Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Ontic [Re]Turn: Epochal Shift in the Foundations of the Humanities

James E. Ford.

Walter Watson, in ‘The Architectonics Of Meaning’, has described Richard McKeon’s important discovery of cyclical shifts in philosophical subject matters dominant in different cultural periods: “The history of philosophy exhibits a cycle of epochal shifts: from an ontic epoch concerned with that which is, or being, to an epistemic epoch concerned with how we know that which is, or knowing, to a semantic epoch concerned with the expression of what we know about that which is, or meaning, and back again to an ontic epoch concerned with being.” The current cycle, the fifth in Western intellectual history, began with the ontically-oriented new sciences of the 17th century. There is evidence of a growing perception of enervation in the now-dominant semantically-oriented epoch (the age of the “Linguistic Turn”), which began with analytic philosophy and which has culminated in the poststructuralist view of a universe in which ‘Il n'ya pas dehors du texte.’

Common ground in the coming epoch of the humanities will be found by following the shift from the current semantic orientation, in which reality is thought to be “made of language,” back to an ontic orientation in which reality is taken to be “made of things.”

The presentation will 1) describe the present moment in this cycle, adducing evidence from philosophy, literary criticism, and other fields to support the likelihood of a shift away from the semantic and toward the ontic, and 2) suggest implications in such a shift for finding common ground in the humanities.


James E. Ford  (United States)
Assoc. Prof.
Department of English
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Academic specialty: History and Theory of Literary Criticism, with emphasis on the philosophical foundations of critical theory and interpretation theory (most recent publication, in press: Rationalist Criticism Of Greek Tragedy: The Nature And Influence Of A Critical Revolution); collateral fields: research methods, opera and literature (as dramaturg and director).

  • Ontic Turn
  • Ontic Epoch
  • Cycle of Epochal Shifts
  • Post-Linguistic Turn
  • Post-Semantic Epoch
  • New Philosophical Epoch
  • New Philosophical Subject Matter

(60min Workshop, English)