Julian D Jonker


Are there any viable semiotic objections to commodification? A semiotic objection holds that even if there is no independent consequentialist or deontic objection to the marketing of a good—such as that it is exploitative or causes third party harm—there remains a problem with what is said by participating in that market. Recent discussion of semiotic objections have suffered from a basic ambiguity in such talk. As Grice pointed out, there is a difference between saying that smoke on the horizon means fire, and saying that it means there will be war tomorrow. We could say that in the former case smoke indicates fire because of its causal connection with fire, while in the latter case smoke expresses a call to war because that is the non-natural meaning given to it by convention or by its place in a communicative practice. The recent defenses of semiotic objections presented by Anthony Booth, Jacob Sparks, and Mark Wells do not survive this distinction, as they either complain about non-semiotic facts that are indicated rather than expressed by markets, or they complain about semiotic features of markets, but these complaints inevitably collapse into weak consequentialist objections. But this result is not bad for anticommodificationists, as semiotic objections have dialectical disadvantages.


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