Every human being uses signs and is involved in sign processes. Every society has developed ideas on how signs enable humans to orient themselves in their environment and deal with each other. Every language contains a rich vocabulary of words for traces, symptoms, cues and clues; for indications, utterances, and expressions; for symbols, interpretations, and models; for information, interaction, and communication.
The established academic disciplines have long neglected the common properties of the various sign types on which their unified theoretical analysis could be based. The human and social sciences have studied the signs used in language, literature, art, music, law, and religion independently of each other, and consequently lost sight of their unitary character. The engineering and natural sciences have adopted a mechanistic approach to nature and life, and have thereby led the industrial and post-industrial societies into problems which they can no longer overcome with the means provided by these sciences.
However, it is feasible to conceive of sign processes in all their variations as a unitary phenomenon connecting living nature with human culture and distinguishing them both from inanimate nature. This conceptualization may serve as a key to providing the human, social, engineering, and natural sciences with a common theoretical basis for well-defined division of labor and cooperation.
It is feasible to regard human behavior in all cultures as sign production and conception. Following this approach, life in family and profession, commerce and administration, art and religion can be understood in a unified way and studied in all its transdisciplinary aspects.
Semiotics has made this its task. After important beginnings in Antiquity and the Middel Ages, it established itself as a scientific enterprise in the Age of Enlightenment and has developed several efficient conceptual approaches in the last hundred years. These have been elaborated into components of formal theory in recent decades. The focal relevance of semiotics for the reorganization of academic disciplines and for the interlinked analysis of nature and culture has led to increasingly urgent demands for a comprehensive presentation of its history and systematics.
The handbook Semiotics presents in four volumes containing 178 articles written by 175 authors from 25 countries the current state of research in general, descriptive, and applied semiotics and gives a comprehensive overview of sign conceptions in philosophy, aesthetics, logic, mathematics, grammar, stylistics, poetics, music, architecture, the fine arts, medicine, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, economics, religion, and everyday life.
Part A (Chapter I-IV) provides a theory-based outline of the entire field of semiotics in 31 articles.
Part B (Chapter V-XI) complements this systematic account of semiotics by offering, in 68 articles, a unique survey of implicit semiotic thought in the most important cultures of the world and through the successive epochs of Western history.
Part C (Chapter XII) describes, in 23 articles, the various trends currently operative within semiotics.
Part D (Chapters XIII and XIV) comprises 36 articles that analyze the possibilities of a systematic reconstruction of the sign-related university disciplines and interdisciplinary approaches on a semiotic basis.
Part E (Chapter XV) contains 18 articles on selected sign problems in contemporary industrial and post-industrial societies. All of them are treated only marginally or not at all in the context of current university disciplines.
Part F (Chapter XVI) supplies semiotic practitioners with a series of concrete professional tools. It surveys semiotic institutions and organizations and provides semiotic reference sources and periodicals for the reader's convenience. The person and subject index allow the use of the book both as encyclopedia and dictionary.
With this array of offerings, the Handbook addresses the following groups of readers:
Experts in Semiotics who wish to extend their historical or systematic knowledge; Scholars in the individual disciplines who wish to assess the value and potential of their discipline within the framework of the traditional arts and sciences; practicing artists in various fields who wish to consider their activities as sign production; readers interested in culture who wish to appreciate human behavior in everyday life as sign use; everyone interested in the relationship between nature and culture.
Its extensive subject matter, its transparent organization, and its didactic treatment make the Handbook well suited as a basis for university courses and seminars in semiotics, the history of culture, the philosophy of science, and the disciplines mentioned above.