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Umberto Eco Edit Profile

Philosopher , semeiologist

Umberto Eco, Italian Semiotician. lots; Philosophy of language; philosophy of culture; medieval aesthetics.


Eco, Umberto was born on January 5, 1932 in Alessandria, Italy. Son of Giulio and Giovanna (Bisio) Eco.


Doctor of Philosophy, University Turin, 1954. Degrees (honorary).


Lecturer aesthetics University Turin, Milan Polytechnic, 1961—1964. Associate professor visual communications University Florence, 1966—1969. Associate professor semiotics Milan Polytechnic, 1969—1971, University Bologna, 1971—1975, professor semiotics, since 1975.

Director Instituto di Discipline della Communicazione e dello Spettacolo University Bologna, 1976—1977, 1980—1983, director Instituto di Discipline della Communicazione, 1983—1988, director semiotics Doctor of Philosophy program, 1986, 2002, president Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici, since 1999. Member executive science committee University San Marino, 1989—1995, president International Center Semiotics & Cognitive Studies, since 1989. President Institute Italiano di Scienze Umane, since 2002.

Visiting professor New York University, 1969—1970, 1976, Northwestern University, 1972, University California San Diego, 1975, Yale University, 1977, 80, 81, Columbia University, 1978, 84, Collège de France, Paris, 1992—1993, École Normale Superiore, Paris, 1996. Visiting Fellow, Italian Academy Columbia University, 1996. Tanner lecturer Cambridge University, 1990.

Norton lecturer Harvard University, 1992, 93. Goggio lecturer University Toronto, 2002. Weidenfeld lecturer Oxford University, 2002.

Chair, Corso di Laurea, Scienze della Communicazione University Bologna, 1993—1998.



Since the 1970s, Umberto Eco has revitalized the study of semiotics, and has shown it to be a new paradigm for philosophy, one in which contemporary philosophies of all traditions are synthesized. His theory of semiotics is many-sided, but can be divided roughly into a theory of how signs are deployed systematically in the articulation of meaning. And a theory of how signs are produced for the purpose of communicating meaning.

The foundation of both theories is the concept of the sign, which he defines as ‘everything that, on the grounds of a previously established social convention, can be taken as something standing for something else’. Every sign, therefore, consists of a sign-vehicle together with the meaning that it expresses. Sometimes a signvehicle is itself a sign in another code.

In such cases, the logically prior signification is denotation, and the subsequent signification is connotation. Whichever it may be, signification is not the same as reference. The sign-function can operate perfectly well without a ‘reality’ as its object.

It is meaningful to say both that Napoleon was an elephant, and that if Napoleon was an elephant Paris is the capital of France, even though one is false and the other is absurd. Semiotics, Eco says, is ‘the science of everything subject to the lie: it is also the science of everything subject to comic or tragic distortion’. Semiotics therefore demands an intensional rather than an extensional semantics.

Something can function as a sign only if it is interpretable, that is, if someone is able to pass from the sign-vehicle to its semantic content.

The relation of sign-vehicle to content seems to be of more than one kind, the two most common kinds being equivalence and implication: ‘A red flag with a Hammer and Sickle is equivalent to Communism, but if someone carries a red flag with a Hammer and Sickle, then that person is probably a Communist’■. Eco’s examination of the different kinds leads him to the conclusion that all are varieties of a mode of inference which C. S. Peirce called 'abduction'. It is by way of an abductive inference that an interpreter passes from a sign to what it stands for.

However, if an interpreter is to make this inference, some other factors, external to the code itself, must also come into play. For instance, the occurrence of the sign takes place in a certain context, which will influence the sign’s meaning on this occasion. Also the interpreter must have access to some kind of interprétant, which Eco construes as ‘another representation which is referred to the same "object"’.

One example of a set of interprétants would be a dictionary internalized by the speaker of a language. Eco examines the idea of a dictionary, whose conceptual ancestry he traces back to Porphyry, and concludes that in fact a dictionary is a disguised encyclopedia, by which he means an unordered and unrestricted compendium of world knowledge. Encyclopedic knowledge is the background for the interpretation of signs, at least as a regulative idea: in ractice, some kind of local representation is what is proximately used, together with the relevant context and background knowledge.

Interprétants, however, arc themselves in need of further interpretation, by means of further interprétants, in a process of unlimited semiosis. Eco exploits this theory of unlimited semiosis to establish semiotic explanations of many philosophical and logical concepts such as meaning, reference, truth, speech acts, analytic and synthetic, necessity, implication, and so on. Eco’s work on semiotics, though dazzling and original, has so far been more influential in linguistics and literary theory than in mainstream academic philosophy.


Fellow: St. Anne's College, Oxford (honorary), Kellogg College, Oxford (honorary). Member: International Academy Philosophy & Art, Council Advisors Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Academy Europea de Yuste, Academy of Sciences Bologna, Academy of Sciences Bologna, Academy Universelle des Cultures, International Associate Semiotic Studies (secretary general 1972-1979, vice president 1979-1983, honorary president since 1994), James Joyce Associate (honorary), American Academy Arts & Letters (honorary).


  • Philosophers & Thinkers

    Aquinas, C. S. Peirce and Euigi Pareyson.


Married Renate Ramge, September 24, 1962. Children: Stefano, Carlotta.

Giulio Eco

Giovanna (Bisio) Eco

Renate Ramge

Stefano Eco

Carlotta Eco