Crossing the symbolic threshold: a critical review of Terrence Deacon's The Symbolic Species
Lumsden, D. (2002). Crossing the symbolic threshold: a critical review of Terrence Deacons "The Symbolic Species". Philosophical Psychology, 15(2), 155-171.
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/442
Terrence Deacon's views about the origin of language are based on a particular notion of a symbol. While the notion is derived from Peirce's semiotics, it diverges from that source and needs to be investigated on its own terms in order to evaluate the idea that the human species has crossed the symbolic threshold. Deacon's view is defended from the view that symbols in the animal world are widespread and from the extreme connectionist view that they are not even to be found in humans. Deacon's treatment of symbols involves a form of holism, as a symbol needs to be part of a system of symbols. He also appears to take a realist view of symbols. That combination of holism and realism makes the threshold a sharp threshold, which makes it hard to explain how the threshold was crossed. This difficulty is overcome if we take a mild realist position towards symbols, in the style of Dennett. Mild realism allows intermediate stages in the crossing but does not undermine Deacon's claim that the threshold is difficult to cross or the claim that it needs to be crossed quickly.
This article is the post-peer review author produced version; the final, definitive version of this article has been published in the journal, Philosophical Psychology, 15(2). (c) 2002 Taylor and Francis Ltd.