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The American Journal of Semiotics


published on January 19, 2017

Richard Currie Smith

Replacing Descartes’s “Thinking Thing” With Deely’s “Semiotic Animal”
Resolving Our Species Sustainability Dilemma and Establishing the Semiotic Age

French mathematician and natural philosopher René Descartes in the early seventeenth century developed his “thinking thing” definition of human being. This ontological construct that places the rational intellect of mankind as separate and superior to the natural world became the centerpiece of the Enlightenment and established the Modern Age. Descartes’s definition underlay the scientific and industrial revolution, colonialism, and the cultural imperialism of the West to become globalized along with modernity. With the marvelous technological advances of the worldwide spread of modernity also came devastating climate change and massive biodiversity loss that threatens our species sustainability. The American philosopher John Deely in the early twenty-first century developed his “semiotic animal” definition of human being that places our species within the natural world while being endowed with a unique responsibility toward its preservation and restoration. Deely’s definition is viewed as in consonance with our sustainable Paleolithic animistic ontological orientation centered on accurately interpreting relational being while going beyond it through clarifying the semiotic processes involved in accurate discernment of sustainable activities. It is asserted that replacing Descartes’s thinking thing definition with Deely’s semiotic animal and globalizing it through contemporary communication technology such as the Internet will launch a Semiotic Age and resolve our sustainability crisis.

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