Peirce, Virtuality, and Semiotic

Peirce, Virtuality, and Semiotic

Peter Skagestad

University of Massachusetts


ABSTRACT: The adjective ‘virtual,’ practically unheard-of a few years ago, has become a primary buzzword of the 90’s. Yet the word ‘virtual’ is nothing new, although its ubiquity is new, as is perhaps its current meaning or meanings. In 1902 the word was defined by Charles Peirce as follows: ‘A virtual X (where X is a common noun) is something, not an X, which has the deficiency (virtus) of an X.’ Peirce also references Scotus’s concept of virtual knowledge, the concept of virtual velocity in physics, and Edmund Burke’s doctrine of virtual representation, which is not representation but is supposedly as good as. The concept of virtuality is deeply embedded in Peirce’s doctrine of signs and hence in his semiotic doctrine of mind. In this Peircean doctrine, which has been more recently echoed in the writings of Wittgenstein and Popper, we find the most promising philosophical framework available for the understanding and advancement of the project of augmenting human intellect through the development and use of virtual technologies.

Read the paper here: 20th WCP: Peirce, Virtuality, and Semiotic

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