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⚘ Poinsot: The Essence of the Sign | Brian Kemple

On 26 November 2022 at 11am ET (see event times around the world here and join the live Q&A here), Dr. Brian Kemple will present on “Poinsot: The Essence of the Sign”. Dr. Kemple holds a PhD in Philosophy from the University of St. Thomas, in Houston TX, where he wrote his dissertation under the inimitable John Deely. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the Lyceum Institute.

Philosophical interests and areas of study include: Thomas Aquinas, John Poinsot, Charles Peirce, Martin Heidegger, the history and importance of semiotics, scholasticism, phenomenology; as well as ancillary interests in the liberal arts, technology, and education as a moral habit. He has published two scholarly books—Ens Primum Cognitum in Thomas Aquinas and the Tradition (Brill: 2017) and The Intersections of Semiotics and Phenomenology: Peirce and Heidegger in Dialogue (De Gruyter: 2019), as well as a number of scholarly articles, popular articles, and his own Introduction to Philosophical Principles: Logic, Physics, and the Human Person (2019; 2nd edition 2022) and the forthcoming Linguistic Signification: A Classical Course in Grammar and Composition (2021).

In addition to being the Executive Director of the Lyceum Institute, he is the Executive Editor of Reality: a Journal for Philosophical Discourse.

2022 International Open Seminar on Semiotics (IO2S) | Website

This collaborative international open scientific initiative and celebration is jointly organized by the Institute for Philosophical Studies of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the University of Coimbra, the Lyceum Institute, the Deely Project, Saint Vincent College, the Iranian Society for Phenomenology at the Iranian Political Science Association, the International Association for Semiotics of Space and Time, the Institute for Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Semiotic Society of America, the American Maritain Association, the International Association for Semiotic Studies, the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies and the Mansarda Acesa with the support of the FCT – Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P., of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education of the Government of Portugal under the UID/FIL/00010/2020 project.

Why “Epistemology” is not a Science

In a certain way, writing this title and essay pains me: I first fell in love with philosophy in an undergraduate course titled “epistemology”. It was a difficult course to take in my sophomore year. We spent the first half of it reading Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, on which we had to write an essay answering the question, “How does Kant say synthetic a priori judgments are possible?” Myself and several other students spent many hours puzzling over this question. I recall the moment I put it all together, and, using a classroom whiteboard, frenetically drew out a diagram as a means for trying to explain it. I turned around to befuddled looks. Fortunately, another student—with a better mind for drawing diagrams—converted my mess into something neatly organized.

The second half of the course was spent not only in refuting Kant’s theory, but in demonstrating the Thomistic approach to the question of human understanding. This latter part of the course was much more edifying. But it was the process of puzzling out the Kantian schema that the habit of philosophical inquiry hooked itself into my soul, never to let go.

The “Problem” of Epistemology

In that Thomistic portion of the course, we were assigned to read—in addition to the works of Aquinas—a wonderful book by Louis-Marie Régis, with the unfortunate title of Epistemology. In the preface to this richly-poetic work of philosophy, Régis has this to say about his titular concern:

The history of philosophy is often compared to a great cemetery in which tombstones succeed each other in awful continuity and with their Hic jacet [here lies], write the many chapters of a sad encyclopedia—an encyclopedia of man’s repeated but always insufficient efforts to attain truth. Instead of this pessimistic simile, I prefer that of a maternity ward wherein the intellect, always in gestation, is periodically delivered of a theory which to all which to all outer appearances is newborn, but whose internal structure reveals a heredity that makes it contemporaneous with the very origins of philosophical speculation. That is why the history of philosophy is much more a history of birth and rebirth than one of death—a genealogy more than a necrology. Our intellect needs time in which to progress, and time, bearer of old age and death to material life, becomes an agent of rejuvenation to the life of the mind.

The problem that we are now about to tackle is a brilliant confirmation of the thesis just stated. Officially, its birth is dated 1637, at the printing shop of Jean Maire in Leyden; its father is René Descartes, who gave it the name Discourse on Method and assigned it a very definite vocation—to teach man “to reason well and to seek for truth in the sciences.” Unofficially, our problem is much older than the published date of its birth would lead us to suspect, and the baptismal name given it by Descartes is only one of the many terms applied to it by thinkers of all ages. We might even say its name is Legion and that the history of its pseudonyms would furnish material for a large volume. Not only is its name legion, but so are the guises under which it appears; its art of camouflage, of being visible or invisible, of revealing itself or escaping notice, would fill the wiliest chameleon with envy.

Louis-Marie Régis 1958: Epistemology, 3-4.

Indeed, the problem Descartes seized did not begin with Descartes. The problem was known to him only because of Montaigne, the Parisian Ockhamists, and the Jesuits at La Flèche: the problem knowledge. As Régis goes on to detail in later pages, the context of skepticism grounded both Descartes’ Discourse and Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. So, too, the modern thinkers made consensus a driver of truth and disunity a demonstration of falsehood. Finally, each struggles with apparently contradictory accounts being given in one and the same mind: as sense and intellect may seem to contravene one another.

The “epistemological problem” truly is a problem. But, as stated, it long antedates Descartes. Moreover, the moderns fundamentally misstate the nature of the problem from the very beginning. It is not a problem of certainty or clarity. It is not a problem of “transcendence”, that is, of the mind reaching the extra-mental world. Nor is it a problem of consensus. Rather, it is a problem of impediments to resolution—most of which impediments, today, were built by the moderns themselves.

The Problem of “Epistemology”

What is a “problem”? It is something to be solved. A solution, applied to a problem, removes the problem. Can we remove the problems of knowing? Is there a solution which will dissolve our difficulties? Or do these difficulties—myriad in name and guise—spring up from our very nature as human beings?

Science always springs from the inquiry made by human minds. It has, therefore, an artificial character to it: we model its structure, its procedures, its conclusions. But even when we create sciences of man-made objects—even objects that exist only by the activity of human minds, pure objects we might say—these sciences are fulfilled only by making known intelligible realities independent of our thought. We attain knowledge by resolving our understanding to these realities. A science, to be fruitful as knowledge, must have some resolution to nature; even if it is specifically the nature of the human intellect capable of producing artificial things and objects.

Thus, at the foundation of every science is its “subject”, the intelligible rationale within which all its objects are investigated and to which they must be resolved. There must, in consequence, be lines of demarcation at which point something begins and something ends. The science of philosophical physics, or “natural philosophy” as many call it, concerns itself with the subject matter of mobile being, ens mobile: being insofar as it is capable of motion. The science of biology concerns itself with mobile being insofar as it is alive, i.e., insofar as it has an active potency of motion from within itself. The science of metaphysics concerns itself with being insofar as it is being, that is, in the widest possible extension with an eye specifically towards the principles whereby beings exist.

What is the subject for the science of epistemology? Knowledge, one might say, or the processes of human knowing. But where do these processes begin and end? Is knowledge a something in the mind? Are we concerned with knowledge as an accident residing in an individual human substance? But even as such an accident, it is—we may posit and not here defend—intrinsically and necessarily intentional: ordered towards making known its object, that is. We might say, therefore, that the accident of knowledge is always a relative accident. Knowledge is what it is by the relation which the concept provenates in order to make known its object. But which relations constitute knowledge? Only intellectual ones? Or do we know anything, in fact, without perceptual relations also? Do we need to include sense relations? Or the physical relations which enable sensation to occur?

Put in other words, there is no point of demarcation for a “science” of “knowledge”. Any theory of “epistemology” intrinsically and explicitly includes doctrines of “ontology”—and vice versa. I would challenge everyone to think about this term, “epistemology”, and whether it misleads us.

Perhaps I will follow this up with further posts in the future. In the meantime, I would suggest the word “noetic” as an alternative suitable in most cases where one would use the term “epistemology” to discuss the doctrines concerning knowledge.


Anyone interested in this point should also read John Deely’s Intentionality and Semiotics (where he mentions this point several places, as can be found in the index).

Marshall McLuhan on the History of the Trivium

…the history of the trivium is largely a history of the rivalry among them for ascendancy.  Ancient grammar was at odds with the dialectics of Plato and, especially, of Aristotle, as the art of interpreting phenomena.  As the method of patristic theology, grammar enjoyed uninterrupted ascendancy until the revival of dialectics by Gerbert, Roscellinus, and Abelard in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  With the decadence of dialectical or scholastic theology in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries both grammarians and rhetoricians surge forward again, finally triumphing in the work and influence of Erasmus, the restorer of patristic theology and of the grammatical humanistic discipline on which it rests.  On the other hand, the war between the dialecticians and rhetoricians began as soon as the Sophists attempted to make dialectics subordinate to the art of persuasion.  Plato and Aristotle were the greatest enemies of the rhetoricians, not so much in rejecting rhetoric, as in asserting that as an art it had no power to control dialectics.  The Stoics, however, are the main defenders of dialectics against rhetoric after Aristotle.

Marshall McLuhan, 1943: The Classical Trivium, 42.

A point which will be focused on in the present unnamed Lyceum trivium project (being constituted by a series of lectures and discussion sessions which will result either in a video, text, or other public-facing production: see more on our approach to the Trivium here), the conflict of “ascendancy” among the arts of the trivium is a subtle point to which few have drawn attention as well as McLuhan. One difficulty I see emergent from the history of their rivalry is a certain blindness to their unity. What makes something one? An indication hinted at here—whether intentionally or not—is the point of “decadence” in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries among the scholastics. This decadence itself is a point in need of exploration and exposition, for, certainly, while those under the influence of Ockham and other nominalistic theories were undoubtedly decadent in their dialectical practice, given that they had abandoned the essential principle of unity between thought and things, it is also true that other scholastics were not so decadent, though they may have been quite elaborate in their use of dialectic nonetheless. (See, for instance, the great work being done on the thought of the Conimbricenses.)

The opposition of grammar, dialectics, and rhetoric, that is, has never rendered robust intellectual fruit when one attempts entirely the suppression of the others. Each must be understood as an integral part of a whole. What remains a question—which we will explore explicitly in the second of our lectures and discussions—is how these parts are united and oriented as a whole. This question requires also, antecedently, a consideration of what the trivium aims at; for every unity is governed, in some way or another, by the end for the sake of which it exists. This question was the focus of our first session, wherein it was discussed that the arts of the trivium, as tools of reflection upon thought, are tools whereby we manifest in language what is true. This truth is not merely factual (i.e., of the literal and measurable), but revelatory of being.

And so the question becomes: through which of the arts do we best orient ourselves towards what is true, without leaving behind the others?

Musings on Extrinsic Formal Causality and Practical Signs

This is not quite how I envisioned this first blog post turning out… Originally, I had considered writing something on the issue of the political common good, focusing on the plurality of common goods in relation to the political exercise of social justice in its original and true sense (namely, the right ordering of various goods within a social whole).  Oh well… That will be my next posting.

I am in the midst of working on a monograph devoted to a topic dear to my heart, concerned with (broadly speaking) the being of culture, exposited in line with a rigorous Thomistic metaphysic.  I am at a point of writing where I need to discuss the topic of extrinsic formal causality.  Therefore, I thought it might be helpful to write a blog post that teases out some of the ideas that will eventually enter into that particular chapter of my work.

The Platonic and Neo-Platonic universe is one that is dominated by the notion of extrinsic formal causality.  According to a kind of somewhat pedestrian, “kitchen table” Platonism, which philosophy professors often teach their undergraduate students, the world would be a kind of imitation of the transcend realm of the Forms or Ideas.  However, as any astute reader of Plato himself knows, many seeds for Aristotle’s own thought are found all throughout the written expression of the master’s thought, from which he drank for so many years.  Thus, in the Timaeus, we find the need to posit (by way of myth) a “receptacle” into which the form would be reflected (thus inserting material causality into the Platonic metaphysic), as well as the famous “Craftsman” (or “Demiurge”), who looks at the Forms and places them into the matter-receptacle(s), thereby making mutable copies of the immutable ideal realities (thus inserting efficient causality into the metaphysic).  Although Neo-Platonism would more clearly articulate the role of a kind of cosmic teleology, with all things going forth from the One and magnetized to return thereto (to the degree that this is possible), Plato’s conception of the Idea of the Good no doubt is the seed for such reflection on universal metaphysical gravitation.  (Think of how powerfully such teleology is expressed in Aristotle’s own account of the particular causality exercised by the First Cause when he discusses this not in the Physics but, rather, in the Metaphysics.)

But, with all of that being said, the most powerful of causes that operates on the Platonic and Neo-Platonic mind is extrinsic formal causality: the “really real” is to be found in the Ideas, with everything else being a copy thereof.  Thus, the world is full of copies and images, derivative realities whose intelligibility points to an external source upon whose model they were fashioned.  The Christian mind would readily develop this Platonic insight into the philosophical-theological metaphysics of the “Divine Ideas.”

It is, however, all too tempting for Christian philosophers to rush to the heights like this.  It comes from a laudable and pious sentiment.  But, the bright light of theological concern can tend to bleach out the importance of more quotidian realities.  Thus, among scholastics, one will most often speak of the “artistic idea” by which an artist fashions his or her work.  But such discussions are a kind of quick scaffolding for the sake of accomplishing the real construction: just enough elaboration so that one can then move on to the “truly important topic” concerning the Divine Ideas, the artistic exemplars of all created beings.

However, let us consider phenomena that are far more down to earth.  As I sit here typing, I see all sorts of things in my office.  A mug of coffee sits at my right.  Pens sit next to papers.  Slightly behind me, alongside the wall, there is a piano with a music book open, instructing me on the harmonization of a Bach chorale.

The last example is instructive (and, of course, purposely chosen).  Note the verb in the final clause: the book is instructing me.  Obviously, the sense of this verb is not the same as when it is used in its proper sense, referring to the activity of a teacher in relation to his or her students.  The act of instruction involves a kind of efficient causality.  But, for all that, is the transfer a mere metaphorical rhapsody?  No, for the most essential aspect of teaching is the act of presenting ideas before the mind of another, the “presentation of the object” to be known.  And this is something that the music text does to the person who has eyes to see.

Let us presume that I have never seen this harmonization of the “Darmstadt” melody before.  As someone who can somewhat plunk away at a piano, I have the agentive capacity to interpret music so as to then “transfer” its “message” to the tips of my fingers.  But, I cannot so transfer the “Darmstadt” melody until I know it.  In other words, my playing this melody depends, for its very being, upon the details intelligibly arranged on the paper.  And what is dependence in being?  It is a relationship of effect to cause.  My performance of this melody today must be “formed” by the message of the music pages.  My agency receives its form from outside of me—it is influenced by a causality that is, at once, extrinsic and formal.

In its merely “natural” being, the book of chorales is of use for starting a bonfire.  If civilization were to collapse, and if all modern Western music notation were to be forgotten, these properties would remain.  But, to the eyes of cognitional human agents, with a certain cultural and habituated ability to actualize the intelligibility that has been placed in these signs, the book is a window on the soul of a particular kind of music.  It pulls the musician into its orbit and expresses an intelligibility that is there in the paper—but in alio modo esse, according to another manner of existence.  It provides the “measure”, the right proportioning (at least in general terms), for my music playing.

And if one has eyes to see, one will realize that even blank paper itself also exercises this sort of causality.  In a literate culture in which writing upon paper is a possibility, a blank piece of paper is seen for the artifact that it is.  It is a practical sign of a kind of activity.  When viewed within the particular cultural context of sign interpretation, it is a kind of invitation to activity, it specifies a kind of activity: qua paper, this is something to be written on.  Sure, it can specify other activities too: make paper airplane from this, or cut out shapes from this, etc.  But the point remains, insofar as it brings into our minds the possibility of a practical activity—that is, insofar as this artifact is part of the relation-complex that leads my mind beyond the paper to a given kind of activity—the paper, precisely in this relational structure, becomes a sign, a practical sign.

We are surrounded by practical signs directing our action—they are everywhere.  They perfuse the world.  And although this kind of causality is exercised most clearly in human agency, where choice intervenes so as to constitute new forms of intelligibility, there is a real sense in which such extrinsic formal causality perfuses lower forms of activity as well.  When several trees interact with their environment so as to “communicate” with each other through their root systems, the various fungi and elements that take part in these processes have intelligibility as part of a kind of organic communication system only if one takes into consideration the life pattern of the trees in question.  In other words, the intelligibility of this system of activity, precisely as a unified system of activity, derives its intelligibility from the particular organic capacities of the plant life in question.  Even here, there is a kind of “extrinsic information” which gives an intelligibility that is not merely present in the uncoordinated activity of the parts of this now-active plant communication system.

But, I have gone on too long already.  I merely wanted to tease about on this topic to get a feeling for where the mind might go when writing on it.  Hopefully, though, this musing begins to get you thinking.  You’ll never look at the world the same again: the edge of the road is a practical sign (exercising extrinsic formal causality) telling you not to drive over it; the dashes between lanes indicate to you a kind of legal driving pattern; a driveway is an invitation to drive there and not on a lawn; a door handle is an invitation to turn and open a door; and in just the right context, a steep and open snowy hill begs you to ski down it.             

Extrinsic formal causality is everywhere, for the world is perfused with signs, both speculative and practical.  Let him who has eyes to see see.

Fall Seminar Previews

METAPHYSICS: THE DEPTHS OF ACT & POTENCY

“In long Indian file, as when herons take wing, the white birds were now all flying towards Ahab’s boat; and when within a few yards began fluttering over the water there, wheeling round and round, with joyous, expectant cries.  Their vision was keener than man’s; Ahab could perceive no sign in the sea.  But suddenly…

Metaphysics: The Depths of Act & Potency

THE FAULTS OF MODERN PHILOSOPHY

This is not a seminar about modernity, but about modern philosophy—and, specifically, about the fundamental flaws (or faults) which characterize modern philosophy’s thinking.  These flaws, once recognized, show their effects everywhere today: in the endless fragmentation of world, mind, self; in the intransigence of political discourse, the widening cultural divides, the polarization of extremes, and…

Science: The Faults of Modern Philosophy

SEMIOTICS: PEIRCE AND THE MODERN SPIRIT

“The last of the moderns,” writes John Deely of Charles Sanders Peirce, “and the first of the postmoderns.” Why this switch, this flip, between modernity and postmodernity? The question of postmodernity’s meaning and definition is altogether another issue: but one which we can understand only inasmuch as we first understand rightly what modernity is, or…

Semiotics: Peirce and the Modern Spirit

[Fall 2022] The Faults of Modern Philosophy

This is not a seminar about modernity, but about modern philosophy—and, specifically, about the fundamental flaws (or faults) which characterize modern philosophy’s thinking.  These flaws, once recognized, show their effects everywhere today: in the endless fragmentation of world, mind, self; in the intransigence of political discourse, the widening cultural divides, the polarization of extremes, and the frail, shrill assertions of expertise, exactitude, and a scientific consensus that appears to hold naught together in truth but the adherents of a narrow ideology.

We will not, in the course of these eight weeks, undertake deconstruction of this fragile and threatening edifice.  Rather, our task is to discover and analyze the underlying faults.  We will accomplish this analysis through a collective effort—with lectures given and discussions led by three faculty (Kemple, Wagner, and Boyer)—that unveils the fundamental mistakes of modern philosophy’s key thinkers.  Though these thinkers are diverse from one another, commonly they are “modern” in holding certain presuppositions about the nature of knowledge and the human person resulting in a discontinuous set of fundamental beliefs concerning the universe and our experience of it.

It would be easy simply to point to the precarity and chaos permeating the world built on such foundations, wave it away, and say that we must begin again.  But such hand-waving not only fails to be efficacious, it is, moreover, delusional.  We are the children of modernity, like it or not, and their errors are our inheritance, abusive though that may be.  If we fail to understand the foundations of the moderns’ thoughts, we will not recognize their influence in ourselves.

Discussion Sessions
2:00pm ET

(World times)
Study Topics &
Readings

September
24
Week 1: The Modern Context
Lecture: From the Break with Scholasticism to the Incoherence of Today
Readings:
» Selections from preparatory bibliography.
October
1
Week 2: The False Ground of Modern Philosophy
Lecture: The πρῶτον ψεῦδος [first falsehood] of Modern Philosophy: Descartes’ Method
Reading:
» Descartes, Meditations (I-II).
October
8
Week 3: Common Idealism
Lecture: The Lonely Way of Ideas
Reading:
» Descartes, Discourse on Method (selections).
» Descartes, Meditations (III).
» Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (selections).
October
15
Week 4: A Broken “Empiricism”
Lecture: David Hume’s “Empirical” Method: The Tale of Naïve Cartesian
Reading:
» Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (selections).
» Aristotle, Physics (selections).
October
22

BREAK
October
29
Week 5: Immanuel Kant and the Unknowable
Lecture: Kant’s A Priori Prison
Reading:
» Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (selections).
» Gilson, Unity of Philosophical Experience (selections).
November
5
Week 6: Pointing Games
Lecture: Wittgenstein’s Language
Reading:
» Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (selections).
November
12
Week 7: Avoiding Reality
Lecture: Choose Your Own Ontology
Readings:
» Quine, “On What There Is”.
» Geach, “Symposium: On What There Is”
November
19
Week 8: Jean-Paul Sartre and the Nadir of Modernity
Lecture: Antagonism of Person and Nature
Readings
» Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism.

This seminar is open to all participants, regardless of prior experience. View the syllabus here and learn more about Lyceum Institute seminars here.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

Registration is closed.

[Fall 2022] Metaphysics: The Depths of Act & Potency

“In long Indian file, as when herons take wing, the white birds were now all flying towards Ahab’s boat; and when within a few yards began fluttering over the water there, wheeling round and round, with joyous, expectant cries.  Their vision was keener than man’s; Ahab could perceive no sign in the sea.  But suddenly as he peered down and down into the depths, he profoundly saw a white living spot no bigger than a white weasel, with wonderful celerity uprising, and magnifying as it rose, till it turned, and then there were plainly revealed two long crooked rows of white, glistening teeth, floating up from the undiscoverable bottom.”

-Melville, Moby Dick
Chapter 133: The Chase—First Day.
Download the Syllabus
View the Syllabus

While preparing a lecture on the contribution made by Thomas Aquinas to the historical development of semiotics—particularly as it helped move understanding past the initial contributions to a Latin theory of signs constituted by Augustine of Hippo—I found that nothing was more central to the advance of this narrative than the Aristotelian doctrine of act and potency.  To understand the efficacy of a sign, that is, we need to understand relations, and to understand relations, we need to understand act and potency.

As I took one brief dive after another into the relevant texts of Aquinas—most especially his Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle—I fleetingly glimpsed what seemed an endless series of wonderous observations, each more than the last deserving of a thorough investigation.  This seminar provides an opportunity for all interested to join collaboratively in making such an inquiry.

Act and potency, I must admit, have together always seemed a doctrine that—despite long familiarity with the teaching—has escaped me for its depths.  The two interrelated concepts are indefinable, but not for lack of intelligibility; indeed, they are so rich that all description leaves us infinitely short of having exhausted their meaning or their pertinence to our lives.  To think of potency is to think of what is intelligible only in the light of act, but not as itself an act; to distinguish passive and active potency is to get a foothold on the nature of change, but through something itself unchanging.  It is through the change from potency to act that we come to know what anything is; and, indeed, such a change is how knowledge itself is realized within us.

If we are to explain being—to know being—we must know and be able to explain the distinction between those elements which divide it all. We must peer beyond what eyes can see.

Ten minute lecture preview
Discussion Sessions
3:30pm ET

(World times)
Study Topics &
Readings

September
24
Week 1: Form as Cause of Being & Knowing
Lecture: Principle of Substance, End of Knowledge
Readings:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book VII, c.17.
» Aquinas’ Commentary on the Metaphysics, lib.7, lec.17 (§1648–1680).
» Owens’ Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, c.12 (375-77).
October
1
Week 2: Form as Principle of Composite Being
Lecture: Intelligible Relations of Form and Matter
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book VIII, c.1-2.
» Aristotle’s Physics, Book II, c.1.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.8, lec.1-2 (§1681–1702).
October
8
Week 3: The One and the Many
Lecture: Infinite Material Plurality
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book VIII, c.3-6.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.8, lec.3-5 (§1703–1767).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.13 (379-99).
October
15
Week 4: Definition and Distinction of Potency
Lecture: Discerning the Meaning of Potency
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 1-2.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.1-2 (§1768–1794).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.14, parts I-II (403-06).
October
22

BREAK
October
29
Week 5: The Grounds of Potency
Lecture: Potency and Possibility
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 3-5.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.3-4 (§1795–1822).
November
 5
Week 6: Analogical Primacy of Act
Lecture: The Speaking of What Is
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 6-7.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.5-6 (§1823–1843).
November
12
Week 7: Explanatory Primacy of Act
Lecture: The Existing of What Is
Readings:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 8-9.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.7-10 (§1844–1894).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.14, part III (406-409).
November
19
Week 8: The Divisions of Being
Lecture: The Governance of Truth and Falsity
Readings
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 10.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.11 (§1895–1919).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.15 (411-41).

This is an advanced seminar. View the syllabus here and learn more about Lyceum Institute seminars here. Participants should have at least basic familiarity with Aristotelian physics and Thomistic psychology before enrolling.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

Registration is closed.

Introduction to Philosophical Principles

Introduction to Philosophical Principles: Logic, Physics, and the Human Person

What good is living? I know a man we’ll call “James”—successful, secure in his career, his family, his hobbies, his religious belief—who claimed not that he was depressed at this stage of his life, but that he found himself nevertheless asking frequently: “Is this all there is?” Then he discovered philosophy. It was not an immediate love; indeed, it was discovered as a requirement for his graduate business program. But, seeking out help, he found more and more to read. More and deeper questions arose. He found his philosophical inquiries were not simply aligned with success in the course, but sprung up from his own life experiences, his own encounters with the world. He became philosophically curious. He wanted to know. To understand. A deeper reality opened up for him; one of inexhaustible meaning.

Philosophy—real, true philosophy—is transformative. It will not make you successful in the world, but it will answer a question that all the success and security never can: what is the good of being alive?

In the nihilistic, “post-truth” context of late modernity, we might despair of finding an answer to that question. The odds seem against us, especially in the absence of success and security. But even the faintest glimmer of the answer—the dimmest light—gives us something that cannot be taken away by the worst the world has to offer.

I first met James at a coffee shop in 2016 to help him with the graduate course. We have since met almost every week for six years—sometimes two or three times in the span of a few days—to discuss philosophy. Our talks have ranged over the distinctions of Plato and Aristotle, of Descartes and Locke, the neglect of scholasticism, the influence of Islamic thought, the value of the Conimbricenses, the genius of João Poinsot and Charles Sanders Peirce, the breadth of Thomas Aquinas, the nature of culture and society, the threats to truth, and much more besides. These conversations, deep though many of them are, have opened more inquiries than we will be able to explore in a lifetime.

This book, now in a second and much expanded edition (with over 100 pages of new material) does not mirror my conversations with James. But it does mirror the endless joy of discovering meaning, a condensed breadth of philosophical learning, and the desire to understand, to answer the question: what is the point of living?

I hope you will read it. I hope you will enjoy it. I hope it will spark a similar philosophical curiosity in you. The text is divided into three main parts: Logic, Physics, and the Person. Each presents what I think are the essential principles for gaining a habit of philosophical reflection. These three parts are supplemented by an extensive series of Glosses, which provide deeper questions and connections to the historical traditions of philosophy from which the ideas in the main text were composed. These glosses serve as suggestions of other places to look for questions about topics such as time, motion, knowledge, causality, signs, and more.

Maybe you don’t think it’s a book for you. I could try to convince you otherwise, but either you have a hunger to ask the question or you don’t. But even if you don’t think it’s for you, I bet you can think of someone in your life who does have that hunger. [Link to book]

Signs of Meaning: The Need for Semiotics

In this first public Colloquium hosted by the Lyceum Institute, we ask: why is semiotics important? Why do we need it?

Recording of the Live Q&A available to Lyceum Institute Members
Thursday 7 July 2022 6:00pm ET
Lecture Below

“Allow me to begin with a prefatory comment: it is difficult to give a presentation on semiotics for two reasons. The first, and perhaps more obvious reason, is that few people know what it really is. It is an unusual word—a word that may sound somehow exciting, but also mysterious. The second, very much related to the first, is that semiotics is at once a relatively new doctrine and yet it subsumes and incorporates and even elevates disciplines very ancient. Its explicit recognition has been rare, but its implicit influence ubiquitous in time and place. Moreover, semiotics brings us face to face with something unknown and yet nevertheless deeply familiar; and perhaps, even, unknown because it is so familiar: namely, signs.

“And so, although the temptation in a presentation such as this—this presentation serving as a certain kind of introduction to semiotics—the temptation is to pass a considerable amount of time traversing the meandering inquiry of what semiotics is—wending through the particularities of its doctrines, its terminologies, its histories—despite this temptation, I will spend relatively little time re-treading those already well-worn steps. There are many books, papers, and presentations already extant which cover the doctrinal, terminological, and historical grounds. Despite these introductions, semiotics remains somewhat mysterious to many. And so I wish today to head in a different direction, and I hope that you all will walk this perhaps even-more meandering path alongside me, for I believe it will give a kind of circumspective view of that well-tread ground, and thereby dispel some of the enigma.”


Brian Kemple holds a PhD in Philosophy from the University of St. Thomas, in Houston TX, where he wrote his dissertation under the inimitable John Deely. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the Lyceum Institute. He has published two scholarly books—Ens Primum Cognitum in Thomas Aquinas and the Tradition (Brill: 2017) and The Intersections of Semiotics and Phenomenology: Peirce and Heidegger in Dialogue (De Gruyter: 2019), as well as a number of scholarly articles, popular articles, and his own Introduction to Philosophical Principles: Logic, Physics, and the Human Person (2019) and the forthcoming Linguistic Signification: A Classical Course in Grammar and Composition (2021).

Philosophy, Faith, and Signs

The Lyceum Institute brings two more seminars available to the general public, each taught by a uniquely qualified professor: Dr. Matthew Kenneth Minerd, translator of many, many works of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, will teach us the philosophical thought of the “Sacred Monster” of Thomism; Dr. Brian Kemple, the only student ever to complete a doctoral dissertation under John Deely offers insight into the semiotic thought and contributions of a man once rightly called the “most important living American philosopher”. Listen to previews and sign up below. Discussion sessions for the seminars begin on July 2nd.

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Philosophizing in Faith – What is final causality?

Deely’s Contributions to Semiotics – A new postmodern era?