Lo status semiosico dei fenomeni speculari / On the semiosic status of mirror phenomena

Fabio Bacchini


Umberto Eco (1975; 1985) has invariantly maintained that specular images have no semiosic status, basically because they stand in front rather than instead of an object. In his Kant and the Platypus (1997), Eco returns offering reasons to exclude specular images from signs, and definitely classifies mirrors as visual prosthetic devices. In this paper I argue that Eco is partly right and partly wrong. He is right inasmuch as he claims that seeing an object in a mirror must count as a case of seeing that object rather than as a case of seeing a sign of that object (or, a sign standing for a propositional content about that object). The only reason why we should agree with Eco on this point, however, is that otherwise we would be forced to admit that also when we see the object in normal visual perception, with no mirror involved, what we really see is a sign. But then Eco is wrong because he does not acknowledge that, although mirror phenomena do have no semiosic status per se, they may acquire it by taking advantage of independent sign-functions – thus coming to be part of what I call parasiticly semiosic phenomena. Specifically, since an object that is visually perceived in a mirror may appear to have some spatial or topological properties that the real object does not possess, it is sufficient for the mirror phenomenon to exploit an independent sign-function whose expressions admit spatial or topological properties among their distinctive traits in order for it to become fully (though parasiticly) semiosic.


mirror, visual perception, sign, spatial properties, semiotics


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