Semiotics and Phenomenology: Preface

Below is the (current draft) preface I wrote for my soon-to-be (please, I hope) accepted Intersection of Semiotics and Phenomenology: Peirce and Heidegger in Dialogue (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter).

This book presents a complex argument.  It will likely not convince all who read it.  It probably will not even convince many who read it.  But it will convince some, and, I hope, those are just the people I care most about convincing.  Moreover, I believe it will provide at least some insight for the many, and at least some challenge for all.

heidegger-desk
Heidegger

The first seed of this book was, much like my previous book, an off-hand statement made by John Deely in his human nature course in the spring of 2011 at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX.  Paraphrased, John stated that the only book of which he knew that was an extended inquiry into the meaning of what Thomas Aquinas meant by illud quod primo cadit in apprehensione… est ens (1266-68, Summa theologiae, I-II, q.94, a.2, c.), was Martin Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit.  Over the course of the next several years, I would work closely with John in studying both Heidegger and Thomas, eventually writing my dissertation, Ens Primum Cognitum in Thomas Aquinas and the Tradition, under John’s direction (the “tradition” in this case being represented primarily by Cajetan, Poinsot, Gilson, and Maritain).  The initial plan had called for a treatment of Heidegger, and I’d done quite a bit of reading, note-taking, and general preparation for that treatment; but since the best dissertation is the finished dissertation, the scope was reduced to treat exclusively of Aquinas (with a brief section treating Heidegger in the final chapter, ultimately removed from the published version).

peirce
Peirce

While writing with John, it was impossible to keep Peirce from coming up in conversation.  Having already filled all my course requirements, I audited John’s course on Poinsot and Peirce, in which he had been working out some of his ideas for the never-to-be-completed third volume of his trilogy (preceded by Augustine & Poinsot and Descartes & Poinsot).  The two primary texts of Peirce we discussed were “On a New List of Categories” and “A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God”.  Much like my first introduction to Heidegger (in 2009), my first reading of Peirce left me often feeling baffled, but intrigued.

The more I read, the more I saw that there is a common but obscured root to Heidegger and Peirce’s thought–even more than there is a common thread between both these later thinkers and the Thomistic tradition.  I knew it would be a struggle to unearth: Heidegger cryptic and obscure style and Peirce’s sprawl of papers and lack of book-length systematic treatments both make for rocky intellectual soil.

deely
Deely

But I had a great friend and champion in John Deely, who believed in the merit of what I was doing and in my ability to do it.  We may not always have agreed on what is true, but we never disagreed on how important the truth is; and whatever his failings may have been, no one could in good conscience doubt that John Deely was a great sign of that belief.

Brian Kemple
8 February 2018

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