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"A factor which complicates the structure of a language such as English is the prevalence of ambiguous symbols. A symbol is said to be ambiguous when it is constituted by signs which are identical in their sensible form, not only with one another, but also with signs which are elements of some other symbol. For what makes two signs elements of the same symbol is not merely an identity of form, but also an identity of usage. Thus, if we were guided merely by the form of the sign, we should assume that the ‘is’ which occurs in the sentence ‘He is the author of that book’ was the same symbol as the ‘is’ which occurs in the sentence ‘A cat is a mammal’. But, when we come to translate the sentences, we find that the first is equivalent to ‘He, and no one else, wrote that book’, and the second to ‘The class of mammals contains the class of cats’. And this shows that, in this instance, each ‘is’ is an ambiguous symbol which must not be confused with the other, nor with the ambiguous symbols of existence, and class-membership, and identity, and entailment, which are also constituted by signs of the form ‘is’."

I have a couple of questions I need you to clarify:

  1. "For what makes two signs elements of the same symbol is not merely an identity of form, but also an identity of usage." Doesn't it make them literally one same sign? What's left to make them different signs? Explain with examples, please.

  2. "...each ‘is’ is an ambiguous symbol which must not be confused with the other, nor with the ambiguous symbols of existence, and class-membership, and identity, and entailment, which are also constituted by signs of the form ‘is’."
    So each "is" is a sign. And those signs belong to different symbols (such as symbols of existence, class- membership, etc), right?

  3. Let's look at the symbol of existence from (2). Which signs are included in that, can you write down a couple of them?

  4. What's the symbol of existence from (2) and (3)? Can you show me this symbol? Is this symbol just a word "existence"?

  5. Can you explain me the difference between a symbol and a sign in general by showing a couple of symbols and a few of signs included in them?

P.S. I understand that my level is very low, that's why I'm asking for help.

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  • Not very clear... in There is a pen on my desk, "is" means existence. In The cat is a mammal, it means inclusion (set) or predication (concepts), in Napoleon is the Emperor of France it means identity. Dec 24, 2023 at 18:42
  • Signs are particular vs symbols that are abstract. Dec 25, 2023 at 8:27

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TLDR: A symbol is not a substance but a property. Signs are not symbols but rather,signs are of type symbol. Signs can be symbolic when the letters we use to communicate the sign and the concept the sign refers to have an arbitrary relation.

Let's start with the last one (5):

Can you explain me the difference between a symbol and a sign in general by showing a couple of symbols and a few of signs included in them?

The study of signs is semiotics. Basically it states that a sign is made up of two things: a signifier and a signified.

The signified is the concrete object to which we are making reference: When I say 'dog' I am making reference to an existing dog. That part of the sign which exists outside of communication is the signified.

The signifier is the vehicle with which we make reference to the signified. It can be the sounds when talking, or words when writing etc. Whatever we use to reference the signified during communication is the sign.

According to C.S. Pierce The necessary union of these two aspects (signifier and signified) make up what we call a sign. Pierce divides signs into three categories based on the type of relationship the signifier and signified hold together: icons, indices or symbols.

Lest skip the first two and get directly to Symbols (in the wiki page you can find the other two):

symbols are those that signify through a law or arbitrary social convention.

The signified in the different signs cited (existence, class membership, identity and entailment) are not formal things. Existence (the concept) does not have a form and therefore the only possible type of relation between the signified (idea) and the signifier (word) has to be something arbitrary.

This is what we call a symbol: the arbitrary letters we all agreed would refer to the idea or concept of existence (namely e-x-i-s-t-e-n-c-e) or the signifier, and the idea istelf which it is referencing (the signified).

But since symbols are arbitrary we can find ourselves in situations which we use the same letters to refer to different symbols: the symbol iscould be used as the sign existenceor as the sign class membership. And this does create confusion.

(1)

"For what makes two signs elements of the same symbol is not merely an identity of form, but also an identity of usage." Doesn't it make them literally one same sign? What's left to make them different signs? Explain with examples, please.

Here I think the concepts are being used naively in your quote. Since a symbol categorizes the relation, inside the sign, between the signifier (letters i-s) and the signified (the concept/idea of existence), a different signified (concept of class-membership) with the same signifier (is) would be an entirely different sign. These two signs (is as existenceand is as class-membership) share an identity of form in the signified i-s.

I think that what the quote's use of identity of usage might refer to is the identical way we use the word is grammatically, and not an identity of the signified. Grammatically we use is the same way if we refer to identity or to class-membership.

(2)

"...each ‘is’ is an ambiguous symbol which must not be confused with the other, nor with the ambiguous symbols of existence, and class-membership, and identity, and entailment, which are also constituted by signs of the form ‘is’."

So each "is" is a sign. And those signs belong to different symbols (such as symbols of existence, class- membership, etc), right?

Is is a signifier that when linked to a signified (existence, class-membership etc.) can become two different signs (is as existence or is as class-membership). Since the relation between the sign's components is arbitrary this makes the sign of type symbol. Symbols are easy to confuse because they might be written the same but reference totaly different things.

This means that signs do not belong to symbols but certain signs (in their internal relations) can be of type symbol ie they can be arbitrary.

(3)

Let's look at the symbol of existence from (2). Which signs are included in that, can you write down a couple of them?

Here, the sign is as existence is of type symbol because there is no relation between the signifier is and the signified existence. We don´t include signs into symbols but rather certain signs are of type symbol. One such example of a symbolic sign: is as in He is here (He exists here). There is no direct relation between the letters and the concept, it is arbitrary; thats why it is a symbolic sign.

(4)

What's the symbol of existence from (2) and (3)? Can you show me this symbol? Is this symbol just a word "existence"?

The sign is (as existence) is a symbolic type sign because the signifier (the letters i-s) do not directly imply the signified (the concept).

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