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Three Levels of Semiosis: Three Kinds of Kinds

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In philosophy, there is an as yet unresolved discussion on whether there are different kinds of kinds and what those kinds are. In particular, there is a distinction between indifferent kinds, which are unaffected by observation and representation, and interactive kinds, which respond to being studied in ways that alter the very kinds under study. This is in essence a discussion on ontologies and, I argue, more precisely about ontological levels. The discussion of kinds of kinds can be resolved by using a semiotic approach to ontological levels, building on the key semiotic concept of representation. There are three, and only three, levels of semiosis: non- or proto- semiotic processes without representation, such as physical or causal processes; semiotic processes with representation, such as the processes of life and cognition; and second-order semiotic processes with representation of representation, such as self-awareness and self-reflexive communication. This leads to the distinction between not two, but three kinds of kinds: indifferent, adaptive and reflexive kinds, of which the last two hitherto have not been clearly distinguished.
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Keywords: Peirce; biosemiotics; constructivist; natural kinds; ontological levels; representation; second-order cybernetics; semiotic levels; semiotic thresholds

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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