USST Analysis of Peirce’s Perceptual Meaning

Any adequate theory of perception must find a way to combine the syntactic, pragmatic, and semantic dimensions of semiosis. The work explored in this paper, was reported in (Pearson 2003a; 2003b) and discusses some comments by C.F. Delaney (1993) on the scattered writings of Peirce on the philosophy of perception as seen thru the lens of the USST, and concentrates only on the semantic dimension. It attempted to make some progress in the development of a generally accepted philosophical theory of perception by combining the little-known theory of perception by Peirce with both the semiotic methodology of the Semiotic Paradigm and the theoretical power of the USST.

The paper uses Pearson’s Universal Sign Structure Theory (USST) to analyze Peirce’s theory of the meaning of perception, taking a heavy advantage of some of Delaney’s work. Campbell adds a discussion of the interactions of the Direct and Indirect Object with Peirce’s theory of meaning for theories of learning and pedagogy (see Campbell 2019; Olteanu et al. 2020) while Pearson adds comments regarding the interactions of his proposed Direct and Indirect Ground and Direct and Indirect Mentellect with Peirce’s theory.

In developing his philosophy of perception, Peirce presents an even balance of phenomenology, idealism, semiotics, realism, logical analysis, and scientific analysis, arguably, in a more natural and fluent way than any of the classical phenomenologists, philosophers, or scientists themselves. Peirce’s notion of perception is a holistic notion, which, while manifestly whole in our experience, requires a detailed analysis into its logical components if we are going to get any satisfactory answers to the epistemological questions with which we are concerned in contemporary semiotics research. It is theoretically decomposable into simpler elements, but Delaney reminds us that, “the analysis should not blind us to the holistic character of the experience itself” (1993: 120). 

Altho it is not inappropriate to talk of this particular perceptual process and these components of perception, our actual process of perception is not a series of discrete units made up of isolated parts but rather a continuous whole. The actual process, no matter how direct or how short, involves dimensions of confrontation as well as elements of learning, memory and anticipation. However, this having been said, Peirce acknowledges the legitimacy of analysis and the significance of abstractly characterizing the various structural elements of the perceptual process.

This can best be done by starting with the USST and the three principles of its theory, and then analyzing step-by-step each of the components of perception and their meaning before finally looking at the big-picture result and its meaning.

Campbell, C., ‘Educating Semiosis: Foundational Concepts for an Ecological Edusemiotic’, Studies in Philosophy and Education, vol. 38(3), 2019, pp. 291–317.
Delaney, C.F., Science, Knowledge, and Mind: a Study in the Philosophy of C.S. Peirce, London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993.
Pearson, Charls, ‘Semiotic Analysis of Perception: The USST Approach to Understanding Perception’, 2003, Presented to the Annual Symposium of the Special Interest Group for Empirical Semiotics held in conjunction with the 28th Annual Business Meeting of t
Pearson, Charls, ‘Semiotic Analysis of Perception’, Semiotics 2003, Legas Press, 2003.
Olteanu, A., Campbell, C., and Feil, S., ‘Naturalizing Models: New Perspectives in a Peircean Key’, Biosemiotics, vol. 13(2), 2020, pp. 179–197.

Charls Pearson

American Semiotics Research Institute

received the first Ph.D. in semiotics granted by an American university and holds the world’s first honorary professorship of the semiotic sciences. He is a founding member of the Semiotic Society of America, and a past member of its Executive Committee. He specializes in the experimental, theoretical, and mathematical foundations of semiotics; and also applies semiotics to language, logic, theology, music, and law. He is director of research for the American Semiotics Research Institute.

Cary Campbell

Simon Fraser University

holds a PhD in Education from Simon Fraser University and currently teaches and lectures in the Faculty of Education. He has published across disciplines in various journals, such as Studies in Philosophy and Education, the International Journal of Education and the Arts, Biosemiotics, Signs and Society, and Sign Systems Studies. His research is currently centred on developing ecologically informed approaches for learning theory and pedagogy. Some recent publications include “Returning ‘learning’ to education: Toward an ecological conception of learning and teaching” (2018) and the co-written “Learning and knowing as semiosis: Extending the conceptual apparatus of semiotics” (2019). Professor Campbell is also editor for the Peirce section of the Chinese Journal of Semiotic Studies.

USST Analysis
Peircean theory
perceptual components
componential meaning