Embodied Experience and the Semiosis of Abductive Reasoning

Donna E. West
State University of New York at Cortland

 

 

Abstract

 

A case will be made for the indispensability of embodied experience as a foundation for Peirce’s pragmatic semiotic, especially given the place of semiosis in signification.  Lakoff and Johnson’s model of space and time, from dependence on physical, embodied experience, to more analogous based concepts in the mental world, is employed as a framework for a discussion of the primacy of Secondness in Peirce’s model of reasoning.  Peirce’s later writings reveal that abductive reasoning entails “recommending a course of action,” demonstrating the pivotal place of Secondness in abductive thinking.  Nonetheless, recommending a course of action does not stop at experience—it likewise relies on spontaneous insights to trigger a synthesized and acceptable explanatory prediction of a state of affairs.  The prediction/hypothesis emanates not from previous direct experience, but from its culminating effects.  This “retroduction” ensures the preeminence of self controlled logic (Thirdness impinging on Secondness) over capricious affect in Firstness.

Keywords: Abduction, Peirce, Lakoff and Johnson, Lived experience, Secondness

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

In elucidating Peirce’s model of travel toward abductive reasoning, the emphasis is placed on participatory involvement in experiences, or as Lakoff and Johnson (1980, 1999) term it, lived experience.  “We have no more fundamental way of comprehending the world than through our embodied, basic-level concepts and the basic-level experiences that they generalize over.  Such basic concepts are fundamental not only to our literal conception of the world but to our metaphorical conceptualization as well” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999: 231).  The tenets of Lakoff and Johnson’s model bear resemblance to Peirce’s model of the development of abductive reasoning, in that both squarely rest their assumptions on the Piagetian claim that foundational to higher level reasoning are primary experiences.  Piaget (1937/1954: 403) expressly asserts that sensorimotor interactions are the building blocks for mature logic: “Thus, starting with the use of reflexes and the first acquired association, the child succeeds within a few months in constructing a system of schemata capable of unlimited combinations which presages that of logical concepts and relations.”  Lakoff and Johnson likewise follow this rationale in constructing their model of spatial relations.  Although Peirce’s claims are in line with those of Lakoff and Johnson (and implicitly of Piaget, as well), they are not explicitly developmental in nature.  Nonetheless, the three models are in accord – that lived experience is primary in developing higher level logic.  They further agree that spatial concepts/modes of representation are primary skills for developing more advanced reasoning competencies.

 

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