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The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 34, Issue 1/2, 2018

John N. Deely Memorial issue

Paul Cobley
Pages 17-38
DOI: 10.5840/ajs201862038

Human Understanding
The Key Triad

John Deely’s contributions to the philosophy of signs have transformed semiotics. Key to this development has been Deely’s concern not just with human-produced texts but, instead, with human understanding amidst the context of semiosis in general, including realms beyond that of the human. Underpinning this concern, in turn, is his triad of sign, object and thing: A definite re-orientation of the theory of the sign. In this article it will be suggested that the triad, exemplifying suprasubjectivity and the primacy of relation, not only establishes the ground for rethinking common understandings of subjectivity, intersubjectivity and objectivity, it also provides a basis for re-conceptualizing other areas of social thought: In particular, how humans exist within their environment, both in terms of “affordances”—which generally facilitate human action—and “ideology”—which generally constrain it to the exigencies of determined circumstances. Deely’s realism, in its fundament of the sign/object/thing triad, demonstrates how mind-independent being is omnipresent, even when occluded in the objective order; it uncovers the “truth” of ideology and the Gegengefuge or ‘counter-structure’ of affordances.