The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 28, Issue 3/4, 2012

John Deely
Pages 325-363

Analytic Philosophy and The Doctrine of Signs
Semiotics or Semantics:  What Difference Does It Make?

Thomas A. Sebeok (†2001) considered Charles Peirce as “our lodestar” in the contemporary semiotic development, and what he called “the Dominican tradition” (the Thomistic works of Aquinas, Poinsot, and Maritain in particular) as ‘a vein of pure gold’ yet to be mined in the contemporary semiotic development. By contrast, many contemporary authors look to what is called “Analytic philosophy” (as if there were such a thing as “non-analytic philosophy”) for their interpretation both of Peirce and of Sebeok’s “Dominican tradition”. Tzvetan Todorov, however, has pointed out that semiotics as the doctrine of signs in fact compromises the very foundation upon which the ‘founding fathers’ of “Analytic philosophy” relied in their linguistic reduction of philosophical analysis. Using the works of two contemporary authors, one from the Peircean side (Thomas Short) and one claiming to represent Thomistic thought (John O’Callaghan), this review essay explores the distortive consequences for semiotics that result from adopting the standpoint of Analytic philosophy when treating matters of semiosis. Hence the sub-title “Semiotics or Semantics: What Difference Does It Make [for the doctrine of signs]?”