirk the task.
An initial survey of all the different uses of "meaning" (excluding such colloquial usages
as "I mean to do X" in place of "I intend to do X") yields a comprehensive but uncritical
classification^11 into seven (sometimes overlapping) categories: (1) conventional and arbitrary
linguistic and symbolic phenomena (e.g., words, code, so-called "abstract" signals such as
tones, rings and buzzers); (2) nonconventional and/or non-arbitrary linguistic and symbolic
phenomena (e.g., paralinguistic features of speech, onomatopoeia, social rituals, dream
symbols); (3) indicative and expressive signs and symptoms (e.g., footsteps in the sand, alarm

(^11) Of course, this is merely a descriptive and synchronic classification. The important issues of the various origins
and development of these semiotic phenomena are not addressed; but psychology in particular cannot afford to
ignore those issues (see later discussion of the cognitive and motivational contribution of the user).

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