Eduardo Kohn: Thinking with a forest’s thoughts

An interesting lecture, though it takes a few moments to get to it. See the book here:


  1. I think we have pretty good functionalist accounts of how animist types are socialized to project themselves onto non-humans and don’t see how this isn’t just another variation on anthropocentrism?

  2. I think its the semiotics (in Kohn’s view) that does this work. More thoroughly spelled out in the book – whether or not it is convincing is another matter, of course.

    • ha, yes tho of course semiotics doesn’t do any work except as human-doings…

      • Adam Robbert says:

        Is there really anything controversial about saying that semiotics extends beyond the human, though?

      • Not for some; but certainly for others who think the point of ecological philosophy is to somehow find an alternate way to radicalize Kant (i.e. T. Morton).

      • Adam Robbert says:

        Do you see semiotics and Kantian philosophy as opposed? I just re-read Uexkull’s Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans where he makes the same argument T. Morton does with regard to the split between appearance and reality in an explicitly Kantian way (though Uexkull limits the insights to living organisms instead of making the distinction some kind of ontological principle). I don’t see why we can’t do Kant and biosemiotics at the same time. Thoughts?

      • there is for me, I reject the equation of signs with habits and with extending habits to non-critters.

      • Adam Robbert says:

        dmf: How would you account for the emergence of habits (or the selection of one set of habit over another) without appeal to some kind of sign-interpreter-response relation?

      • mostly in terms of bio-chemistry and such, these sorts of signals, if you will, are not signs, and you don’t need “interpretation” for stimulus responses.

      • Sure, I can see how signs might be an issue at the level of chemistry, but once you add “bio-” there is already a tacit acknowledgement that life is something beyond chemical interactions. Otherwise why have chemistry and biology at all? We could just as well say that science = physics, which we already know is not the case. Life seems to be the point at which semiotic relations emerge, which from my perspective makes Kohn’s argument less anthropocentric (or at the very least not reducible to a kind of socialized projection).

      • well there can’t be chemistry (organic or otherwise) that doesn’t accord with physics, but if we are talking about different kinds/complexities of assemblages than obviously there are differences as we note in evolution, you and I just seem to disagree about what is a difference that makes a difference and Peirce-like speculations about intepretants writ large (rather than more ‘sapient’ interpreters) seems to be a projection like talk about universal/pan “affect”, I think that non-critters are stranger-strangers than that. Not sure that it would make much of a difference in how we would go about trying to solve various problems tho or give us any real clues about what the trees want (for me there is no ‘forest’ per say).

  3. One can certainly do them both at the same time. But that is because there are many ways to be Kantian and many ways to work in a semiotic tradition. So not all are compatible, not all opposed.

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