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The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 34, Issue 1/2, 2018

John N. Deely Memorial issue

Göran Sonesson
Pages 65-86
DOI: 10.5840/ajs201851436

Meaning Redefined
Reflections on the Scholastic Heritage Conveyed by John Deely to Contemporary Semiotics

From the point of view of semiotics, the essential contribution of John Deely consists in having made us all aware of the richness of the Scholastic heritage, and to have explained it to us latter-day semioticians. Even for those, who, like the present author, think that semiotics was alive and well between the dawn of the Latin Age, and the rediscovery of Scholastic realism by Peirce, the notions coined by the Scholastic philosophers are intriguing. To make sense of scholastic notions such as ens reale and ens rationis is not a straightforward matter, but it is worthwhile trying to do so, in particular by adapting these notions to ideas more familiar in the present age. Starting out from the notions of Scholastic Realism, we try in the following to make sense of the different meanings of meaning, only one of which is the sign. It will be suggested that there are counterparts to ens rationis, not only in the thinking of some contemporary philosophers, but also, in a more convoluted way, in the discussion within cognitive science about different extensions to the mind. The recurrent theme of the paper will be Deely’s musing, according to which signs, unlike any other kind of being, form relations which may connect things which are mind-dependent (ens rationis) and mind-independent (ens reale). The import of this proposition is quite different if is applied to what we will call the Augustinian notion of the sign, or to the Fonseca notion, which is better termed intentionality. In both cases, however, mind-dependence will be shown to have a fundamental part to play. Following upon the redefinition of Medieval philosophy suggested by Deely, we will broach a redefinition of something even wider: meaning even beyond signs.