In Dan Zahavi (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology. Oxford University Press (2012)

Dieter Lohmar
University of Cologne
This chapter establishes the concept of a “symbolic system of representation“ to make clear how it is possible that humans use not only the language-based system of representation for cognitive contents but also a many layered non-linguistic system, a system which we probably share with other species. A symbolic system of representation denotes a general concept of a performance of which our language is only one single case, but which nevertheless is most easily explained through the case of language. A system of representation should enable us to form and manipulate an idea of a state of affairs or of an event without having the appropriate intuition of it. We usually think that we do this only using linguistic expressions, but this is not the whole truth. Language is one system of representation, but we can in principle conceive of other systems of representation with the same performance. Husserl’s theory of meaning already reveals this possibility. A phenomenological analysis reveals that a non-linguistic system of representation is in fact still functioning in our own consciousness. We simultaneously use different means of representation, the most prominent of which are language, gestures, feelings and scenic images. It is especially fruitful to investigate the scenic mode of daydreaming as a central form of non-linguistic thinking. Through a close comparison of alternative systems of representation, the systematic difference of usual semantics in normal language systems based on convention and the more natural similarity semantics of some non-linguistic systems of representation is revealed.
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DOI 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199594900.013.0019
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