Charles W. Morris

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Charles William Morris (born May 23, 1901 in Denver , Colorado , † January 15, 1979 in Gainesville , Florida ) was an American semiotic and philosopher .


Charles Morris first earned an engineering degree from Northwestern University in Chicago. He then obtained his doctorate (Ph.D.) from the University of Chicago under George Herbert Mead , who is considered the founder of social psychology and who advocated pragmatism in philosophy . Morris first taught from 1925 to 1931 at Rice University / Houston, Texas, then in Chicago from 1931 to 1958 and finally at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Morris chaired the Western Division of the American Philosophical Association and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1952).

Morris published his transcripts of George Herbert Mead's lectures and thus made a significant contribution to making them known.

In the 1930s, Morris supported the emigration of a number of German and Austrian philosophers to the United States. Among them was Rudolf Carnap , with whom he worked as a colleague in Chicago from 1936 to 1952. Morris was a member of the Unitiy of Science and, together with Carnap and Otto Neurath, co- edited the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science . This gave him close ties to the Vienna Circle .

Morris established his own direction of pragmatism . With his book Paths of Life: Preface to a World Religion 1942, he advocated a new form of religious belief. It was designed by C. Wright Mills as an escape attempt by the pragmatist philosopher against the acute socio-political problems, as an expression of self-alienation of the intellectuals.

An important student of Morris was the semiotic Thomas Sebeok .


Sign concept

Morris advocated a pragmatic concept of a sign by replacing a concept or thought with a behavior: "A sign can best be characterized as follows: Z (sign carrier) is for a behavior I (interpretant) a sign of the object D (designate), provided I is a notice of D due to the occurrence of Z. " From this it followed for him for the term semiosis (signing process): "Accordingly, in semiosis, something takes notice of something else indirectly, that is, through the mediation of something third. A semiosis is thus an indirect-taking-notice-of are sign carriers; the notices are interpreters; the actors in this process are interpreters; that which is taken notice of are designates. "


Morris conceptually distinguished the interpreter from the interpreter.

The concept of the interpreter goes back to Peirce . In the Aristotelian tradition, the concept or thought was the interpretant.

"Interpretant" should be defined as "taking notice", as "an effect that is triggered in some recipient and through which the thing in question appears as a sign". "The interpretant of a sign is the habit by virtue of which the sign carrier is assigned the designation of certain types of objects or types of facts; ..."

This view is based on an explicit behaviorism , as the equation or parallelization of his examples shows: ( Example 1 : “A dog responds to a certain behavior with a behavior (I) (scilicet: = interpretant!) That belongs to the chasing of squirrels According to (Z) ... "; Example 2 :" A traveler adjusts himself (I) to a certain area of ​​the world (D) when he receives a letter (Z) from a friend. "But Morris himself sees behaviorism as the only possible interpretation of his character model, but the overcoming of “introspective school psychology” that goes along with it speaks for behaviorism.

Despite the reference to the semiotics of Charles S. Peirce, there are essential differences to Peirce . While Peirce based his semiotics on general categories of perception and understood every thought as a sign, Morris developed a behavioristic view of the signs, which pursued a descriptive-empirical observation of the use of signs in a social context as a scientific program.

The concept of pragmatics

The pragmatic understanding of the drawing process leads to the inclusion of the interpreter in the drawing model. The part of semiotics that deals with the relationship between the character carrier and the interpreter is what Morris calls pragmatics. This with reference to the expression “pragmatism”.

This inclusion takes place in a broad sense: “Since most, if not all signs include living organisms as interpreters, one can characterize the pragmatics with the words that it deals with the life-related aspects of semiosis, ie with all psychological, biological and sociological phenomena that occur in the drawing process. "

The division of semiotics into syntactics - semantics - pragmatics

The distinction between syntactics , semantics and pragmatics, which is fundamental for semiotics, comes from Morris .

"On the basis of the three correlates of sign carrier, designate and interpreter in the three-digit sign relation (24), some two-digit relations can be abstracted for a more detailed investigation."

It should be emphasized that the interpreter and not the interpreter is mentioned here as the point of reference for pragmatics.

The interpretation is inconsistent:

The previous version says: In his book Foundations of the Theory of Signs he proposed the triadic subdivision of a semiotic sign into “interpretant” (interpretation as behavioral disposition), “denotatum” (reference as an object of action) and “significatum” (also “sign vehicle "; meaning as a condition for fulfilling the character content).

In an afterword to the German translation, both the interpretant (as an "act of indirectly taking notice") and the interpreter are mentioned as a reference point for pragmatics.

Publications (selection)

  • Foundations of the Theory of Signs (= International Encyclopedia of Unified Science . Volume 1, No. 2). Chicago 1938; 12th edition 1966.
    • German title: Basics of the theory of signs. In: Charles William Morris (ed.): Foundations of the theory of signs, aesthetics of the theory of signs. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1988, ISBN 3-596-27406-0 .
  • Esthetics and the Theory of Signs (1939), in: Aesthetics of Sign Theory , in: Charles William Morris, Fundamentals of Sign Theory , Aesthetics of Sign Theory , Frankfurt a. M., Fischer (1988). - ISBN 3-596-27406-0 )
  • Signs, Language, and Behavior (1946)
  • Signification and Significance (1964)
  • Writings on the General Theory of Signs (1971)
rest of philosophy
  • Mind, Self, and Society (1934), a collection of George Herbert Mead 's lectures.
  • Scientific Empiricism (1938). In: Otto Neurath , Rudolf Carnap , Charles Morris (Eds.): International Encyclopedia of Unified Science . Volume 1, No. 1. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill. 1938.
  • as ed. with Otto Neurath, Niels Bohr , John Dewey , Bertrand Russell and Rudolf Carnap: Encyclopedia and Unified Science (= International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. Volume 1, No. 1). Chicago 1938.
  • Paths of Life: Preface to a World Religion (1942)
  • The Open Self (1948)
  • Varieties of Human Value (1956)
  • The Pragmatic Movement in American Philosophy (1970)
  • Six Theories of Mind
  • Logical Positivism, Pragmatism, and Scientific Empiricism .


  • Lambert Wiesing : From Formula to Formative Discourse. In: Lambert Wiesing: The visibility of the picture. History and Perspectives of Formal Aesthetics. Frankfurt am Main: Campus 2008. pp. 239–268.

Web links


  1. ^ C. Wright Mills: Pragmatism, Politics and Religion. In: Power, Politics and People. The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills. Oxford University Press: London Oxford New York.
  2. ^ Morris, Basics of Character Theory (1988), p. 21
  3. ^ Morris, Fundamentals of Character Theory (1988), p. 21
  4. ^ Morris, Fundamentals of Character Theory (1988), p. 53
  5. ^ Morris, Fundamentals of Character Theory (1988), p. 21
  6. ^ Morris, Fundamentals of Character Theory (1988), p. 20
  7. ^ Morris, Fundamentals of Character Theory (1988), p. 58
  8. ^ A b Morris, Basics of Character Theory (1988), p. 20
  9. ^ Morris, Fundamentals of Character Theory (1988), p. 23
  10. ^ Morris, Fundamentals of Character Theory (1988), p. 23
  11. ^ Morris, Basics of the Theory of Signs (1988), p. 52
  12. ^ Morris, Fundamentals of Character Theory (1988), p. 52
  13. ^ Morris, Basics of the Theory of Signs (1988), p. 23 f.
  14. Knilli, epilogue , in: Morris, Basis derzeichenentheorie (1988), p. 94