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


The obstacle Apel's communicational paradigm seems to encounter is again precisely that represented by the conception of sign, i.e. a semiotic philosophical problem. Apel as a matter of fact tries to avoid a gnoseologistic view through a methodological distinction between the reference to empirical data (gnoseology) and the self-reflexive comprehension (hermeneutics), but in this way he sets aside the general role of the symbolicity of knowledge that indeed should be considered as equally relevant in both the natural and human sciences, since it can be argued that such symbolicity is the common ground of any human activity, and is thus present both in the former scientific research and in the latter.
But there is still a more basic question. If we assume that only the natural sciences refer to facts, to empirically verifiable states of affairs, what does the hermeneutic self-comprehensive science, the prima philosophia semiotica, refer to? To an unreal and non-empirical something? And from which point of view? The paradoxical nature of Apel's conception, then, is clear. He does not succeed in overcoming the paradox of Wittgenstein's linguistic game. The linguistic game of linguistic games cannot be a language having a different functioning; its signs must be, in principle, equivalent to the others. Therefore, to what do they refer? Thus Apel's basic axiomatization goes no further than the idealism/realism dichotomy, but, rather, integrates this axiomatizaion within a point of view that is external to it, but whose precise boundaries are extremely difficult to locate.1 This arises from a lack of strict confrontation with specific semiotic questions, and above all with the fundamental question represented by the terms and notions of sign and signification, which would have shown him the impossibility of any escape from a philosophy of consciousness without a deep reflection on what appears to be one of its most powerful concepts, i.e. the unproblematic and gnoseological sign/meaning relation.
Semantics excludes the subject of science, and renders interpreting a mechanical and automatic process which needs no further explanations. Yet it seems, indeed, unsatisfactory to exclude the validity of the gnoseological view of semantics at least in terms of the human sciences, and thus to give the human sciences a different status, i.e. a hermeneutic one. Either the gnoseologic assumption of truth as referring to an object is valid for all sciences and therefore is to be considered a good grounding to any theory of knowledge, or on the contrary it is necessary to reject it in toto, since it reduces knowledge to mere empiricism and therefore it gives a validity only to an empirical-descriptive semantics as the true science of meaning. It seems to me that there is no escape allowing us to have it both ways.


1. Its outcome is in a way similar to that of Husserl, where the eidetic essences are neither real nor ideal and therefore are circled in a realm of obscure nature (see Teobaldelli 1998b). [RETURN]

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