Sunday, 26 February 2012
Tønnessen, Morten 2012. Semiogenesis. Pp. 247-249 in Donald Favareau, Paul Cobley and Kalevi Kull (eds): A More Developed Sign: Interpreting the Work of Jesper Hoffmeyer (= Tartu Semiotics Library 10) (Tartu: Tartu University Press).
In this volume, over 80 world-class scholars from more than 20 countries select a short quotation taken from any of Jesper Hoffmeyer’s published texts and provide their scholarly commentary upon that passage – whether in the form of an analytical explication, a critical disagreement or a conceptual extension – that they feel asks the questions that need to be asked, proposes the ideas that need to be proposed, or that draws out the implications that need to be so explicitly drawn out, germane to the claims of the selected passage.At once a celebration and a serious academic development of the work of Jesper Hoffmeyer, this landmark volume marks the occasion of his 70th birthday on February 21, 2012.
Friday, 17 February 2012
Abstract: "In the gaze of the other: Describing cultural affordances by conducting comparative Umwelt mapping in animal studies"
In the gaze of the other: Describing cultural affordances by conducting comparative Umwelt mapping in animal studies
Morten Tønnessen, Associate professor at University of Stavanger
The Umwelt theory of Jakob von Uexküll is well known in biosemiotic circles. However, not many have taken to develop Umwelt methodology as foundational for comparative studies. Umwelt theory can e.g. be applied to describe the manifold affordances of human constructions, artefacts etc. from a non-human point of view. Whenever Umwelten are discussed, the focus tends to be on each particular, “species-specific” Umwelt. The human Umwelt is thereby characterised by being fundamentally different from any animal’s Umwelt. But in the age of the Anthropocene – the global era of anthropogenic development – countless animals and other creatures regularly encounter human constructions, artefacts and waste (indeed, numerous lifeforms have adapted to such occurrences). How do the products of human civilization manifest themselves in the Umwelten of other creatures?
This topic – which could also in some measure be conducted by way of a comparative study of humans as Umwelt objects in non-human Umwelten – can be organised in terms of four major categories, enveloping human products as perceived by non-humans
1) in urban and household settings
2) in agriculture
3) in wildlife settings
4) in “the shadows of human civilization” (think of rats thriving in our sewage systems, etc.)
Some of these categories may overlap somewhat. In combination they represent the way our culture qua human products appears in the Umwelten of non-humans – in the gaze of the other.
On the notion of induced semiosis, with emphasis on anthropogenic semiosis
Morten Tønnessen, Associate professor at University of Stavanger
In this presentation Sharov’s notion of induced semiosis (“Functional information: Toward synthesis of Biosemiotics and Cybernetics” in Entropy 12: 1050–1070), which represents a valuable contribution to biosemiotic vocabulary, will be analysed and a further development of the term suggested. According to Sharov agents, which are either living organisms or their products, “are defined as systems with goal-directed programmed behaviour” (1052), and semiosis “can be inherited or induced by higher-level agents” (1050). In Sharov’s conception, induced semiosis concerns sign exchange which is induced (initiated) by some higher-level agent for some purpose. The various forms of anthropogenic induced semiosis can in the perspective of human ecology (aka ecosemiotics) be considered as constituting a further effectory layer in humankind’s control system qua global species. Non-human agents involved in such sign exchange are generally only vicariously goal-directed – it is our goals they are set to pursue.
But what about the myriad of cases in which biosemiotic sign exchange is triggered by our global civilization but not intended by any human agent? Is not such semiosis induced (and anthropogenic) as well? We thus have to distinguish between induced semiosis qua communicative system triggered by some intending agent and induced semiosis as triggered by the activity of some communicative system but not intended by its controlling agents. This latter kind, enveloping a variety of unintended consequences, is arguably an equally informative measure of our ecological impact.
Sunday, 12 February 2012
Beever, Jonathan 2011. Meaning Matters: The Biosemiotic Basis of Bioethics [p8-11, Tønnessen 2003: 282, 283, 290, 292]. Biosemiotics, published online October 15th 2011 (doi DOI 10.1007/s12304-011-9133-1).
The work of Kalevi Kull, Morten Tønnessen, and Jesper Hoffmeyer on the relationship between value and biosemiotics offer important descriptive accounts that can form the basis of a novel prescriptive theory of moral value grounded in a biosemiotic analysis of meaning.
Another approach considering the ethical implications of biosemiotics comes from the early considerations of Morten Tønnessen. Tønnessen, in his 2003 Umwelt Ethics, explores the relationship between biosemiotics and Arne Naess’ approach to environmental value, developing what he terms “an Uekullian interpretation or specification of The Deep Ecology Platform.” (Tønnessen 2003, 282) Tønnessen explicates Naess’ eight theses of Deep Ecology through the lens of von Uexkull’s conception of the human animal as what Tønnessen describes as a unique and distinctive bio-ontological monad. (Tønnessen 2003, 290). He argues that moral considerability derives from the semiosic nature of living things.The reason why it makes sense to regard all semiotic agents, i.e., bioontological monads, as moral subjects, is that in respect to these entities, our actions make a difference. Only for semiotic agents can our actions ultimately appear as signs that influence their well-being. In capacity of meaningutilizers, all semiotic agents, be it the simplest creature, are able to distinguish between what they need and what is irrelevant or harmful to them. (Tønnessen 2003, 292)Like Kull before him, Tønnessen offers us a descriptive interpretation of the possible connection or compatibility between the ecopolitics of Naess and biosemiotics derived from von Uexkull; again, however, we have no novel prescriptive account of moral considerability. As a direct parallel to the Deep Ecology movement, Tønnessen’s Umwelt Ethics faces similar difficulties. For instance, Naess argues for the value of nature based on our emotive responses to holistic connections to the world: while biosemiotics has the potential to more fully and empirically describe our ecological connections, neither Naess nor Tønnessen sufficiently justify the morally-relevant content of our emotive responses or semiotic connections. While the Deep Ecology Platform has had a continued impact on ecopolitics and social morality, it does not offer us a justificatory metaethical account of value that would be fully prescriptive. Tønnessen does, however, point out the holism inherent in both Naess’ ethic and biosemiotics understanding of the interconnectivity of semiosic nature. The importance of holism for any approach to environmental value cannot be overlooked.It remains unclear whether, how, or to what extent the distinctive features of the human animal Tønnessen lays out should morally matter. The Umwelt Ethic doesn’t seem to offer us justification for semiotic value nor a thorough account of how we might apply that value. However, the Umwelt Ethic does point us toward the justificatory strategy suggested above: the well-being of semiosic life is contingent, at root, on their abilities as what Tønnessen describes as “meaning-utilizers” (Tønnessen 2003, 292). Here again, at the root of approaches to value, is a central consideration of meaning.
Perhaps the earliest and most formative approach to understanding the role biosemiotics might play in our theorizing about moral value comes from the work of Danish biologist and semiotician Jesper Hoffmeyer. Tønnessen describes his work as “the first systematical exploration of biosemiotics’ relevance for environmental ethics (Tønnessen 2003, 283) and, we might add, one of the most sustained.
Despite facing difficulties as a coherent and prescriptive approach to justifying moral value, biosemiotics and the work of Hoffmeyer, Tønnessen, and Kull mark an important milestone in our thinking about value. For, rather than relying on existing holistic theories of value that have failed to find relevance for science and overcome the metaphysic of fact/value dualism, a biosemiotic approach offers both an empirical methodology and an inherently holistic foundation of moral value. A biosemiotic ethic is necessarily an ecological ethic, bringing together the semiosphere and the biosphere in a theory of meaning tied to individual umwelten and justifying the moral considerability of all living things.The shortcomings of previous attempts at justifying our best explanations of moral considerability may be overcome by a robustly developed biosemiotic account of value as meaning-making.
- 2001: 9 pages
- 2003: 19 pages (28)
- 2005: 2 pages (30)
- 2008: 12 pages (42)
- 2009: 77 pages (119)
- 2010: 103 pages (222) + 242 pages edited
- 2011: 313 pages (535)
Champagne, Marc 2011. Axiomatizing umwelt normativity [25-26, 57 – Tønnessen 2003: 287]. Sign Systems Studies 39.1: 9-59.
Tønnessen (2003: 287) remarks that Uexküll never discussed "whether attribution of moral status to animals is possible within a Kantian framework".
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BRIEF ACADEMIC CV
- 1 Associate professor (25% > 100%) at University of Stavanger (Department of Health Studies) in 2012
- 2 Doctoral degree from University of Tartu (Department of Semiotics), Estonia
- 3 PhD supervisor: Kalevi Kull; supplementary supervisor: Winfried Nöth (Universität Kassel/Catholic University of São Paulo)
- 4 Title of PhD thesis (defended December 15th 2011): "Umwelt Transition and Uexküllian Phenomenology. An Ecosemiotic Analysis of Norwegian Wolf Management"
- 5 A main researcher in Timo Maran´s research project (2009-2012) "Dynamical Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations" ( ETF/ESF 7790)
- 6 A main researcher in the 2008-2010 research project "The Cultural Heritage of Environmental Spaces. A Comparative Analysis Between Estonia and Norway" (EEA--ETF Grant EMP 54 - participating until Sept. 30, 2010)
- 7 Senior personnel (2010-2011) in Kalevi Kull's research project "Biosemiotic models of semiosis" (ETF/EST 8403)
- 8 Personnel in the Center of Excellence in Cultural Theory (CECT) semiotics research group 'Meaning-generation and transdisciplinary methodology of semiotic analysis of culture' 2008-2011
- 9 Main organizer of the Tartu workshops on the semiotics/phenomenology of perception (Feb. 2009)
- 9.1 Guest-editor with Kati Lindström of special issue of Biosemiotics (3(3)), 'Semiotics of Perception' (2010), and with Riin Magnus and Nelly Mäekivi of special issue of Hortus Semioticus (no. 6), 'Semiotics of nature' (2010)
- 9.2 Editor with Kadri Tüür of The Semiotics of Animal Representations (Rodopi, forthcoming in 2012)
- 9.3 Editor with Guri Larsen and Ragnhild Sollund of the Norwegian HAS anthology Hvem er villest i landet her? (Spartacus, forthcoming in 2013)
- 9.4 Member of the editorial board of the journal Biosemiotics 2010-
- 9.5 Various assignments (lecturer, examiner, research assistant) for University of Agder and University of Stavanger 2009 - 2011
- 9.6 Secretary and national representative for Norway in the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies 2011-
- 9.7 Minding Animals Norway Alternative Representative in Minding Animals International's Board of Directors, August 2011-; and board member for (and founding member of) Minding Animals Norway
- 9.8 Founding member and member of the board of "Arne i 100", an NGO celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Arne Næss (1912-2009) August 2011-
- 9.9 Member of Nordic Society for Phenomenology 2009-, Nordic HAS 2010-, Concerned Scientists Norway 2011-