The Semiotic Self

In this book, Norbert Wiley offers a new interpretation of the nature of the self in society. Current theories of the self tend to either assimilate the self to a community or larger collective, or reduce the self to body. In distinct opposition to these theories, Wiley makes the case for an autonomous self, a human being who is a repository of rights, a free and equal agent in a democracy consisting of other selves.

Drawing on a fresh synthesis of the writings of Charles Sanders Peirce, George Herbert Mead, and others, Wiley argues that the self can be seen as an internal conversation, or a “trialogue” in which the present self (“I”) talks to the future self (“you”) about the past self (“me”). A distinctive feature of Wiley’s view is that there is a mutually supportive relation between the self and democracy, and he traces this view through American history. In finding a way to decenter the self without eliminating it, Wiley supplies an alternative to current theories of postmodernism, a much-needed closure to classical pragmatism, and a new direction to neo-pragmatism.