Why Was Thomas A. Sebeok Not a Cognitive Ethologist? From “Animal Mind” to “Semiotic Self”

Biosemiotics 3 (3):315-329 (2010)

Abstract
In the current debates about zoosemiotics its relations with the neighbouring disciplines are a relevant topic. The present article aims to analyse the complex relations between zoosemiotics and cognitive ethology with special attention to their establishers: Thomas A. Sebeok and Donald R. Griffin. It is argued that zoosemiotics and cognitive ethology have common roots in comparative studies of animal communication in the early 1960s. For supporting this claim Sebeok’s works are analysed, the classical and philosophical periods of his zoosemiotic views are distinguished and the changing relations between zoosemiotics and cognitive ethology are described. The animal language controversy can be interpreted as the explicit point of divergence of the two paradigms, which, however, is a mere symptom of a deeper cleavage. The analysis brings out later critical differences between Sebeok’s and Griffin’s views on animal cognition and language. This disagreement has been the main reason for the critical reception and later neglect of Sebeok’s works in cognitive ethology. Sebeok’s position in this debate remains, however, paradigmatic, i.e. it proceeds from understanding of the contextualisation of semiotic processes that do not allow treating the animal mind as a distinct entity. As a peculiar parallel to Griffin’s metaphor of “animal mind”, Sebeok develops his understanding of “semiotic self” as a layered structure, characterised by an ability to make distinctions, foremost between itself and the surrounding environment. It appears that the history of zoosemiotics has two layers: in addition to the chronological history starting in 1963, when Sebeok proposed a name for the field, zoosemiotics is also philosophically rooted in Peircean semiotics and German biological philosophy. It is argued that the confrontation between zoosemiotics and cognitive ethology is related to different epistemological approaches and at least partly induced by underlying philosophical traditions
Keywords Thomas A. Sebeok  Donald R. Griffin  History of zoosemiotics  Cognitive ethology  Semiotic self  Animal mind  Animal language controversy
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DOI 10.1007/s12304-010-9079-8
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References found in this work BETA

Animal Minds.Donald R. Griffin - 1992 - University of Chicago Press.
Animal Mind -- Human Mind.Donald R. Griffin (ed.) - 1982 - Springer Verlag.

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