Introductory Editorial No. 21

Welcome to the twenty-first installment of our journal, which is devoted this time around to the importance of the intension.

Rather than let the reader attempt to guess at which of the numerous interpretations we mean, let us clarify right away: the sense intended here is general, and straightforward: a referent which is immaterial, i.e. which resides in the mind in the form of a representation. This is to be contrasted with the much easier concept of the extension, the material object "out there" to which a sign can refer.

Naturally, there is considerably less debate about the extension than about the intension. Questions about the "nature" or "essence" of material things are as old as scholarly endeavour itself. But the way in which we model that external object in our minds, the potential inaccuracies of such notions, and the possibility of additional psychological baggage being added, mean that intensions are a topic for which there is less likelihood of an obvious general consensus. As American logician Richard Martin put it, "the study of intensions is in its infancy." Of course, what he meant by this was that there was, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, no clear method for determining what makes one intension different to or the same as another, and therefore no way to determine how many kinds of intensions could be considered as useful entities in logic.

Still, in the softer semiotics that leaves logic and quantitative notation to the esoterically inclined, we are faced with a Tower of Babel upon which it seems that there are numerous schools of thought. Are we at all talking about the same thing when we speak of a sign's connotation, its interpretant, its cultural significance, its anthropological treatment, its holistic value, or the verbum mentis of its Augustinian triad?

One would dearly hope there might be some commonality among the disciplines, and common ground among the schools of thought. Indeed, it seems to us that whereas the physical object, though only known by virtue of perception, is something externally invariable having reliably constant characteristics, the mental object must be thrown into potential uncertainty by such phenomena as subjectivity, scientific error and the possibility of added socio-cultural significances.

The articles in this issue all address the way in which meaning is interpreted not only in terms of pedestrian factors such as external referents, but also in terms of values, beliefs, judgments and other interoceptive, cultural and normative associations.

This, we feel, is an important and ill-served area of our discipline.

Peter Marteinson
For the Editors,
September 2008


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AS/SA Nº 21, Editorial

© 2008, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

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