- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books (November 9, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 015601159X
- ISBN-13: 978-0156011594
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #927,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition
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The first essay is something of a prequel; not about semiotics, but the nature of "being". It seems to be in the nature of human language that "to be" something is to be discriminated, normally at first by the senses, and then by the application of further layers of the mental. Eco uses this first essay to connect up categories (not Kant's categories) of the mental with mind-independent reality. Eco is a realist. Not only is a mind independent world real, it divides up beginning at the lowest orders of our sensory apparatus. In subsequent essays Eco introduces Cognitive Types (CT), Nuclear Content (NC) and Molar Content (MC), three categories Eco develops to explain how the process of connecting up sign to mind-independent-thing, and then sign-to-sign, occurs.
I have to say much of it was a little confusing. Eco's writing here (I assume written originally in Italian) is not always easy to follow. Part of the problem is that I am unfamiliar with the details of this philosophical sub-sub-discipline. Eco's work is scholarly. He makes many references to philosophers in the field (especially Pierce) who are entirely unknown to me. He illustrates his argument throughout the text with two (mostly) examples taken from linguistic history; the discovery and 80 year debate over the nature of the platypus, and the encounter between the Spanish and the Aztecs who until that time had never seen a horse. The examples are pretty clear, but not always what Eco is driving at establishing. It isn't until late in the book in an essay on reference that I found myself on more familiar ground.
I suspect that to appreciate what Eco is saying here requires some familiarity with his wider body of work or at least semiotics generally. Still I learned something and it is always interesting to view a field from the viewpoint of one of its masters.
When I started reading the book I was taken aback by the combination of depth and the vividness of the style. Eco is sprightly and alive, something that cannot be said of many philosophers dealing with the subject of categories.
The notion of categories is not trivial: you need a simple conditional prior to identify an object; it is a simple mathematical fact. You need to know what a table is to see it in the background separated from its surroundings. You need to know what a face is so when it rotates you know it is still the same face. Computers have had a hard time with such pattern recognition. A PRIOR category is a necessity. This was Kant's intuition (the so-called "rationalism"). This is also the field of semiotics as initially conceived. Eco took it to greater levels with his notion of what I would call in scientific language a compression, a "simplifation". This leads to the major problem we face today: what if the act of compressing is arbitrary?
Not just very deep but it is a breath of fresh air to see such a philosophical discussion nondull, nondry, alive!