Why were schematic symbols developed

"The social reality of symbols". Ernst Cassirer's philosophy of culture in response to the contemporary communication society

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

List of figures

List of tables

Preface - General intention of the work

1 Overview: Problem structure and methodical approach

2 About symbols and symbolic forms
2.1. On the general system of the concept of symbol
2.2 The world as understood by Ernst Cassirer

3 worlds of symbols - life in networks of symbols
3.1 Cultural programming
3.1.1 The limitation of the ego in the cognition of the collective we
3.1.2 Social action in symbolic worlds of experience
3.2 Content and change over time
3.2.1 Revolution of abstraction
3.2.2 The symbolic liberation via the media

4 The power of the new perception
4.1 The drawing out of the ego in the current world of symbols
4.1.1 The replacement of emotions in the abstraction of reality
4.1.2 The social network as a media-staged space for action
4.2 Constructions of Reality in a Media Culture
4.2.1 Awareness of and handling of symbols
4.2.2 The logo as an example of a specifically used symbolization

5 ways / risk of a new social reality
5.1 The power of thoughts - practical symbol generation (excursus)
5.2 Staged divinity - ideas for suggestion and manipulation

6 Conclusion with visionary intent
6.1 Presentation of results based on Alfred North Whitehead
6.2 Summarizing considerations on the conceptual expansion

Literature cited

List of figures

Figure 1: General semiotic and semantic triangle at Frege, merging approaches: see online under semiotics at Wikipedia, SteinundBaum (2011), URL: [http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php? title = file: Semiotischesdreieck.jpg & filetimestamp = 20in013201316]; Hartmann, Lutz: Semantic triangle according to Gottlob Frege, online at URL: [http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Semantisches_Dreieck_Fre ge.jpg & filetimestamp = 20070202092419] (2.2.2007)

Figure 2: Presentative and discursive symbols in SK Langer (1957) in extension of the subcategorization by Lorenzer (1984), taken from Anderson, Stefan: Rituals in the religious education and accompaniment of people with intellectual disabilities. Introductory lecture for the 3rd meeting of the forum Religious Education & Education for the Mentally Handicapped, held on May 27, 1999, Lubeck

Figure 3: Complexity of logo creation - personality construction of companies in comparison with the identity-forming symbolization processes for the constitution of the human ego (own illustration)

Figure 4: Schematic representation of Cassirer's theoretical construct, adopted by Pochat, Gotz: Symbol theories and ways of creating the world. In: Institutionality and symbolization: Stabilization of cultural order patterns in the past and present / on behalf of the SFB 537 ed. by Gert Melville. - Cologne; Weimar; Vienna: Bohlau 2001. p. 80

Figure 5: Interdisciplinary starting points and reference points with regard to the use of symbols (own illustration)

List of tables

Table 1: Exemplary representation of the basic intellectual functionalities and possible directions of knowledge in their corresponding assignment to essential symbolic forms

Table 2: Schematic draft to summarize the procedural levels of understanding of the symbolic and its context of meaning in the connection of the two theoretical constructs Cassirer and Whitehead (own illustration)

Preface - General intention of the work

The motivation for this work developed in the course of my university studies, from a summarizing insight into an interdisciplinary field of scientific knowledge. In doing so, its orientation can be determined fundamentally in the areas of philosophical and cultural communication research, given the fact that there is a particular interest in the media. Their epistemological correspondence should be understood as an offer of an empirically founded and nevertheless novel reality design that needs to be further developed.

In a holistic panorama of the world, with regard to the existence of a large number of human individuals, the fact that a communal life is possible is established. In a process of natural necessity, our world has developed into a place where collective being runs in, more or less, orderly ways. This fact shows that, in view of the social dimension of that coexistence, certain socio-cultural structures must have been expanded. Social reality thus suggests the assumption of an inherent dynamic. On the one hand, the type of subjective orientation is subject to the historical framework through culturally conveyed content, but, in its spontaneous uniqueness, also contains a lot of practical question horizons.

Such a complex principle of social development is, however, also incumbent on the driving element of communication, which functions as the carrier of such a social order.1 So it contains, if you will, the existential starting point in order to be able to grasp and ultimately understand the individual and social relations of humans and their fit into the dimensions of the worldly.

Ernst Cassirer also makes use of this starting point in his Philosophic of symbolic forms2 and it is the foundation of a new conception of the world, the "[...] enabling condition of which [it opens up] to bring the multiplicity and diversity of forms of experience to unity, but without ultimately eliminating the differences."3 Whereby he emphasizes the symbol as the key, that is to say the element that enables us to access this plurality of world-opening human functions.

Based on the assumption that the reality that surrounds us, be it natural, artificial or social, is only accessible through the use of symbols, this work should develop along the lines of Ernst Cassirer's idea. Furthermore, he sees the anchoring of those symbolization processes in the concept of spirit, i.e. human thinking4 and in this respect the question of a further pragmatic application arises again.

For wouldn't that mean that a reality consisting of symbols that we create for ourselves contains the possibility or even the conditional element of subjective control? To what extent is it then possible for humans to submit to conscious control?

In the center of this work, from a current perspective, it should be shown at which point the social world is, in view of this visual basis, and to what extent the conscious handling of it is reflected in the various areas of society. A particular challenge lay in capturing the interdisciplinary nature of which the many uses of this understanding had to be merged into the entirety of a humanistic vision.

1 Overview: Problem structure and methodical approach

The aim of the work is to go beyond the footsteps of Ernst Cassirer, to see the human being as the sensual center of a superordinate symbolic network, to understand and to learn to what extent it is subject to the power of the individual subject, in dealing with this positioning, to create one's own social reality.

In current relation to a media culture that has been developed to date, it is of interest, above all else, to what extent such a more philosophical approach can be used and is already used for the coordination of individual and cultural actions.

On the one hand, this work is intended to serve the reader as an overview of an abstractly conceived worldview that transcends science and places people in a superordinate context. In addition, the door to a way of thinking should be opened for him, which gives him active access to it through the means of consciously employed communication.

Another contextual endeavor of this work is to create a future-oriented basis for discussion with regard to the prevailing communication conditions, on the basis of which further thoughts and ideas can be developed. To ensure this, it is imperative, in a first theoretical step, to define the conceptual and terminological frame of reference as precisely as possible.

The first part of the thesis therefore serves, in an analytical-programmatic orientation, to define and open up access to the topic itself, which can then be followed by the philosophical processing of the practical question horizon. Against this background, in the first part of the work, Cassirer's philosophical explanations of culture should serve as an empirical research approach.

The subject area of ​​the symbolic form contained therein, as it is conceived especially in his three-volume work on the philosophy of symbolic forms, as a reorganization of the world view, is to become the linchpin of the argumentation structure of the following considerations. The first section thus serves as an introduction to the thematic question and unfolds through the concept of symbol, as Cassirer also makes it explicit.

In keeping with the progressive reflection on reality enshrined in it, the aim of this first section is to narrow down the complex systematics for the subsequent investigations and make them tangible accordingly. Cassirer's idea of ​​a view of reality, in which it is at the same time possible to capture the uniformity of the forms of experience and (or only with such a determination) to highlight individual facets of these without negating the degree of their differentiation, thus serves as a breeding ground and future framework for interpretation. Coupled with the question of where to locate the symbol term used5 Thus its composition and significance for the peculiarity of human existence and a consequently treated program of cultural thought are explained first.

The task of the next step is now to instrumentalize that knowledge base. In order to be able to correspond to the line of argumentation, an expansion of the thematic approach just reconstructed is necessary. The understanding of symbols, in the narrower sense, should therefore be expanded and completed by embedding it in a social observation of reality. Building on this, in the following, a presently arrested cultural analysis in the desired understanding of the symbolic worlds becomes possible.

By means of selected examples, in the third section a picture of the world is to be designed as it is only visible in view of the awareness of the existence of those symbol networks. It is about understanding the human being, as part of a culture that unconsciously, but also, and above all, consciously conceives and develops itself through the previously explained symbolization mechanisms and a deliberate way of dealing with them.

Following the knowledge gained, the problems allegedly contained therein will once again be subject to a more specific consideration.

In the sense of a schematic merging of the results with other interdisciplinary approaches, the work should then be completed. Then, in a visionary conclusion, the discussion approach becomes possible solution and

Paths of development for cultural practice in general, as well as social action in detail, conclude the work.6

2 About symbols and symbolic forms

With regard to the objective, this chapter represents one of the cornerstones of the work in the elaboration of the scientific-theoretical analysis basis. It deals with the concept of the symbol, as we have it, in its holistic scope, also in use by Ernst Cassirer Experienced.

If, based on this, we want to approach a consideration of social practice in any way, it is essential to determine the appropriate framework for interpretation as a prerequisite. Especially when it comes to such a broad term as the symbol. The fact that this statement is a fact is revealed in its so differentiated use by the most varied of specialist areas. It is used, among other things, in religion, economics or the fields of natural science. A general approximation to the intended conceptual framework, in which reference is made to related fields of research, is followed by the specification through the concept of symbolic forms, as developed by Ernst Cassirer.

2.1 On the general system of the concept of symbols

Irrespective of the way in which the concept of the symbol is viewed, it is always based on its use as a carrier of meaning, as a representative symbol that is subject to the expression of a spiritual function in an illustrative manner. A symbol, according to its nature, is always functionally related to the concept of identity. With regard to the representative mediation of such, he also refers to an orientation-creating process, the existential process that helps our world to order.

To what extent such a system is revealed in the concept of symbols, the following illustration is intended to clarify once again. The semiotics, on which the representation is based, directs the focus on the informative, communicative and interpretative sign functionality that is inherent in it and intentionally captures it by making its object of investigation "a central area of ​​culture"7 understands.

Figure not included in this excerpt

illustration 1

In terms of their essential orientation, symbols can also be generally divided into, for example:

-Logical / scientific-mathematical (terms, designations)
-Linguistic (meaningful word combinations / uses)
-aesthetic (shape, structure, fluctuation)
-mythical (including cultural and religious symbols)
-social. (including economic, political or legal symbols)8

In the historical-comparative research contributions of a special area of ​​the Dresden Research Association on Institutionalization and Historicity (SFB 537), Karl-Siegbert Rehberg also provides an introductory presentation of the book's systematic classification of possible symbol forms using the example of institutional types

Embodiment before. In the highest instance of institutional social instrumentalization, he distinguishes between the following categories:

Body icons
((a) in personal terms: body staging through clothing or ritual)
((b) in superpersonal embodiment: charismatic forces)
- Thing symbol (manifested for example in the meaning of grave goods)
- Space symbols (architectural structures, such as parliament buildings)
- Time symbols (in the interpretation of historical constructions)
- Text symbols (fixed written form, e.g. in constitutions)9.

In the form of this exuberant categorization, Rehberg creates, so to speak, a macrocosmological overview of the meaning of symbolism for humans and the social network of society that surrounds them. This principle of symbolic meaning can now be pursued in this context down to the microcosmological dimension of the individual human subject. So here, down to the smallest personal interpretation fields, the symbolization mechanisms of humans can be explained, as they can be classified under the terms of power or traffic jam symbols.10

The compilation of the research results of the SFB 537 is constituted in a systematic and interdisciplinary way on a concept of the symbol, as it was also (and above all) Ernst Cassirer worked out in his studies on this topic.11 Rehberg summarizes the connection to the endeavors in this work with the following sentence on symbology: "But symbols always not only convey knowledge of the world, but also make it possible to influence the world."12

Based on this, Susanne K.Langer undertakes a much broader differentiation in her investigation. The representation of possible coverage horizons of the symbol term used should also be brought to a close at this point.

Figure not included in this excerpt

Figure 2

2.2 The world in the understanding of Ernst Cassirer

The adoption of Cassirer's idea, which is a prerequisite for this work, can be explained from three essential points of view. These should systematically help the necessary understanding of symbols to a final framing:

On the one hand, Ernst Cassirer's constitutive concept of symbols represents a way of overcoming the dualistic substrate of intended apprehension of reality. It directs the view to the totality of human forms of expression, as they, the field of interdisciplinary anthropological research, has not yet questioned. His understanding of the world is thus differentiated from metaphysical considerations of existence in that he does not succumb to an ambivalent tendency. It is not his concern to determine the content of truth, closed in itself, either in the one, for us objective world or in the purely spiritual of consciousness. For him the concept of symbol has an energetic content which he places between us and the objects. The symbol is emphasized as the medium that enables us to convey subjective and cultural knowledge in the first place.

Furthermore, with the concept of form, as Cassirer worked it out, one arrives at a weighting of the present instance of temporal reflection. This includes a localization of the spatiotemporal conditions, as it will be of particular importance in the present work.

“For us, all spiritual content is necessarily bound to the form of consciousness and thus to the form of time. It is only in so far as it is produced in time, and it does not seem to be able to produce itself otherwise than by immediately disappearing again in order to give new space to the production of another. So all consciousness is subject to Heraklit's law of becoming. [...] It cannot free itself from the tense as such, because its true essence consists in it and on it rests. And yet, on the other hand, a salary should not only arise in this form, but arise; A structure, a figure, an >> Eidos << should wrestle itself out of the mere becoming. "13

Each fixation of individual perceptual contents takes place in that the correspondingly objectified feeling is transferred into a form that in turn points beyond itself. Then every perspective is based on sensual individual moments, if it is to come to exist in the recorded world, along with the embedding in a whole of meaning.

“The present of the now receives the character only through the act of being present, through the reference to the past and the future, which it includes within itself. Here, the >> representation << is not added to the >> presentation <<, but it is what constitutes the content and core of the >> presence << itself. "14

By assigning the educational process of symbolic forms to use as the human access to the lifeworld, Cassirer creates a new kind of reference to the present. All temporal modes of being are combined here in memory, intuition and expectation. With the help of symbols, in addition to the factual, and thus also an ideal, conception of the world that is based solely on the abstract imagination, it is possible for humans. So, in pure thinking, he is able to develop not only the lifeworldly, but also others, such as the mathematical space. By symbolizing the relation itself, he is able to give models a shape that can exist outside of concrete reality.

A third correlate of Ernst Cassirer's theory is found in the aspect that Oswald Schwemmer has, in the concept of the cultural existence of man15 anchored. In the cultural-philosophical expansion of the anthropological definition of the human being, as an organic and, beyond that, rational being, Cassirer opens up yet another dimension of access to the world. He considers the "[...] concept of reason [to] extremely unsuitable to grasp the forms of culture in their fullness and diversity [...]"16 and appeals to it "[...] to define humans not as animal rational, but as animal symbolicum."17 In the words of Epictetus: "It is not things that disturb and disturb people [...] but their opinions and ideas about things"18 Cassirer summarizes his thoughts here and gives an idea of ​​the dimensions of his theory.

The special practical orientation inherent in Cassirer's worldview is revealed here. The experience of physical reality does not take place in an overwhelming power of emotional immediacy. Through the interposition of the symbols that the human subject uses to grasp his environment and which in turn make it the center of his own reality-creating process, a new form of freedom arises at a distance. Namely because all "[...] physical reality [...] in the mafie [seems] to recede, as the symbolic activity of man gains space"19 this becomes the decisive moment of individual and universal cultural development.

3 worlds of symbols - life in networks of symbols

Following on from the understanding of symbols, the emergence of uniform social structures on the basis of individual symbolization mechanisms will now be explained. In this context, Cassirer also speaks of the creation of a cosmos, which he reconstructs as follows:

“A cosmos, an objective order and determinacy, is present wherever different subjects relate to a“ common world ”and participate in thinking about it. This is not only the case where we build up the physical worldview through the medium of sensory perception. What we perceive as the "meaning" of the world, we encounter wherever, instead of closing ourselves to our own world of ideas, we focus on something super-individual, general, valid for all. "20

He starts from a synthetic worldview in which the concept of order precedes that of being, the concept of function that of substance.


1 see Jorissen, Benjamin: Observations of Reality: The Question of Reality in the Age of Communication. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag 2007. S.201. (based on Marshall McLuhan's knowledge of media theory)

2 Cassirer, Ernst: The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Vol. 1-3, Berlin 1923 (Vol. 1 The Language), 1925 (Vol. 2 The Myth), 1929 (Vol. 3 The Phenomenology of Knowledge). It should be noted that the title “The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms” does not only refer to the so-called 3-volume work, but encompasses Cassirer's philosophy as a whole.

3 GroB, Stefan: Ernst Cassirer: The philosophy of symbolic forms. Readable online at URL: [http://sammelpunkt.philo.at:8080/139/1/hogrebe2.html]

4 In the first part of the 3-volume work "The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms", Cassirer uses the Goethean expression of sensual fantasy and its application to "[...] the most varied areas of intellectual creation [...]" in a metaphorical way Introduction to the topic: “In all of them this is indeed shown as the actual vehicle of their immanent progress, that they create their own free world of images next to and above the world of perception: a world which, in terms of its immediate nature, is still whole carries the color of the sensual, but which represents an already formed and thus a spiritually controlled sensuality. Here it is not a question of a simply given and found sensual, but a system of sensual manifolds that are created in some form of free formation ”Cassirer, Ernst: The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. First part: The language (Berlin 1923), Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag 2010. S.17ff.

5 Which here obtains its terminology and quality through the connection of a subjectively sensual perception with an intersubjective truth of the social world.

6 In order not to exceed the set working framework in view of the research interests of the elaboration, the methodical presentation continually refrains from going into depth on individual subject areas. However, there are increasing references in the text to sources that can be used for further elaboration and specification of the individual topics.

7 Sottong, Hermann / Muller, Michael: Between sender and receiver. An introduction to the semiotics of the communication society. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag 1998. S. 11f.

8 Compare the term “symbol” in the online lexicon, see Eisler, Rudolf: Worterbuch der philosophischen Demokratie (1904). [http://www.textlog.de/5157.html] (© textlog.de 2004 • 29.11.2011 14:24:24)

9 List with example: see Rehberg, Karl-Siegbert: Representation and embodiment, institutional analysis and symbol theories - an introduction with a systematic intention. In: Institutionalitat und Symbolisierung: Stabilization of cultural order patterns in the past and present / on behalf of the SFB 537 ed. by Gert Melville. - Cologne; Weimar; Vienna: Bohlau 2001. p. 4ff.

10 Considering symbol-theoretical traditions, Rehberg writes: "In one - especially to the Platonic philosophy [...] it is not just about naming references, but about identity and substantial representation (embodiment, presence, visibility, emantation) [..]. .] The symbolic figures of the world show themselves in affmitates, metamorphoses and repetitions. But also developmental motifs can be “symbolically” coded. [...] In this sense, the human being can also be understood as a microcosm, as a complete structural form of the world order on a small scale. ”Ibid., P.22.

11 To deepen this section, we recommend the research program of the SFB 537 of the Dresden Research Association, also with regard to the selected work topic, because the individual processing steps also work with the extensive citation of Ernst Cassirer's findings.

12 Ibid., 23.

13 Cassirer, Ernst: Writings on the philosophy of symbolic forms. Edited by Marion Lauschke. Hamburg: Mine 2009.

14 Cassirer, Ernst: Philosophy of symbolic forms. Third part: phenomenology of knowledge. Hamburg: Meiner 2010, p.193.

15 Schwemmer, Oswald: The cultural existence of humans. Berlin: Akademie Verlag 1997.

16 Cassirer, Ernst: Experiment about man. Introduction to a philosophy of culture. Hamburg: Meiner 2007. S.51. In the previous chapter of this book, "The Crisis of Human Self-Knowledge", he manifests this claim in the fact that the human mind is unable to grasp itself (Ibid., Pp.15-46.)

17 Ibid., 51.

18 Quoted from Cassirer, Ernst (Ibid., P.50.)

19 Ibid., 50.

20 Cassirer, Ernst: On the logic of cultural studies. Five studies. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1971. S.13.

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