Aristotle’s semiotic triangles and pyramids.

Bulletin of Symbolic Logic 21 (1):198-9 (2015)

John Corcoran
State University of New York, Buffalo
Imagine an equilateral triangle “pointing upward”—its horizontal base under its apex angle. A semiotic triangle has the following three “vertexes”: (apex) an expression, (lower-left) one of the expression’s conceptual meanings or senses, and (lower-right) the referent or denotation determined by the sense [1, pp. 88ff]. One example: the eight-letter string ‘coleslaw’ (apex), the concept “coleslaw” (lower-left), and the salad coleslaw (lower-right) [1, p. 84f]. Using Church’s terminology [2, pp. 6, 41]—modifying Frege’s—the word ‘coleslaw’ expresses the concept “coleslaw”, the word ‘coleslaw’ denotes or names the salad coleslaw, and the concept “coleslaw” determines the salad coleslaw—recalling Frege’s principle that sense determines denotation. Church [2, p. 6] wrote: -/- We shall say that a name denotes or names its denotation and expresses its sense. […] Of the sense we say that it determines its denotation, or is a concept of the denotation. -/- Aristotle seems cognizant of distinctions going beyond those in semiotic triangles. The expression Aristotle’s semiotic pyramids seem warranted by Aristotle’s Categories, 1a1: -/- When [two] things have a name (onoma) in common and the concept (logos) of being (ousia) which corresponds to the name in each case is different, they are called same-named (homonuma). Thus, for example, both a man and a picture [of an animal] are called animals. These have only a name in common. In each case the name’s concept of being [an animal] is different; for if one says what being an animal is for each of them, one will give two distinct concepts. -/- Semiotic triangles and pyramids in Aristotle’s logic are compared to those in Church’s [2]. [1] JOHN CORCORAN, Sentence, proposition, judgment, statement, and fact, Many Sides of Logic, College Publications, 2009. [2] ALONZO CHURCH, Introduction to Mathematical Logic, Princeton, 1956. -/- The semiotic pyramid in Categories, 1a1 has a square base under the vertex ‘animal’. On the corners of the square are: the concept “animal”, the concept “animal picture”, the animals, and the animal pictures. The animals are homonymous with the animal pictures. People find Aristotle’s example far-fetched or inept even if the experience of pointing to a picture while saying “That is Tarski” is familiar. Imagine looking at a painting while thinking “That is an animal”. Without putting too fine a point on this, notice that in Aristotle’s sense it is individual things that are homonymous, not words. It would be natural to say also in his sense that two things are homonyms if one is homonymous with the other. In contrast, we use the words homonym and homonymous to relate words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same but have different meaning. Consider the noun ‘center’ and the verb ‘center’. Consider the noun ‘smell’ and the verb ‘smell’. The spelling of two homonyms is an ambiguity, or an ambiguous spelling. We need appropriate adjectives to distinguish the Categorical senses of ‘homonym’ and ‘homonymous’ from the current English sense just mentioned. I propose ‘ontological’ for the sense relating things and ‘linguistic’ for that relating words. Given that all words are things but not all things are words, we ask are words that are linguistically homonymous also ontologically homonymous? END OF POST ABSTRACT.
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