On the meaning of Symbol

Thomas

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In "The Hermeneutics of Symbols and Philosophical Reflection", which examines the evolution of Judaic conceptions of evil, Ricoeur provides an interesting instance of paradigm change. Pointing out that the Old Testament variously considers sin as a stain, weight, or deviation, he argues that:

"... a symbol is first of all the destroyer of a prior symbol. Thus we see the symbolism of sin take shape about images which are the inverse of stain images; in place of exterior contact, it is now deviation (from the target, the straight path, the limit not to be crossed, and so on) which serves as guiding schema. This switch in themes is the expression of an overturning of fundamental motifs. A new category of religious experience is born: that of 'before God,' of which theJewish berit, the Alliance, is the witness... What becomes then of the initial symbol? On the one hand, evil is no longer a thing, but a broken relationship, hence a nothing; this nothing is expressed in terms of the vaporousness and vanity of the idol... But at the same time a new positivity of evil arises, no longer an exterior 'something,' but a real enslaving power. The symbol of captivity, which transforms a historical event (the Egyptian captivity, then the Babylonian captivity) into a schema of existence, represents the highest expression achieved by the penitential experience of Israel."
The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur. (1978) Boston: Charles E. Reagan and David Stewart, p40
Paul Ricoeur's Schema of Existence
 
So, in essence, Thomas, a symbol often represents a time of crisis? (I followed the links). Thus--a "sign of the times" in any given age or culture (even an individual, maybe)? And one symbol might attempt to answer another....something like that?

InPeace,
InLove
 
Hi InLove ...

Not in the sense of the link path ... that is a topic which deal with 'images of crisis' particularly, rather than symbology per se ... although one could easily (and I'm sure the whole essay does) point out the paradigmatic image of the ship and shipwreck, and Jesus' reference to 'fishers of men' and more significantly His walking on the water, and the calming of the storm.

Throughout literature, the sea/ship/wreck is an enduring metaphor of the human condition – Homer's Illiad, Joseph Conrad, Noah, Battlestar Gallactica, The Raft of the Medusa ... but all these images assume a humanity overtaken by events beyond their control.

The genius of the Judaic symbolism of evil is that, unlike her neighbours in the Mesopotamian region, evil was not brought about by cruel or capricious gods punishing humanity for their own vicarious pleasure (and the gods of Olympus equally seem subject to the same human vices) but that 'evil' is the consequence of a moral action, not a mythical event (even if that event is explained mythologically – the myth then itself becomes a symbol), an action that causes a breakdown in communication with the Divine.

The continuing genius then, of salvation, is the Judaic symbol of parent/child, spouse, of God as 'suffering servant' ... and then, of course, Christ imbued the everyday with profound symbolic significance ...

What distinguishes a sign from a symbol is that whilst both are representations (that is re-presentations of the thing signified), the sign points away from itself to where the thing is or might be found, whereas in the case of symbol the essence of the thing represented is immanently present in the symbol ... this is its mystery ... the symbol is the thing signified, in another form.

And words are symbols, and this is the power of speech ... words are transferences of meaning not only as signs, but also in essence ... which is why every tradition places profound importance upon the Sacred Name ... all Revelation is the reception of the Divine Word, a making known in essence of the Divine ... Christianity goes one step further, 'and the Word was made flesh' as St John says ... this is the Mystery of the Incarnation ... Jesus Christ does not signify God, He is a Symbol of God, He is God in human form.

Sorry ... a tad too theological (rather than philosophical) there perhaps ... but it is Easter ... (and a time of contemplation of the symbols of renewal)

Thomas
 
Hi Thomas--

Thanks--I hope I did not take the idea too far away from the original point. I tend to do that sometimes, but this really does come from a deep desire to understand. And, lol, when speaking with me, there is no need to apologize for blurring the lines between theology and philosophy! I have a hard time telling the difference, anyway...:rolleyes: :)

InPeace,
InLove
 
No problem InLove ... enjoyed the discussion, albeit brief.

Aristotle referred to metaphysics as the 'First Philosophy' – and described metaphysics as 'the study of being qua being', or 'wisdom', or 'theology', so I don't mind mixing them up.

In Metaphysics A.1,
Aristotle said: "all men suppose what is called wisdom (sophia) to deal with the first causes (aitia) and the principles (archai) of things”
(Metaphysics, A.1, 981b28)

Modern philosophical constructs, particularly those of analytic philosophy that governs the anglicised West, is remarkably narrow by comparison to the roots of Western Philosophy founded in Ancient Greece.

Continental (and Catholic) philosophy has 'returned to the sources' Ressourcement and is rediscovering the riches that the Greeks have to offer. The existentialism of the phenomenologists stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of Satre, once a hippy's handbook, now slipping out of favour...

The Philosophy of the Symbol, however, is a whole other ballgame.

Easter appraoches, and soon we shall cry "He is risen!"

Season's greetings, and may all your renewals be fortuitous...

Thomas
 
A symbol is man made, obviously... There is nothing really that great.. It is a shape... a form, a colour, simple, complex... Humans love to label others and themselves.... OH look at me!! I am super! I am an X or Oh look at that fetcher! He's an X!! shame on him...

This symbol can be used to promote, advertise and gain support, numbers.... Truly there is nothing REALLY important about symbols they are just used to place more identification onto one, a label... that is all.... But, this being all? How come so many wars (WWII, crusades, eastern wars... so on... So many I won't go into details on the hundereds of wars.) have been started with a symbol representing it... Or people "marked" for execution (WWII death camps, jews and JWS) I would say, symbols have never been a good thing... :\

because..... ?
 
A symbol is man made, obviously...
OK. But not necessarily the thing symbolised.

There is nothing really that great.. It is a shape... a form, a colour, simple, complex...
It is an understanding ...

Humans love to label others and themselves.... OH look at me!! I am super! I am an X or Oh look at that fetcher! He's an X!! shame on him...
This is an ignorant use of symbol.

This symbol can be used to promote, advertise and gain support, numbers.... Truly there is nothing REALLY important about symbols they are just used to place more identification onto one, a label... that is all.... But, this being all? How come so many wars (WWII, crusades, eastern wars... so on... So many I won't go into details on the hundereds of wars.) have been started with a symbol representing it... Or people "marked" for execution (WWII death camps, jews and JWS) I would say, symbols have never been a good thing... :\
Exactly. So symbols are very powerful things. And they can be used badly. But that does not make them bad.

Language is symbol, and language can be used badly, and often is, but so we get rid of all forms of communication?

And the suggestion is it is better to try at least to understand, rather than simply be subject to.

Thomas
 
This is an ignorant use of symbol.

And most common purpose for the symbol... :)
Language is symbol, and language can be used badly, and often is, but so we get rid of all forms of communication?

No... No... No, no it's...... not a symbol it's a language lol.... "Oh look at this carrot! This carrot is an apple.."
 
And most common purpose for the symbol... :)


No... No... No, no it's...... not a symbol it's a language lol.... "Oh look at this carrot! This carrot is an apple.."

Language is made of sounds that signify ... so yes, yes, yes they are, which is why we all know that 'this carrot is an apple' is nonsense.

Thomas
 
I don't know that I have much to offer, but I do find it intriguing how symbolic language developed, particularly the Mesopotamian tablets and what little I have read about early Hebrew. So I can agree with Thomas insofar as the initial letters (and by my understanding, all letters) in Hebrew are symbolic of one thing or another. The first two letters in Hebrew, as I recall, Aleph and Bet, are symbolic of a house and an ox. Likewise with other letters, or so I have read from various linguists. The development of mathematical symbols is equally interesting for those so inclined, in that initially alphabetical letters were also used to denote numbers. Aleph was not only the first letter, it also was used to symbolize the number one.

Some of this carries over into numerology, so I hear, but I am not versed enough to speak to the issue. It wasn't for some time before mathematical symbols were developed independent of alphabetical symbols. And this is of course focused on the west...the ideograms of the east have their own independent development history. Curious, Egypt initially developed ideograms, but being surrounded by alphabetical symbols, eventually dropped the one in favor of the other, I suspect by way of conquest.
 
A piano chord ... a thunderclap ... a wave on the beach ...

All these are sounds that convey nothing more than themselves (unless we assume that 'bark bark' it's Lassie, in which case is means 'those stupid Johnson kids have fallen down the well again, call 911 and follow me!')

But they immediately convey other messages too - images, feelings, ideas - because they are not merely sounds but also symbols, and the function of a symbol is to connect things.

A man says 'I love you' to a woman (or vice versa, or parent to child, or vice versa) and the whole world can shift on its axis. Because the sounds made signify something other than the sounds itself, which is why they are symbols, the sound symbols of communication connects the person to the idea.

Mandala, mantra, mudra ... they're all symbols.

If we did not deal in symbols, we would never have progressed to 'sapiens'

Thomas
 
Language can be exchanged for concepts the way money is exchanged for goods. It is essentially the currency of concepts. Language creates a codex of symbols which allows concepts to be compressed, standardized, recorded, and exchanged.
 
Hi Sunny C.. Welcome to CR. :)

Sunny C. said:
Language can be exchanged for concepts the way money is exchanged for goods. It is essentially the currency of concepts. Language creates a codex of symbols which allows concepts to be compressed, standardized, recorded, and exchanged.

It's a big book, isn't it? I mean, like a dictionary of words, in order to understand, one has to choose which definition, which standard is being met. Maybe money is simpler than symbol?

InPeace,
InLove
 
Hi In Love!

I would say that the value of language, that is the agreed upon set of meanings, floats in a way similar to how the value of currencies float on the international market. It is constantly negotiated. And language, nowadays, is self-referential like money. That is, it's value isn't derived from it's ability to be swapped one for one for the thing it represents, but is a negotiated, artificial value. It's symbolic.
 
Take acronyms, (take them please!) just for an example. Thirty years ago, if one wrote (or spoke!) the term "IRA", I immediately associated this with the "Irish Liberation Army". But now, it means a certain type of savings account. I have a screen name in another forum that is a name by which I have been called for years, but I recently learned that it is also an acronym for a well-known waste management company in another country! Yikes. And it isn't just acronyms, either. Twenty years ago where I live, if someone said "Starbuck", it meant a popular ice skater. Now it is synonymous with high-priced coffee.

Is this relative at all to the discussion?

InPeace,
InLove
 
Take acronyms, (take them please!) just for an example. Thirty years ago, if one wrote (or spoke!) the term "IRA", I immediately associated this with the "Irish Liberation Army". But now, it means a certain type of savings account. I have a screen name in another forum that is a name by which I have been called for years, but I recently learned that it is also an acronym for a well-known waste management company in another country! Yikes. And it isn't just acronyms, either. Twenty years ago where I live, if someone said "Starbuck", it meant a popular ice skater. Now it is synonymous with high-priced coffee.

Is this relative at all to the discussion?

InPeace,
InLove

There is only -one- IRA in my eyes.. That will always be there... You still speak of the IRA now it still means the same thing... You go to Ireland or England I am sure a savings account won't be the frist thing that comes to the tip of the tounge... But, I see where you are coming from....


IRA.png
 
17th Angel said:
You go to Ireland or England I am sure a savings account won't be the frist thing that comes to the tip of the tounge... But, I see where you are coming from....

Exactly. I associate a word or phrase or symbol according to the time and place I come from or live in. So even though there may be a so-called "standard" in language, where did it originate, and by whose authority? And doesn't it continually fluctuate within that standard? A standard Webster's dictionary from even five years ago is not going to contain references to every term we use now--and that would only be in one native language!
 
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