Teobaldelli, Paolo: "The Semiotic Turn in Karl-Otto Apel's Philosophy"


This entire line of argument appears to me to be weak and not entirely free of contradictions. It does not convince us, as a matter of fact, of the assumed opposition of polarity, since I think it can be argued that knowledge through bodily engagement presupposes reflection and vice-versa.1
Let us consider the example of an archaeologist, archaelogist Z. By reflecting on given data, such a person might hypothesize that a given place hides valuable archaeological artifacts. Z has no knowledge of them as yet, since Z has only an unverified hypothesis, and in order to verify it Z needs a physical engagement, i.e. Z must proceed in digging. Yet let us suppose that while digging Z makes a further reflection on the observational data in front of him/her (that allow Z to recognize some details of his/her cognitive map which Z did not see as relevant at first) that leads Z to believe he/she has not begun his/her dig in the right place, although near to it. Z then has to modify its engagement and this can also happen more than once. Therefore, how is it possible to divide the knowledge through reflection from the one through engagement in life? Furthermore, it can be argued basically that any reflection is an engagement in life, since reflecting is also living and doing something.
The whole argumentation and division seems indeed to come out from a presupposed dichotomy between the so-called Geistwissenschaften [Sciences of Mind, that is Humanities __ Ed.] (i.e. those of 'knowledge through reflection') and the natural sciences (i.e. of 'knowledge through engagement in life'). Then the task of Apel is to distinguish a meta-empirical (Abstract, ideal or eidetic) thinking, i.e. a prima philosophia, from a thinking that is directly oriented toward a concrete world, i.e. a thinking that is also a technical manufacturing.

2. The interest of knowledge and language

In this sense, as a matter of fact, Apel introduces the category of interest (taken from Habermas 1968) which, he believes, can be promoted to the status of a priori, as interest in knowledge, and divided then according to the aforementioned dichotomy:

It seems to me that man has basically two equally important but non identical complementary cognitive interests:

1. An interest that is determined by the necessity for a technical praxis as the basis of insights into natural laws;

2. An interest that is determined by the necessity for a social, morally relevant praxis. (p.59)

The second of these two interests is the one oriented toward consensus, toward communication, and it also regards natural objective science since it is also the condition of possibility of such science, because "as Peirce recognised, the natural scientist's community of experiment always expresses a semiotic community of interpretation (p.58)."
Of relevance to our investigation is the argument (based upon such a gnoseo-anthropological context) that Apel works out about the science of language, and particularly the subject of scientism arisen against it. Apel sees the science of language as a mere empirical-descriptive semantics2, since it has to be included within the same semantics and so on ad libitum. Apel argues that in such a way the subject of these empirical languages, which are semantically described, has been reduced (via objectivation), and this reduction consists of its elimination as a scientific theme:

Thus pragmatics itself once again becomes the subject matter of a scientific language viewed as a semantic system. Moreover, since the subject of this scientific language can only be understood as an object and so on ad infinitum, scientism implies the reductive elimination of the subject of science [...] The description of the pragmatic dimension cannot be applied to its own dimension at the time of its usage (p.97)


1. Further, it seems to me that the same terminology suggests the paradoxicality of that trope, because according to it, reflection appears to be something other than the life of a human being. That is, how is it possible to reflect without being situated somewhere? Where is the meta-empirical point of view situated? Can theoretical systems which would not be standpoints and therefore which would express at the same time a given perspective, be formed? It seems to me that such a question is due to the same problem, namely that of a non-anthropomorphic conception of the Peircian interpretant (as criticized in Teobaldelli 1998b) [RETURN]

2. Therefore I find here in Apel an indirect confirmation of my critiques of the non-anthropomorphic interpretation of the Peircian interpretant upon which Eco bases his theory of semiotics (Eco 1975) and the strong philosophical value he gives to the notion of information seen as the ground of knowledge (see Teobaldelli 1997; 1998). [RETURN]

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© 1998, AS/SA

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