Introducing Biosemiotic Ethics

Keywords: ethics, biosemiotic ethics, biosemiotics, ecology, ecosystem, animal rights, philosophy, moral philosophy, semiosis, environment


In this introduction to the special issue on Biosemiotic Ethics, we introduce major concepts and themes corresponding to the topic. With reference to Ivar Puura’s notion of “semiocide”, we ask: what are the ethical responsibilities that attention to semiotics carries? We argue that if life is fundamentally semiotic, then biosemiotics and moral theory should be explored in conjunction, rather than separately. Biosemiotic ethics becomes relevant whenever one complex of signs impinges on another; particularly whenever human sign usage impinges on the wellbeing or sustainable functioning of human or non-human semiotic agents. Stable coexistence of sign systems is far from inevitable, but it is a meaningful goal that can be pursued. In complex ecosystems, for example, certain types of coexistent relationships have evolved to share space despite competitive needs and expressions. We describe the ways in which authors in this volume articulate various justifications for the view that what is morally relevant is semiosis. Given these perspectives in a growing approach to understanding moral relationships, biosemiotic ethics has the decisive advantage of drawing on contemporary biosemiotics’ empirically-informed biological acuity within a rich semiotic framework.