Working Papers

Capturing Cerberus: The Rhetorical Path to General Semiotics

Mats Bergman

Peirce’s “sop to Cerberus” - the inclusion of a human ingredient in the general conception of the sign - has mostly been interpreted as a momentary lapse. Peirce certainly regretted the need for such a compromised account; and many Peircean semioticians have also contended that a satisfactory theory of the sign must be strictly formal, derivable from a few basic relational principles. This seems to suggest a top-down approach, giving precedence to abstract ideas over concrete semiotic experience. However, a closer study of Peirce’s efforts reveals a far more intricate story, connected to the question of the basic character and motivation of his project. Without denying that Peirce’s ultimate aim was a non-anthropocentric theory of signs, the aim of this talk (originally presented in 2007) was to outline how Peirce may have succeeded in having his cake and eating it too – that is, how he could accommodate the view that the signs of the world must be initially grasped in terms of human (anthropomorphic) semiotic experience and yet be able to plausibly develop a general (non-anthropocentric) conception of the sign.

Bergman, M. (2014). Capturing Cerberus: The Rhetorical Path to General Semiotics (Commens Working Papers no. 1). Retrieved from Commens: Digital Companion to C. S. Peirce,
July 8, 2014