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The Primacy of Semiosis

The Primacy of Semiosis: An Ontology of Relations

  • Book Info
    The Primacy of Semiosis
    Book Description:

    How do things come to stand for something other than themselves? An understanding of the ontology of relations allows for a compelling account of the action of signs.The Primacy of Semiosisis concerned with the ontology of relations and semiosis, the action of signs. Drawing upon the work of Gilles Deleuze, John Deely, and John Poinsot, Paul Bains focuses on the claim that relations are 'external' to their terms, and seeks to give an ontological account of this purported externality of relations.Bains develops the proposition, first made in 1632 by John Poinsot (John of St. Thomas), that, ontologically, signs are relations whose whole being is inesse ad('being-toward'). Furthermore, relations are found to be univocal in their being as relations. This univocity of being is antecedent to the division between 'ens rationis' and 'ens reale'. The ontology of relations Bains presents is thus neither mind-dependent nor mind-independent insofar as the rationale of the relation is concerned.The book includes chapters on Deleuze and Deely on relations, Jacob von Uexkull and Heidegger on Umwelten (self-worlds), Maturana and Varela on Autopoieis. It provides the vicarious causality, by way of the scholastic doctrine of the 'species', that is now being resuscitated by Graham Harman and the emerging school of 'object oriented ontology'.The Primacy of Semiosisprovides a semiotic that subverts the opposition between realism and idealism; one in which what have been called 'nature' and 'culture' interpenetrate in an expanding collective of human and non-human. Bains' work promises to be a touchstone for semiotic discussion for years to come.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8213-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction: The Drama of Relation and Its Characters
    (pp. 3-14)

    This work is about the being and dynamic becoming of relations and that which is relative - in particular, the relations among things, objects of thought, and signs. It is an exploration into the ontological principle of the univocity of being and non-being, that is, a hunt for the single voice that raises the clamour of being (Gille Deleuze’s quest inDifference and Repetition); for a fundamental onto-logic or, rather, semiotic, that should, as Heidegger notes in his introduction toBeing and Time,pay heed to Aristotle’s problem of the unity of Being as over against the multiplicity of categories...

  6. 1 An Even Briefer History of Relations
    (pp. 15-24)

    This chapter is not intended (assuming this were possible) to give anything like a complete philosophical history of relations. Its purpose is to provide a brief account of the ‘classical’ theory of relations insofar as it is relevant to this book.¹

    As Weinberg (1965, 68) notes, Aristotle’s views on the subject of relations have affected ‘almost everything that has been said on the subject for the past two thousand years.’ So we will start with Aristotle, particularly as this affords us a manner of entry into the central concerns of Poinsot’sTractatus de Signis.

    Aristotle is interested in the really...

  7. 2 Deleuze and External (or Ontological) Relations
    (pp. 25-38)

    Deleuze emphasizes external relations from his first book,Empiricism and Subjectivity,onwards. How does he understand external relations, and why does he seek to affirm them?

    First, let us look at what Deleuze does in his later article on David Hume (1972), which provides us with one of the most compact statements Deleuze ever made on these questions.

    What Deleuze does is creep up behind Hume and argue that he allows for an autonomous logic of relations whose development will continue with Bertrand Russell and William James. This is not the way that Hume and empiricism have normally been digested...

  8. 3 Poinsot and Deely on Relations and Signs
    (pp. 39-58)

    Duns Scotus is a crucial figure in that his concept ofesse objectivumset the stage for a set of controversies regarding the nature of signification and the status of concepts as signs. Gregory of Rimini’scomplexe significabileis one example of a decidedly Scotist treatment of the nature of the object of a proposition, and as we have noted, this issue is also engaged with by modern analytical philosophy and phenomenology (e.g., Husserl and Meinong). What is less often appreciated is just how much these questions were debated throughout the late scholastic period leading up to Poinsot’s semiotic synthesis...

  9. 4 Umwelten
    (pp. 59-84)

    To understand who von Uexküll was and whatUmweltenare and their relevance for semiotics, I first introduce von Uexküll’s work and then move on to its interpretation by Deely. This involves the not unfamiliar manoeuvre of creeping up behind a thinker and producing something new and interesting that both retains essential elements of his thought and places it in an entirely different framework. Here it will be the shift from von Uexküll’s understandably German idealism/constructivism (‘All reality is subjective appearance’; von Uexküll 1926, xv) towards a semiotic ‘constructivism’ that isobjective,but not as the binary opposite of subjective...

  10. 5 Autopoiesis and Languaging
    (pp. 85-132)

    The concept of autopoiesis, as already noted, has significant relations with the concept of anUmwelt.The purpose of this chapter is to give some account of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela’s theory of autopoiesis, particularly in relation to language or ‘languaging,’ and to determine whether, with some modifications (not unlike those applied to Jakob von Uexküll’s work by Deely), that theory is compatible with a doctrine of signs that affirms ontological relations and interbeing - or the being of the between - and escapes from the realist/idealist opposition into a mutual specification or codetermination between living beings and their...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 133-144)

    The account of relations that has been presented in the foregoing pages moves inexorably from ontological, to ethological, to semiotic, ethicoaesthetic, and political dimensions. To speak or write about relations is to inevitably haveforcedupon oneself the problem and question of what relations we might wish to be involved in. This is not to suggest that we can simply pick and choose at will, but that there is an ethical imperative to take responsibility for our actions andexperimentwith the kinds of worlds we wish to enter into with others. What kind of cosmopolitics, or manner of coexistence,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 145-166)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 167-176)
  14. Index
    (pp. 177-186)