Individual points, such as involved in discussions of Frege and McLuhan, cannot
preoccupy this one review. What can be argued is an overall impression of Part Three as
an elaboration of themes implicit in previous Parts: that Peirce’s work, in terms of traditional
philosophies and of major philosophers of the twentieth century, retains distinctive
pragmatic themes, of sign acts embodied in triadic sign functions and semiosis generally.
The last Section has the intriguing title, “Comparative Metaphysics.” Deledalle
reminds us that Peirce, in his middle age, inquired about larger truth claims of
transcendental, theological and ideological perspectives that could parallel or co-exist with
pragmatic analysis. What are we to make of the extensive cosmological writings of Peirce,
and of his references to Christian and mystical theology? What are the implications of a
temporal understanding of semiosis, of how signs “evolve,” for any epochful or determinist
account of historical and natural evolution? (164) What are we to make today of Peirce’s
notions of creative and evolutionary love? Deledalle (1990: 44-45) has elsewhere argued
that by 1887 Peirce had “walked free” from the cave of Platonism: that paradoxically,
despite social isolation, poverty and professional failure, he increasingly saw “the sun set
In Part Four, Deledalle interprets Peirce’s cosmology and metaphysics without
retreating from his previous argument about Peirce’s anti-Platonism and anti-idealism. The
comparison of Peirce’s triadic categories, and the Christian trinity (170-180) should be
regarded in this inquiring context: to investigate appropriate non-realist general
philosophies that ground pragmatism in some generalized narrative of time and existence.
Peirce analyzed semiosis in a micro “geo-social” context: he illuminates context in a
semiotic framework. Yet his work lacks and even opposes grand sociological or
cultural narratives. For instance, he opposed Hegelian historiography. Peirce himself adopted
gospel and Christian references to hypothesize a general “metaphysical” philosophy. It
seems reasonable someone like Deledalle should do the same.
On arriving at the end of the middle-sized, 199-page volume, one can readily ask
supplementary questions in terms of the author’s wider writing, and from questions that the
anthologized papers raise. Philosophically, what was the influence of thinkers like Locke,
Hume, Hamilton, Darwin, to name only a few, on Peirce, especially in his early years, in
addition to the influence of Greek thought and Kant, so well identified in this volume?
Esposito (1999) has done so much to foreground such inquiry, that to complete it would
require a book several times as long as Deledalle’s. Semiotically, how well can the subtype
of index be identified with the sign-act? Comparatively, how useful is any approach,
critical or otherwise, to McLuhan as a point of departure to a contemporary semiotic of
media? Is any political metaphysic or ideology implied or present in Peirce? The links to
contemporary themes of “post-structural” semiotics, of habitus, discourse, temporality and
power, are all there, yet only briefly so. What would a Protestant, non-conformist Peircean
apology be like? What extended applied studies would best illustrate the themes of
semiosis argued in the book? It is, of course, unfair to ask, from such a varied and broad
miscellany of topics, cases and papers, that all its ideas and direction be followed up. It is
more a compliment to suggest how pleasing such a prospect would be.
Such reader-based editorial requests, for supplementary commentary, do not
diminish this volume at all. Part of its appeal is to invite seminar-like responses and debate
– perhaps the papers finally reflect the seminars at Perpignan, where much of their content
was apparently first delivered. The book is a useful, highly readable, even entertaining
addition to any collection of contemporary Peircean commentaries. The controversy about
Peirce continues unabated, especially with the international ubiquity his life and work has
attained retrospectively in the last two decades. Long since Rorty and Eco debated the
nature and value of his semiotic, Peirce has become a philosopher of convenience in fields
as widespread as biosemiotics, neuroscience, business and architecture, and information
studies. Is such attention warranted, or consistent? Deledalle reminds us that the nature
and status of Peirce’s contribution will not be resolved until his semiotic behaviorism is
fairly and widely understood. This book is a most timely contribution in that regard.
Deledalle, Gérard (1979) Théorie et pratique du signe : introduction à la sémiotique de Charles S. Peirce
(avec la collaboration de Joëlle Réthoré). Paris: Payot.
— (1983) La Philosophie Américaine. Lausanne: L’Age d’homme.
— (1990) Charles S. Peirce 1839-1914 : An intellectual biography, translated and
introduced by Susan Petrilli. Amsterdam and Philadelphia : John Benjamins Pub. Co.
— (ed.) (1992) Signs of humanity: Proceedings of the IVth International Congress,
International Association for Semiotic Studies, Barcelona/Perpignan, March 30-April 6,
1989 (L’homme et ses signes : actes du IVe Congrès mondial, Association internationale
de sémiotique ), co-edited by Michel Balat and Janice Deledalle-Rhodes. Berlin and New
York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Deleuze, Gilles (1986) Cinema I. The Movement Image, trans. by H. Tomlinson and B.
Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Esposito, J. (1999) “Peirce’s Theory of Semiosis: Toward a Logic of Mutual Affection.”
Lectures 1 and 2. Cyber Semiotics Institute,
Peirce, Charles S. (1931-58) Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Eight volumes,
ed. by A. Burks, C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
This review was first published in the Semiotic Review of Books (2001, 12(2))