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(2011) The semiotics of law in legal education, Dordrecht, Springer.

History and semiotics

preliminary thoughts

William A. Pencak

pp. 77-80

All historians are semioticians: from an infinite number of occurrences, they select those, which they consider meaningful, hoping to convey the importance of that interpretation to their readers. Even positivists who say history is just a bunch of facts must decide what facts, or the compilers of a chronicle have to choose what to include. Historians thus investigate with some care and sophistication the systems of symbolization, which humankind has developed to give meaning to its existence.The historian does not simply identify symbols but weighs the elements that empower or disable them. Carl Becker showed that even harsh critics of medieval Christianity simply brought Utopia down to earth in some idea and future society. Each of those eras has its own "magic words' or "code" such as God, sin, heaven, grace, and salvation of the Christians, whereas those of the Enlightenment were words nature, natural law, first cause, reason. Charles Sanders Peirce anticipated Becker's way of looking at the world. His theory of history was neglected in his own lifetime. Peirce would formulate insights against social Darwinists: history erupts – cataclysmically.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-1341-3_4

Full citation:

Pencak, W. A. (2011)., History and semiotics: preliminary thoughts, in J. Broekman & F. J. Mootz (eds.), The semiotics of law in legal education, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 77-80.

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