Three positions on the relation between sign and referent: idealism, realism, and constructivism. The study of signs (semiotics) shows that reality is always mediated, a situation radicalized by the digital revolution. It leads to the pressing question whether there is a reality outside the signs at all. There are three different philosophical positions. Idealism holds that signs construct our perception of reality, which subsequently is purely subjective. The subject constitutes reality like a projector in a cinema projects the objects on the screen. Idealism conceives this ‘screen’ as the world in its dimensions of space and time. The subject therefore not only projects reality, but it also perceives what it projects. Then there is nothing but signs, or to put it in the notorious words of Jacques Derrida: ‘there is nothing outside the text’ (Derrida, 1976, 158). There is no 'transcendent signified' (Derrida 1978, 278-280; Derrida, 1976, 20). In linguistic relativism (that some call a postmodern form of idealism) the subject does not have access to reality outside signification. An odd agent of a ‘post-modern idealism' is Lewis Carroll’s character Humpty Dumpty, who thinks that he can determine the meaning of his words without being limited by its ‘real’ reference.

constructivism, idealism, realism
J. de Mul (Jos)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Mul, Prof. Dr. J. de (promotor)
Erasmus School of Philosophy

Nusselder, A.C. (2006, November 16). Interface Fantasy: a Lacanian Cyborg Ontology. Erasmus University Rotterdam. Retrieved from