Semiotic Animal

Paper $24
176 pages, 6" x 9", notes, illustrated, bibliography, index

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Semiotic Animal

Deely, John

A semiotic animal is an animal that lives with the awareness that the action of signs is more fundamental to the constitution of human experience than are either objects or things.

Philosophical idealism in the modern sense began with the realization that objects cannot exist as such save in relation to a knower, a “thinking thing.” If human beings are the only animals that think, then “thinking thing,” exactly as Descartes proposed, is the proper definition of the human being in its species-specific uniqueness, and all the rest are mere bodies, “extended things.” Against this modern dawning, philosophical realism continued to insist on the priority of things over objects, because things do not have to be thought in order to be.

But things do have to be thought in order to be known; and so began the long struggle, in all its variations, between “realism,” on the one hand, insisting on the knowable reality of things which need not be thought in order to be (and which constitute an order without which there could be no thinkers at all), and “idealism,” on the other hand, insisting on the relation to the knower involving mental representation as that without which nothing could either be or be known as far as philosophers, among those “thinking things,” are concerned.

The semiotic animal provides a notion of human being that transcends this modern opposition of  realism vs. idealism as an “either/or” by showing how things and objects alike presuppose semiosis – an action of signs – in order to be recognized for what they are in the interweave of mind-dependent and mind-independent being that we call “experience.” The further implications of this new understanding for ethics are also outlined, in particular how it gives an understanding of human being that transcends patriarchy and feminism.