Looking at John Deely’s Book (2010) “Semiotic Animal”  (Part 1 of 22)

0001 The full title of Deely’s book is Semiotic Animal: A Postmodern Definition of “Human Being” Transcending Patriarchy and Feminism: to supersede the ancient and medieval ‘animal rationale’ along with the modern ‘res cogitans’.  The book is published in 2010 by St. Augustine’s Press in South Bend, Indiana.

John Deely (1942-2017 AD) starts as a Thomist interested in Heidegger and becomes a semiotician.  He becomes a really, really good promoter of the study of signs.  He writes a history of philosophy from the point of view of the revelation… or, is it discovery?.. that the sign is a triadic relation. For years, he teaches at University of Saint Thomas, Houston.  He retires, moves to Latrobe, Pennsylvania, home of St. Vincent’s College, then dies.

This examination is to be read in parallel with or after reading (and writing marginalia) in Deely’s book.  My argument may run like a dog on a long leash, compared to Deely’s argument.  But, there is reason for the analogy.  Thirteen years have passed since publication and five years since Deely’s burial, and the Age of Triadic Relations continues to manifest.

Semiotics is the study of signs.  A sign is a triadic relation.

0002 Chapter one considers a question that we ask ourselves.

Humans, what type of animals are they?

Chapter two addresses the answer.

0003 Modern philosophy starts (more or less) when Rene Descartes (1596-1650 AD) presents a sensation, as an idea and an image where the object of experience directs a construct of the mind.  Consequently, he regards humans as thinking things… or the owners of thinking things (minds)… or something like that.

In terms of Peirce’s philosophy, there are two contiguous actualities, characteristic of the category of secondness.  They are an object of experience and a construct of the mind.  The contiguity (which, for nomenclature, is placed in brackets) is “directs”.

Here is a picture of Descartes’ dyadic actuality.  In Latin, the title is “res cogitans“.

Figure 01

0005 As already noted, this hylomorphic structure is coherent with Peirce’s category of secondness.  The actuality corresponds to a sensation. Sensation exhibits a dyadic character.  Sensation is like cause [and] effect or matter [substantiating] form.

There is an implicit claim that this dyad describes the way humans think.

Plus, a superior claim (not realized until Charles Peirce (1839-1914 AD) wrote about it) may be asserted.  Humans think in terms of triadic relations, such a signs, mediations, judgments and category-based nested forms.

Say what?

See A Primer on the Category-Based Nested Form and A Primer on Sensible and Social Construction, by Razie Mah, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.

0006 With the superior claim in mind, it is no surprise that when later philosophers build epistemologies upon Descartes’ foundation, they end up shifting Descartes’ terms out of secondness, the realm of actuality, and into thirdness, the realm of normal contexts, and firstness, the realm of possibility.  

Here is a category-based nested form that sort of captures Kant’s epistemology.

Figure 02

The normal context of the mind3 brings the actuality of an object of experience2 into relation with the potential of a particular condition1. What is that condition? The thing itself [cannot be objectified as] what one sees, hears, smells, tastes or touches.

0007 So, the experience of the five senses2 becomes an object2 as it simultaneously is contextualized by the mind3 and arises from the potential of a particular condition1.  Plus, the particular condition1 is that the object of experience cannot be the thing itself1.

It sort of like saying that my image in a mirror is not me, even though I appear to be the object of experience.

0008 Welcome to modern… philosophy?… er… science?

The Positivist’s judgment formalizes the quasi-Kantian category-based nested form by thirdly, replacing the mind3 with a positivist intellect3.  The positivist intellect3 rules out metaphysics.  Secondly, the object of experience2 is replaced by an empirio-schematic judgment2, where disciplinary language (relation) brings observations and measurements of phenomena (what is) into relation with mathematical or mechanical models (what ought to be).  Firstly, the thing itselfand what one senses1 are replaced by Latin terms, the noumenon and its phenomena1.

Here is a diagram of the Positivist’s judgment as a category-based nested form.

Figure 03

0009 The implications of the conversion of Descartes’ dyadic formula for sensation to a modern quasi-Kantian nested form for how humans think are most curious.

It seems that the construct of the mind weaves a normal context3 and potential1, sort of like a spider spinning a web in the hope of catching a flying insect.  The metaphorical flying insect, is an experience2 that immediately becomes an object2as the manifestation of the realness of the normal context3 and potential1.  Plus, the object2 is inside of the observer and the thing itself1 remains (potentially) on the outside.

Similarly, for the Positivist’s judgment, the scientist weaves the normal context of the positivist intellect3 with the potential that phenomena1 may be the observable and measurable facets of a noumenon1, then waits for observations and measurements (what is) to reveal patterns that can be modeled (what ought to be) and discussed with disciplinary precision (relation between what is and what ought to be)2.  One of the oldest adages in science says, “First, observe phenomena.  Second, explain them.”

0010 What a curious implication.

It is almost as if the construct of the mind is looking for an actuality2 that fits its ideals.  And when it does, it transforms whatever enters the realm of actuality, such as an experience2 or a measurement2, into an object2 or an empirio-schematic judgment2.


Looking at John Deely’s Book (2010) “Semiotic Animal”  (Part 22 of 22)

0172 Deely concludes with a sequel concerning the need to develop a semioethics.

The meeting of the two semiotic animals in the previous blog is a case study.

Surely, that brief clash of objective worlds entails ethics, however one defines the word, “ethics”.

Perhaps, the old word for “ethics” is “morality”.

0173 Deely publishes in 2010.

Thirteen years later, his postmodern definition of the human takes on new life.  This examination shows how far semiotics has traveled, swirling around the stasis of a Plutonic publishing world where Cerebus guards the gates.  Please throw a sop to the editors in order to publish, rather than perish.  While academics guard the way to the underworld of professional success, Deely looks down from the heavens above.

And what does he say?

Humans are semiotic animals.

0174 Okay, I have to correct myself.

I don’t know whether Deely is looking down from a heavenly perch.

Surely, many will sheepishly testify to his devilish, as well as his angelic, qualities.

As a shepherd, he is always trying to lead his rag-tag flock of semioticians, explorers and Thomists.  He gets so far as to impress upon every one in his flock the validity of his claim that humans are semiotic animals.

0175 Razie Mah takes that lesson to heart and asks, “If humans are semiotic animals, then how did they evolve?”

The resulting three masterworks are available at smashwords and other e-book venues.

An Archaeology of the Fall appears in 2012, followed by an instructor’s guide.

How to Define the Word “Religion” appears in 2015, followed by ten primers.

The Human Niche appears in 2018, along with four commentaries.

As it turns out, no contemporary scientist takes Deely’s claim seriously. Yet, the implications are enormous.  If humans are semiotic animals, then triadic relations must be key to understanding human evolution.

0176 This examination of Deely’s book takes that lesson one step further.

The specifying and exemplar signs step out from Comments on John Deely’s Book (1994) New Beginnings as expressions of premodern scholastic insight.

The interventional sign steps out from Comments on Sasha Newell’s Article (2018) “The Affectiveness of Symbols” and establishes a postmodern life of its own.

0177 Humans are semiotic animals and how we got here shines like a revelation.


Looking at Mark Spencer’s Essay (2021) “The Many Phenomenological Reductions” (Part 1 of 4)

0001 What is Phenomenology?

Phenomenology belongs to (what John Deely calls) the Age of Ideas, starting with the Western civilization’s turn from scholasticism towards mechanical philosophy.

0002 Mechanical philosophers, such as Rene Descartes (1596-1650 AD) say, “Forget final and formal causation.  Think in terms of material and instrumental causalities.  Attend to phenomena, the observable and measurable features of our world.  Then, build mathematical and mechanical models using well defined terms.”

0003 Later, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) codifies a reaction against this fixation, arguing that we must not forget the thing itself (the noumenon).  Sure, phenomena are crucial to scientific observations and measurements.  But, the noumenon cannot be objectified as its phenomena.

0004 Then, Edmund Husserl (1856-1939) declares, “I have developed another way to situate phenomena.  By consciously focusing on phenomena, while bracketing out all this measurement business, along with other distractions, I can identify the noumenon, what the thing itself must be.”

0005 Now, there are two ways to situate phenomena.

First, scientists directly situate phenomena through observations and measurements.  They build models.  They are not interested in the thing itself.

Second, phenomenologists virtually situate phenomena through a method of bracketing assumptions, such as the empirio-schematic judgment, to end up with a noumenon, what the thing itself must be.


Looking at Mark Spencer’s Essay (2021) “The Many Phenomenological Reductions” (Part 2 of 4

0006 The scenario depicted in the prior blog appears in Comments on Mark Spencer’s Essay (2021) “The Many Phenomenological Reductions”, available for purchase at smashwords.

Search for Razie Mah, Mark Spencer, and phenomenological reductions.  The electronic article in smashwords, or some other electronic literature venue, should appear.

0007 The engagement between phenomenology and science is delicate.  Phenomenologists attend to the same phenomena as scientists.  But, they do not compete with scientists.

Scientists directly situate phenomena using the empirio-schematic judgment (which is first diagrammed in Comments on Jacques Maritain’s Book (1935) Natural Philosophy), in the normal context of a positivist intellect.  The positivist intellect has a rule.  Metaphysics is not allowed.

Phenomenologists sidestep science, by contemplating phenomena, while reducing their field of consciousness to exclude the machinations of science, among other distractions.  The goal is to identify what the thing itself must be, without any metaphysical baggage… er… I mean… terminology.  Anything that sounds like metaphysics will raise the ire of scientists.

0008 It is like tiptoeing around a sleeping dog.  The metaphorical dog protects science against metaphysics.  It has been known to gnaw on the bones of its victims, especially the ones who uttered the word, “hylomorphism”.  That word sounds totally metaphysical.  “Hyle” is Greek for “matter”.  “Morphe” is Greek for “form”.

To the sleeping dog of science, physics is the master of the house.

The master of the house says, “No metaphysics.”


Looking at Mark Spencer’s Essay (2021) “The Many Phenomenological Reductions” (Part 3 of 4)

0009 Sound is a very interesting thing.

Dogs can hear sounds that humans cannot.

Does that mean that humans cannot be effected by inaudible sounds?

Can humans be impacted by inaudible sounds?

0010 These questions have proper grammatical form, but they do not speak to the heart of the matter.

Phenomenologists speak in a specialized language that scientists do not hear.  The scientist’s ears are tuned to hear about measurements, models and precisely defined terms.  Phenomenology does not speak of phenomena in scientific terminology.

The guard dog of science is on the prowl for another language that scientists do not want to hear, the language of metaphysics.  So, phenomenologists also do not speak of phenomena using metaphysical terms.

0011 In short, phenomenologists strive to be impactful while being inaudible.

0012 Mark Spencer does not reflect on the tentative engagement between phenomenology and science.

He innocently explores an accommodation between Christian realism and phenomenology.

After all, both indirectly situate science.

0013 Well, forget the “after all”. 

Spencer does not mention science at all.

As such, he threatens to wake the sleeping dog of the positivist intellect.

His proposals make phenomenologists jittery.

Talk of metaphysics will upset a delicate arrangement.


Looking at Mark Spencer’s Essay (2021) “The Many Phenomenological Reductions” (Part 4 of 4)

0014 Despite the hazards involved, there are opportunities.  

The Christian realist cannot speak in terms of metaphysics, because those words are not allowed in polite scientific society.

Perhaps, the Christian realist can convey the same meaning, presence and message with phenomenological terms, which are designed to sidestep the dictates of the positivist intellect.  The language of phenomenology is adapted to not wake the sleeping dog of science.

0015 Spencer ends the article in an impasse.

The impasse is theatrical.

Spencer declares, “Phenomenology longs to speak the language of metaphysics.  Metaphysics longs to speak from the platform of phenomenology.  Why can’t we find an accommodation?”

The phenomenologist cannot answer by saying, “An accommodation will destroy us both.”

0016 For Christians and phenomenologists alike, there is something to be learned from Mark Spencer’s 2021 essay, “The Many Phenomenological Reductions and Catholic Metaphysical Anti-Reductionism”, appearing in the summer issue of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, and Razie Mah’s commentary, available at the smashwords website.

Science cannot be ignored.