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The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 34, Issue 1/2, 2018

John N. Deely Memorial Issue

Susan Petrilli, Augusto Ponzio
Pages 163-187

With John Deely in Semio-Philosophical Research

John Deely’s contribution to semiotics can be synthetically framed in the formula “Versus fallaciam ‘pars pro toto’” (“Against the fallacy of exchanging ‘a part for the whole’”). This is an approach he theorized and practiced in close association with Thomas A. Sebeok’s global semiotics, Deely being one of the latter’s major promotors and disseminators. All his monographs, whether books or essays, have contributed to the development of semiotics in this sense, both on a historical level, think of his translation of Poinsot’s work, and on the theoretical. Semiotics for Deely is first of all a philosophical enterprise centred upon the problem of human understanding and its signs and epitomized in the concept of “semiotic animal”. Moreover, Deely’s original analysis of the history of philosophy and its problems within the framework of four ages of understanding can be read as a contribution to our own understanding of the concept of “otherwise than being” as formulated by Emmanuel Levinas. According to Deely, this new horizon is first adumbrated in Thomas Aquinas’s neglected notion that “being as first known” involves equally ens rationis and ens reale: not only inseparable from the Umwelt of any animal, but also constitutive of the species-specific human Umwelt or Lebenswelt. The problem of the recognition of the other as other is present in filigrain in Deely’s writings, leading him to investigate the relation between ethics and philosophy. Our paper is intended as an exposition and development of themes such as these which constitute Deely’s research—interrupted no doubt, but amply developed and rich in signposts for further research itineraries.

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