restricted access The Criterion of Habit in Peirce's Definitions of the Symbol

The paper examines the concept of habit and its relevance to Peirce's theory of the symbol. In contrast to other semioticians who defined symbols by using the criteria of conventionality, arbitrariness, and codedness, Peirce proposes a much broader concept when he defines the symbol as a sign having "the virtue of a growing habit." With this new and original criterion of habit, Peirce enriched the theory of the symbol with an evolutionary perspective that remained unnoticed by those who restricted the category of the symbol to signs characterized by codedness and arbitrariness. In particular, Peirce's evolutionary concept of the symbol is incompatible with Ernst Cassirer's Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, according to which the symbol is the unique characteristic of human culture, whereas nonhuman nature is a semiosphere devoid of symbols. In Peirce's broader perspective, the concept of habit serves as a synechistic bridge to overcome two dualisms that prevailed in the traditional definitions of the symbol, that between culture and nature and that between the conventional and the innate. Against the first Peirce proposes that a habit by which symbols are interpreted is "natural or conventional"; against the second, Peirce postulates that a habit which determines a symbol is a disposition "acquired or inborn."