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The primacy of relations

Bains, Paul (2001) The primacy of relations. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis is concerned with the ontology of relations and semiosis (the action of signs).

It focuses on the claim that relations are 'external' to their terms and seeks to give an ontological account of this purported externality of relations. Concomitantly, the thesis argues that an understanding of the ontology of relations allows for a compelling account of the action of signs, i.e. how signs stand for something other than themselves.

The thesis develops the creative proposition, first made by John Poinsot (a.k.a John of St. Thomas) in 1632, that, ontologically, signs are relations (whose whole being is in 'being-toward' - esse ad). Furthermore, relations are found to be univocal in their being as relations. This univocity of being is antecedent to the division between 'ens rationis' and 'ens reale'. Thus, the ontology of relations presented here is neither mind­dependent nor mind-independent insofar as the rationale of the relation is concerned.

Three principal theorists are invoked in this account: Gilles Deleuze, John Poinsot and John Deely. The thesis argues that there is a compatibility and mutual enrichment between Deleuze's account ofrelations and the relatively unknown semiotic of the late-Latin scholastic John Poinsot (as translated and interpreted by the contemporary post-Peircian semiotician, John Deely).

To further illuminate this material and the relevance of an ontology of relations for cognition and theories of language, a presentation of the ethologist Jacob von Uexkiill's Umwelt sign theory and the biologist Humberto Maturana's autopoietic theory of' languaging' is given.

In engaging with this subject matter, the thesis presents a semiotic that subverts the opposition between realism and idealism. In other words it presents a semiotic that is as real as it is ideal. A semiotic in which what have been called 'nature' and 'culture' interpenetrate (pace Bruno Latour) in an expanding collective of humans and non­humans.

In conclusion, apart from emphasising the ethico-political implications of this ontology of relations, suggestions are made for interdisciplinary research that would complement and further develop the thesis.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): UNSPECIFIED
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