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Agent, Person, Subject, Self: A Theory of Ontology, by Paul Kockelman

By Paul Kockelman

This publication deals either a naturalistic and significant idea of indicators, minds, and meaning-in-the-world. It presents a reconstructive instead of deconstructive concept of the person, one that either analytically separates and theoretically synthesizes quite a number schools which are frequently careworn and conflated: employer (understood as a causal capacity), subjectivity (understood as a representational capacity), selfhood (understood as a reflexive capacity), and personhood (understood as a sociopolitical potential attendant on being an agent, topic, or self). It argues that those amenities are top understood from a semiotic stance that supersedes the standard intentional stance. And, in so doing, it deals a pragmatism-grounded method of that means and mediation that's common adequate to account for procedures which are as embodied and embedded as they're articulated and enminded. specifically, whereas this thought is concentrated on human-specific modes of which means, it additionally bargains a basic idea of which means, such that the brokers, topics and selves in query don't need to continually, or perhaps often, map onto folks. And whereas this idea foregrounds brokers, people, topics and selves, it does this via theorizing procedures that frequently stay within the historical past of such (often erroneously) individuated figures: ontologies (akin to tradition, yet generalized throughout agentive collectivities), interplay (not in simple terms among humans, but in addition among humans and issues, and whatever open air or in-between), and infrastructure (akin to context, yet generalized to incorporate mediation at any measure of remove).

Paul Kockelman, affiliate Professor of Anthropology, Barnard collage and Columbia collage.

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For example, to know who “I” refers to may require that we know who is speaking, qua context (Jakobson 1990), and to know who “he” refers to may require that we know who was previously spoken about, qua co-occurring text (Halliday and Hasan 1976). And there is creation: Certain signs, as effects, make sense only relative to other signs, as causes. For example, Mead (1934) and Goffman (1981a) were hyper-sensitive to the ways in which the meaning of an utterance may make sense only in the context of its roots (for example, the utterance it is in response to) and fruits (for example, the utterance that will respond to it).

Loosely speaking, if the first sign causes your head to turn, the second sign, itself the object of the first sign, causes your mind to search. Objects (2) and (4), then, are relatively foregrounded. 16 Objects (1) and (3) are, in contrast, relatively backgrounded. They are akin to what Peirce would call dynamic objects: objects that give rise to the existence of signs (and, hence, are causes of, or reasons for, the signer having expressed them). In other words, whenever someone directs our attention there are (at least) two objects: as a foregrounded, immediate object, there is whatever they direct our attention to (2); and, as a backgrounded, dynamic object, there is their intention to direct our attention (1).

Does one zoom in to focus on cognitive processes or neurological signals? Does one zoom out to focus on implicated meanings rather than encoded ones or distal ends rather than immediate ones? Does one look backward toward the roots of an event or forward toward its fruits? Does one ask questions about selection on interactional, biographical, historical, or evolutionary time scales? Does one focus on agents that are neurons, organs, instruments, individuals, dyads, groups, or species? 18 On the one hand, such claims have relatively prosaic implications.

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