Social and socio-
Ontogeny and symbolism
Theories of symbolization and development
An interdisciplinary approach to human symbolic evolution draws upon psychological, semiotic, and social theory, as well as upon evolutionary biology. This chapter provides a historical and theoretical overview of main trends in the theory of signs, and examines the fusion of semiotic, psychological, and biological themes in the classic works of genetic psychology.
Contemporary semiotic theory, as well as some key issues in the philosophy of language, have their origins in the work of three major figures at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Charles Sanders Peirce attempted to found a general theory of knowledge upon his analysis of the nature and function of signs in cognition and communication; he introduced the term 'semiotics', and can also be considered as the founder of pragmatics. The logician Gottlob Frege introduced the distinction between sense and reference which was one of the major foundations of analytic philosophy. Ferdinand de Saussure, the founder of structural linguistics, analysed language as a system of 'signifying differences', in which the value of an element is dependent upon its relations with other elements.
More recently, analyses of language as a communicative vehicle - as pragmatic instrument, that is - have been coupled with criticisms of the way in which traditional linguistic theory treats language as an abstract object independently of use and of context. The theoretical contributions of Mead, Bakhtin, and Barthes provide important insights into the role of language in the creation and maintenance of social life.
Freud, Piaget, and Vygotsky - the three principal figures in
the foundation of 'genetic psychology' - were all concerned,
in elaborating their theories, to understand processes which
can be conceived at one and the same time as semiotic,
cognitive, and biological. These three psychologists employed
concepts from Darwinian (and, in the cases of Freud and
Piaget, Lamarckian) evolutionary theory to fashion their
observations of child development (and, in the case of Freud,
of clinical symptoms) into integrated theories in which human
nature, culture and society, and semiotic and cognitive
processes are treated as evolutionary and developmental