Preconscious Aspects of Knowledge

Early Deely

John N. Deely.  "Toward an Ontology of the Intersubjective."  Unpublished work from 1968.

I have had the distinguished pleasure of spending time with Dr. John Deely personally.  Though recent illness has somewhat diminished his capacities, his vigor remains quite impressive.  We combed through some early correspondence of his with Mortimer Adler, for whom he worked for several years at the end of the 1960s and at the beginning of the 1970s. 

This little essay doesn't seem to have been published in whole.  However, it certainly shows all the bearings of Deely's later works.  I think more people should read his early work on Heidegger, which clearly is throughout his later works in semiotics.  He was a man enchanted with esse intentionale.  That is why signs are important, why relation is important, etc.  As Simon once noted (in the Metaphysics of Knowledge and in private correspondence with Maritain) the order of intentional being is massive—and generally despised by Scholastics who, actually, have the only means of giving a full and realistic account of these matters.

But let us extract some wisdom from Deely:

"Without pretending to complete confidence here, it nonetheless seems to me that on this score a meditation on the phenomena of intersubjectivity as such (and including the phenomena relating to the preconscious and unconscious life of the mind) may provide a deciding factor.  As I have written elsewhere, 'The insistence that the basic reality is "primary substance," that whatever exists depends upon primary substance, that basic existence has essential unity that can only be achieved by form, and that the life of the mind modifies accidentally the soul of the knower—all these propositions have worked together to (needlessly) blind traditional philosophy to the decisively intersubjective, formally constitutive features of cultural, social, and personal—in a word, historical—realities which are the preoccupation of contemporary reflections.  What traditional philosophizing has failed to take sufficient account of, and what Heidegger demonstrates the need for considering thematically, is the possibility of understanding the irreducibility of the order of esse intentionale strictly and consistently as the sphere and level wherein man's historical existence is worked out and his "self-identity" in the properly human sense consequently maintains itself.'  [A footnote references his then-unpublished The Tradition via Heidegger.]

It is impossible for me to see how, on Adler's accounting, the subjectivistic, if not the constructivistic standpoint does not again come to the fore.  To consider, as Adler seems to tend to do, that intentional being is something which would make a thing known because it resembles it, rather than by being it, amounts to a throwback to one of those alterations of scholasticism which prepared for and, in a sense, made unavoidable the Cartesian theory of ideas and subsequently the modern idealistic noetic.  At the same time, by suppressing the formal distinction between esse-in and esse-ad, or, if that be too strong, by refusing to treat the latter in what is proper and formal to it, Adler makes it impossible to understand the category of relation—and therewith the essence of intentionality."

I have added the bold emphasis.  I assure the reader that Scholastics like Hervaeus Natalis and Scotus, let alone Aquinas (as Regis shows at length) quite clearly see the essence of intentionality ex parte obiecti (and not the limited perspective often focused on by post-Brentano thinkers, ex parte intelligentis) is nothing other than the relation of measure to measured in the act of cognition.  Of course, much more must be discussed here to accommodate all domains of culture—not merely scientific order (i.e. of objects as speculatively known) but also as regards moral and techncial creations.