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Semiotics as a Theoretical Basis of the Human Sciences

Posner, Roland

In all cultures of the world, the members of the younger generation must prepare themselves for life within the environment into which they were born. They do this by learning to adjust themselves to the social institutions, to handle the tools in use, and to master the valid sign systems. That is, they acquire the social, civilizational, and mental competences of their culture. In the schools and universities of the Western hemisphere, the academic disciplines that teach the relevant knowledge and skills have for several millennia been known as "the humanities". Historically, the most influential characterization of the humanities has conceived of them as studying the human "spirit" ( "Geist" , "esprit" ) and its cultural expressions as striving not to explain, but rather to understand what goes on in a culture. In the present paper, this approach is discussed with respect to the various conceptions of the humanities that were developed in the course of European history. It will be shown that each of these conceptions is motivated by trying to account for newly introduced types of signs and sign processes. This observation is taken to justify the claims that (1) semiotics provides a scientific basis for a rational explication of the tasks and terminologies of all the humanities, that (2) semiotics can serve to re-design the humanities of the various cultures as human sciences, and that (3) semiotics is able to specify the cultural role and the educational values of the human sciences as a whole.
Published in: Chinese semiotic studies, 10.1515/css-2009-0015, De Gruyter
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