The Immanent Sender: What Perception in a Greimasian Interpretation can tell us about Knowledge

This work is concerned with perception as a process occurring at the subject’s psychological level, rather than as sense-perception only. Perception in the former sense refers to the subject holding a belief about what the current state of affairs is, and how it has/can change given the subject’s acting upon it. Greimas’ canonical schema of the subject on a quest (SOQ) (and the actantial schema that accompanies it) (Greimas, 1966/1986) is particularly useful to thus understand perception and intentional action in this way.

I have argued elsewhere (Miranda Medina, 2020) that the actant sender’s double apparition—as the entity that forms the subjects intention to act, and that which sanctions the subjects performance—gives the SOQ schema the form of a feedback loop. Moreover, in the case of intentional action, the re-appearing sender is immanent to the subject—e.g., Mary shoots a basketball, and she perceives that she misses. Performing presupposes that the subject has an initial perception of the state of affairs where the object of value is lacking (Fontanille, 2006, p. 76), and after having performed, the subject of intentional action must perceive the new state of affairs. Sanction consists in comparing the difference between the latter perception and the intended outcome of the action.

Greimas’ notion of sanction therefore corresponds to the comparison process in the feedback loop. The output of sanction is not binary, because upon being disjoined from the object of value the subject can adjust performance in order to be successful next time—e.g., In her next shot Mary engages the wrist better, the ball spins and she scores. This directly relates to knowledge-how: the intellectualist account of knowledge-how contends that knowing-how-to-F amounts to knowing that W is a way for the subject to F (Stanley & Williamson, 2001). I claim that the output of the sanction process amounts to comparing the perceived W to an intended W. As a consequence we have that the possibility of learning, in the sense of adjusting performance according to the outcome of immanent sanction, is enabled by perception at a psychological level. I will go a step further and suggest that the notion of an actant sender can help us question the standard view of knowledge endorsed by most philosophers in the analytic tradition, namely that knowledge is justified true belief. This definition of knowledge, and the examples that are used to question it—such as Gettier cases (1963)—presuppose a transcendent sender: how would it be possible to say that a given belief is false in the sense of not-true in a situation where no one knows better? The alternative definition of knowledge I would like to defend asserts that knowledge is justified belief susceptible of being adjusted. This adjustment can happen in a number of ways (e.g., perception, interaction with the world, interaction with other “knowers”).

This work places semiotics as relevant to debates on intentional action, knowledge-how and knowledge in general; contributing to a dialogue between semiotics and analytic philosophy.

Fontanille, J., The Semiotics of Discourse, trans. Heidi Bostic, New York: Peter Lang, 2006.
Gettier, E. L., ‘Is justified true belief knowledge?’, Analysis, vol. 23(6), 1963, pp. 121–123.
Greimas, A. J., Sémantique structurale, Paris: Presse universitaires de France, 1986 [1966].
Miranda Medina, J. F., ‘Competence, Counterpoint and Harmony: A triad of semiotic concepts for the scholarly study of dance’, Signata. Annales des sémiotiques/Annals of Semiotics, vol. 11, 2020.
Williamson, T., and Stanley, J., ‘Knowing how’, The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 98(8), 2001.

Juan Felipe Miranda Medina

Universidad Católica San Pablo (UCSP)

researcher, musician and dancer, currently focusing on the application of Greimasian semiotics to Afro-Peruvian dance. Given his doctoral degree in telecommunications and his artistic background, Miranda Medina’s theoretical approach relies on the interplay of semiotics, engineering, philosophy, anthropology and ethnochoreology. He is currently a lecturer at Universidad Católica San Pablo at the Department of Mechatronics, and the director of the project CONTRAPUNTO: The living footsteps of Afro-Peruvian zapateo, affiliated to the British Museum through the Santo Domingo Center of Excellence in Latin American Research (SDCELAR).