Axiomatizing umwelt normativity

Marc Champagne

Abstract


Prompted by the thesis that an organism’s umwelt possesses not just a descriptive dimension, but a normative one as well, some have sought to annex semiotics with ethics. Yet the pronouncements made in this vein have consisted mainly in rehearsing accepted moral intuitions, and have failed to concretely further our knowledge of why or how a creature comes to order objects in its environment in accordance with axiological charges of value or disvalue. For want of a more explicit account, theorists writing on the topic have relied almost exclusively on semiotic insights about perception originally designed as part of a sophisticated refutation of idealism. The end result, which has been a form of direct givenness, has thus been far from convincing. In an effort to bring substance to the right-headed suggestion that values are rooted in the biological and conform to species-specific requirements, we present a novel conception that strives to make explicit the elemental structure underlying umwelt normativity. Building and expanding on the seminal work of Ayn Rand in metaethics, we describe values as an intertwined lattice which takes a creature’s own embodied life as its ultimate standard; and endeavour to show how, from this, all subsequent valuations can in principle be determined.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12697/SSS.2011.39.1.01





SIGN SYSTEMS STUDIES. ISSN 1406-4243 (print), 1736-7409 (online). E-mail: sss@ut.ee. Postal address: Sign Systems Studies, Dept. of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Jakobi St. 2, 51014 Tartu, Estonia