The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 37, Issue 3/4, 2021

Addressing Precarity: The New Prague School of Semiotics Visual Semiotics

Deborah Eicher-Catt
Pages 161-192

Peirce, Dewey, and the Aesthetics of Semioethics
Felt Qualities, Embodied Intensities, and the Precarity of Relational Fulfillment

This essay interrogates the aesthetic ground of Ponzio and Petrilli’s 2003 concept “semioethics” as activated by what they call a “logic of otherness”. I take my lead from Charles S. Peirce’s assertion that “Ethics, or the science of right and wrong, must appeal to Esthetics for aid in determining the summum bonum" (1903: CP 1.191). Given that Peirce’s esthetics, depicted as the first of his normative sciences, “ought to repose on phenomenology” (ibid.: CP 1.191), I offer a communicological analysis (i.e., a phenomenological interpretation of the operative aesthetic sign actions of a semioethic). To accomplish this, I turn to fellow American philosopher and pragmatist John Dewey, whose experiential aesthetics offers insights into Peirce’s claims. Dewey’s understanding of the importance of semiotic “form” and existential or embodied “rhythm”, when applied to dialogic relations, reveals phenomenological “felt qualities” and their reflexive semiotic relation to what I call “embodied intensities”. We discover that, when mediated by emotional or energetic interpretants, felt qualities and embodied intensities provide both the necessary and sufficient conditions for a logic of otherness that makes an ethical stance even possible. I contend that our human relationality remains precarious in our global, digitalized environment as long as we disregard or fail to perceive, appreciate, and cultivate this aesthetic phenomenological ground of otherness.