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Friday, 28 May 2010

References to Umwelt ethics in Deely's Semiotic animal

Yesterday I received by post John Deely's new book Semiotic animal: A postmodern definition of "human being" transcending patriarchy and feminism (St. Augustine's Press, 2010), where he refers to my 2003 article Umwelt ethics. In connection with one of the two mentions of that article, the Norwegian philosophers Jon Wetlesen and Arne Johan Vetlesen are referred to as well.
While Umwelt ethics is referenced in the historically layered references - p. 148 - a quote is represented on p. 107, and a further issue discussed pp. 108-109. The quote starts out the final chapter of the book, 'The Ethical Entailment of Semiotic Animal, or the Need to Develop a Semioethics'.

"Modern man" can indeed be said to have been "the animal that does not want to be an animal" [1. Tønnessen 2003: 287], that did not admit to its animality (at least not in its fullness, if at all), preferring [Nöth 2001: 283] "a Cartesian dualism between culture and nature which has opposed humans to the rest of the natural world for centuries". Of course, modern man to the end adhered to the illusion that "man" is a sufficiently comprehensive linguistic expression to designate the human species of animal as a whole, male or female!

Pp. 108-109:

The modern treatment of ethics [...] that is to say, the ethical discourse to which we have become accustomed, especially in the wake of the pathological "linguistic turn" within the Analytic tradition - requires its own transformative assimilation to befit the postmodern context. Nor is the point de depart for this assimilation of philosophy's past (not only modernity! but the middle Latin and Greek ages as well) far to seek. It must surely be in the development of Hoffmeyer's distinction, taken up by Tønnessen,[4] between "moral subject" and "moral agent", which at once enables and requires the postmodern thinker to extend the notion of a "right to moral consideration" on the part of moral agents beyond the realm of human interactions within culture to include the larger biosphere presupposed to [the] very existence and healthy development of (as Sebeok put it) "that miniscule segment of nature" modern thought has tended to "grandly compartmentalize as culture."

Footnote (pp. 108-109):
4. Hoffmeyer 1993: 152-176, esp. 164-166 (= 151-153 in the 1995 reprint) "Biosemiotics and the Question of Moral Subjects"; see further Tønnessen 2003, passim. Tønnessen's expressed reservations concerning Hoffmeyer's foundation, however (2003: 284n2), speaks rather in Hoffmeyer's favor than toward the narrower ethical purview that Tønnessen proposes. Both Hoffmeyer and Tønnessen draw in this discussion from Jon Wetlesen 1993. The point seems to be one coming into general recognition. Thus Arne Johan Vetlesen (1994: 3), announcing that he restricts "discussion of 'morality' to what obtains - or fails to obtain - between human subjects", yet asks the reader to "note that this does not imply that I hold only humans to have a moral standing". In the semioethic view - that is, a view of ethics stringently derived from semiosis itself precisely as involving the human - morality cannot be restricted only to what obtains or not between human subjects, but concerns also the actions and impact of human subjects upon the environment itself, both physical, biological, social, and cultural.

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