To Show and to Say: Comparing the Uses of Pictures and Language

Jörg R. J. Schirra, Klaus Sachs-Hombach


There has been a long tradition of characterizing man as the animal that talks. However, the remarkable ability of using pictures also only belongs to human beings, after all we know empirically so far. Are there conceptual reasons for that coincidence? Such a question belongs to the philosophy of language just as well as to philosophical visualistics. Comparing the two abilities to use words or pictures yields several similarities as well as distinctions. A well-known conceptual disparity between pictures and words appears in their relation to perception: the difference can be further determined in an act-theoretic manner by four modes of use of the sign vehicles during the corresponding sign acts. Furthermore, the figure/ground dichotomy means something different for language uses and picture uses. In both cases, however, there is a close relation to the function of context building, by which humans are able to communicate not only with respect to the present situation of behavior but with respect to arbitrary contexts as well. Although the structural comparison does clarify the conceptual relations, it cannot explain that the conceptual structure ought to be like that. Therefore, the paper concludes with the programme of a "conceptgenetic" consideration of the two abilities (i.e., to use propositional language or to use pictures) that is able to give us such a foundation. 


pictures; language; resemblance; logic; figure/ground; experiential contexts

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Studies in Communication Sciences | ISSN: 1424-4896