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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reverence and Revision, 12 Dec 2009
Pieter Uys "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect (Paperback)
Whitehead differentiates types of symbolism like algebra and language, and symbolism from sense-presentation to physical bodies as the most natural and widespread of all symbolic modes. Direct experience-based knowledge is infallible as opposed to symbolism that may induce actions, emotions and beliefs about things that are simply notions without those examples in reality which the symbolism suggests. Whitehead pursues the thesis that symbolism is a key factor in the way we function as a result of direct knowledge.

The human mind functions symbolically when some components of its experience elicit consciousness, emotions and beliefs related to other components of its experience. The former cluster of components is the symbols whilst the latter constitutes the meanings. 'Symbolic reference' is Whitehead's designation for the transference from symbol to meaning. Understanding the mind requires an explanation of how we can truly know, how we can err, and how we can distinguish truth from error, by investigating perception.

Whitehead distinguishes 'Direct Recognition' from 'Symbolic Reference,' illustrating that all symbolism may be reduced to trains of symbolic reference which connect percepts in alternative modes of direct recognition. Components of experience are both symbols & meanings. Examples of the inversion abound in language. A word is a symbol that can be either written or spoken. Sometimes a written word may suggest the corresponding spoken word and its sound may suggest a meaning. In such a case, the written word is a symbol and its meaning is the spoken word, and the spoken word is a symbol and its meaning is the dictionary definition of the word, spoken or written.

But often the written word effects its purpose without the intervention of the spoken. In this case the written directly symbolizes the dictionary meaning. Otherwise the written suggests both the spoken word as well as the meaning whilst the symbolic reference is made more definite by additional reference of the spoken word to the same meaning. Poetry proves that in the use of language there's a double symbolic reference: from things to words by the speaker and from words to things by the listener.

Immediate perception of the external world is defined as 'presentational immediacy' which explains why contemporary events are relevant to each other whilst simultaneously preserving mutual independence. This relevance amid independence is the peculiar character of contemporaneousness. The universe discloses itself as a community of things, real in the same sense that we are. Abstraction expresses nature's mode of interaction and isn't merely mental. He calls the other purely perceptive mode of experience 'causal efficacy'.

Symbolic reference interacts closely with conceptual analysis. Conceptual analysis as third mode of experience introduces components analyzable into actual things in the real world plus abstract attributes, qualities and relations. By symbolic reference the various actualities disclosed by the modes of pure perception are either identified or correlated together as interrelated elements. Thus the result of symbolic reference is what the actual world is: that datum that produces feelings, emotions, actions and finally the topic for conscious recognition when conceptual analysis comes into play. Most of our perception is due to the enhanced subtlety arising from concurrent conceptual analysis.

Whitehead points out that Hume views time as pure succession rather than the derivation of one state from another. Time in the concrete is the conformation of later to earlier; pure succession is an abstraction from the relationship of settled past to derivative present. The notion of succession reflects that of colour. There's no mere colour but always a particular colour like blue; there's no pure succession but always some particular relational aspect in which succession occurs. He concludes that Hume's doctrine is great philosophy but not common sense as it fails the test of obvious verification.

Kantians admit that causal efficacy is a factor in the phenomenal world but deny that it belongs to the data presupposed in perception; it resorts instead to ways of thinking about data. The phenomenal world, as in consciousness, is a complex of coherent judgments, framed according to fixed categories of thought, and with a content constituted by given data organized according to fixed forms of intuition. This Kantian doctrine accepts Hume's nave presupposition of `simple occurrence' for the data, being the assumption of `simple location' by applying it to space as well as time.

Humeans & Kantians have diverse but allied objections to the notion of any direct perception of causal efficacy. Both schools find 'causal efficacy' to be an importation into the data, of a way of thinking about or judging the data. One school calls it a habit, the other a category of thought. The logical difficulties attending the direct perception of causal efficacy have been shown to depend on the assumption that time is merely the generic notion of pure succession. This is an example of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.

The final chapter explores the dynamics of symbolism which inheres in the very texture of society. By means of an elaborate system of symbolic transference humanity draws on the past to enter the future. But each symbolic transfer may involve an arbitrary imputation that is dangerous. As a community evolves, rules need revision. The art of a free society involves the maintenance of the symbolic code and occasional bold revisions to ensure the code continues to serve the purposes of enlightened reason. Societies which fail to combine reverence to their symbols with freedom of revision either explode into anarchy or stagnate and regress under the burdens of the past.
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Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect
Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect by Alfred North Whitehead (Paperback - 31 Dec 1985)
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