Significs (Dutch: significa) is a linguistic and philosophical term introduced by Victoria, Lady Welby in the 1890s. It was later adopted[1] by the Dutch Significs Group (or movement) of thinkers around Frederik van Eeden, which included L. E. J. Brouwer, founder of intuitionistic logic, and further developed by Gerrit Mannoury and others.

Linguistic and philosophical term

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Significs, intended to be a theory of signs, was developed by Lady Welby in quite close connection with the work of Charles Sanders Peirce, her correspondent.[2] There is no scholarly consensus on its precise placing as an influence on later developments: on the ground now occupied by semantics, semiotics and semiology, it is closer to semiology than to the two others. While significs is a possible precursor of later semiology, it is still a matter of debate what the extent of that connection amounts to.

At a personal level Lady Welby did have some effect, particularly on C. K. Ogden. A mediating figure, she has not until quite recently been given great attention.[3]

The following sections are taken directly from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article written by Lady Welby.

The term “Significs” may be defined as the science of meaning or the study of significance, provided sufficient recognition is given to its practical aspect as a method of mind, one which is involved in all forms of mental activity, including that of logic. In Baldwin‘s Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology (1901–1905) the following definition is given:

1. Significs implies a careful distinction between

(a) sense or signification,
(b) meaning or intention and
(c) significance or ideal worth.

It will be seen that the reference of the first is mainly verbal (or rather sensal), of the second volitional, and of the third moral (e.g. we speak of some event ‘ the significance of which cannot be overrated, and it would be impossible in such a case to substitute the ‘ sense ‘ or the ‘ meaning ‘ of such event, without serious loss). Significs treats of the relation of the sign in the widest sense to each of these.

2. A proposed method of mental training aiming at the concentration of intellectual activities on that which is implicitly assumed to constitute the primary and ultimate value of every form of study, i.e. what is at present indifferently called its meaning or sense, its import or significance…. Significs as a science would centralise and co-ordinate, interpret, inter-relate and concentrate the efforts to bring out meanings in every form, and in so doing to classify the various applications of the signifying property clearly and distinctly.” Since this dictionary was published, however, the subject has undergone further consideration and some development, which necessitate modifications in the definition given. It is clear that stress needs to be laid upon the application of the principles and method involved, not merely, though notably, to language, but to all other types of human function. There is need to insist on the rectification of mental attitude and increase of interpretative power which must follow on the adoption of the significal view-point and method, throughout all stages and forms of mental training, and in the demands and contingencies of life.

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