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Four Ages of Understanding: The first Postmodern Survey of Philosophy from Ancient Times to the Turn of the Twenty-First Century (Toronto Studies in Semiotics and Communication) [Hardcover]

John Deely
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)


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Book Description

July 7, 2001 0802047351 978-0802047359 First Edition

This book redraws the intellectual map and sets the agenda in philosophy for the next fifty or so years. By making the theory of signs the dominant theme in "Four Ages of Understanding", John Deely has produced a history of philosophy that is innovative, original, and complete. The first full-scale demonstration of the centrality of the theory of signs to the history of philosophy, "Four Ages of Understanding" provides a new vantage point from which to review and reinterpret the development of intellectual culture at the threshold of "globalization".

Deely examines the whole movement of past developments in the history of philosophy in relation to the emergence of contemporary semiotics as the defining moment of Postmodernism. Beginning traditionally with the Pre-Socratic thinkers of early Greece, Deely gives an account of the development of the notion of signs and of the general philosophical problems and themes which give that notion a context through four ages: Ancient philosophy, covering initial Greek thought; the Latin age, philosophy in European civilization from Augustine in the 4th century to Poinsot in the 17th; the Modern period, beginning with Descartes and Locke; and the Postmodern period, beginning with Charles Sanders Peirce and continuing to the present. Reading the complete history of philosophy in light of the theory of the sign allows Deely to address the work of thinkers never before included in a general history, and in particular to overcome the gap between Ockham and Descartes which has characterized the standard treatments heretofore. One of the essential features of the book is the way in which it shows how the theme of signs opens a perspective for seeing the Latin Age from its beginning with Augustine to the work of Poinsot as an indigenous development and organic unity under which all the standard themes of ontology and epistemology find a new resolution and place.

A magisterial general history of philosophy, Deely's book provides both a strong background to semiotics and a theoretical unity between philosophy's history and its immediate future. With "Four Ages of Understanding" Deely sets a new agenda for philosophy as a discipline entering the 21st century.


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About the Author

John Deely has been a Professor of Philosophy since 1976 at Loras COllege in Dubuque, Iowa, and is now at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.


Product Details

  • Series: Toronto Studies in Semiotics and Communication
  • Hardcover: 928 pages
  • Publisher: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division; First Edition edition (July 7, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802047351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802047359
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 7.5 x 2.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,753,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book That Changes History July 13, 2002
Format:Hardcover
This book should be on the shelf of every person who takes ideas seriously, be they professor, student, or simply an informed citizen. The work is as revolutionary as it is comprehensive. There are many notable features, including passing comments on social and political developments in history, and an assessment of philosophy in the history of Islam. But two novelties bear particular mention. PartII provides nothing less than a new understanding of medieval thought. It shows for the first time a unity to the Latin period, from its fifth century beginnings to the modern revolution in the seventeenth century. The period from Ockham to Descartes, little more than a black hole in the standard histories heretofore, is shown to be a vital fulfillment of the medieval development. Figures and works normally neglected here come to life. The period culminates in the first systematic treatment of sign in general essayed by John Poinsot (a contemporary of Galileo and Descartes utterly unknown to the standard histories). Part IV provides the first coherent explanation I have seen of what a postmodern development of philosophy consists in, and how and why the postmodern epoch differs from modernity. In short, this book provides a new, complete outline of intellectual history, and argues in the course of doing so for a new view of history as essential to philosophy in the way that the laboratory is essential to science. The bibliography of the work is constructed to reveal the historical layers in philosophical discourse, as layers of rock reveal to a geologist the history of the earth. The Index at the end is astonishing, alone worth the price of the book. Read more ›
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22 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ... May 6, 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
...I would NOT suggest his gratuitously heavy and exorbitantly priced book as an introductory text. In many cases the language is rather complicated, and if you want an overview of the history of Philosophy, you can probably find one that won't take you the greater part of your life to read. As a reference book that lives on your shelf and only comes out to play in the case that you might need to consult it on a date, personality, event, etc., it is, however, superb. My suggestion is that you should NOT buy this book unless you A, are a masochist and/or learned in the often stilted style of Philosophic writings, or B, in need of an awesome reference on the history of Philosophy...
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