Philosophy Dictionary of Arguments

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Symbols: The concept of a symbol has, in a broader sense, the same meaning as the concept of a sign. The special use of the concept in different authors differs in some respects fundamentally, for example, with regard to which role conventions play in the formation of symbols and whether symbols form a system. See also signs, icons, conventions, meaning, reference, picture theory, representation, substitution, code.

Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

Author Concept Summary/Quotes Sources

Sigmund Freud on Symbols - Dictionary of Arguments

Ricoeur I 109
Symbol/Freud/Ricoeur: If the symbol is the sense of meaning, then the whole of Freudian hermeneutics would have to be a hermeneutics of the symbol as a language of desire. Freud, however, gives the symbol a much smaller extension.
FN: Studies on Hysteria/Studien über Hysterie/Freud: since this writing (S. Freud, GW I), the symbolic relationship denotes the hidden connection between triggering cause and hysterical symptom; symbolic relationship is thus in contrast to manifest relationship. The same text draws for the first time a parallel between this symbolic relationship and the dream process. Initially limited to hysterical pain, this relationship gradually extends to all hysterical symptoms, with the help of the slowly emerging relationship between symbol and memory; the symbol now gains the value of a pain reminder, and Freud uses the term "memory symbol (»Erinnerungssymbol«) (ibid, 146).
The symbol is thus an equivalent of memory for the traumatising scene, of which there is no longer any memory. If it is true, as already stated in the »Vorläufige Mitteilung«, that the hysteric suffers primarily from reminiscences (GW l, 86)(1), then the memory symbol is the means by which the trauma continues in the symptom. The memory symbol, unlike the (faithful) memory remnants (»Erinnerungsreste«), is disfigured, converted, in the sense of hysterical conversion. The symbolization thus encompasses the entire field of the disfiguration associated with repression (whereby repression itself is identified with defense at that time).
This first Freudian use of the word symbol is thus more comprehensive than that in the interpretation of dreams, since it includes everything that is called distortion here.
Ricoeur I 110
Ciphering method/Chiffriermethode/FreudVsTradition: In his overview of earlier dream theories [Freud] encounters among the popular interpretations also the symbolic interpretation, which he contrasts with the ciphering method ("Chiffriermethode") as essentially different:
A. The first of these procedures looks at the content of the dream as a whole and seeks to replace it with a different, understandable and in certain respects analogous content.
This is the symbolic interpretation of dreams; it fails, of course, from the outset because of those dreams which seem not only incomprehensible but also confused. (»Das erste dieser Verfahren fasst den Trauminhalt als Ganzes ins Auge und sucht denselben durch einen anderen, verständlichen und in gewissen Hinsichten analogen Inhalt zu ersetzen. Dies ist die symbolische Traumdeutung; sie scheitert natürlich von vornherein an jenen Träumen, welche nicht bloß unverständlich, sondern auch verworren erscheinen.«(2)
Ricoeur: Following this procedure, Joseph explained the Pharaoh's dreams and the poet Jensen, the author of that Gradiva, which Freud commented on a few years later, gave the hero of his novella artificial but easily interpreted dreams. .
B. The second method treats the dream as a kind of secret code in which each character is translated into another character of known meaning according to a fixed key. (»behandelt den Traum wie eine Art Geheimschrift, in der jedes Zeichen nach einem feststehenden Schlüssel in ein anderes Zeichen von bekannter Bedeutung übersetzt wird«.(3)).
This mechanical, word-for-word translation thus knows absolutely nothing about displacement and condensation; nevertheless, the ciphering method is closer to the analytical method than the symbolic interpretation, because it is already an interpretation "en détail" and not "en masse"(4); like these, analysis also conceives the dream as something "composite", as a "conglomerate" of "psychic formations"(5). Through the method of free association, analysis thus approaches the "ciphering method" and distances itself from the symbolic method.
Ricoeur I 112
Dream work/problems of presentation/presenting: the "typical dreams" (dreams of nudity, dreams of the death of loved ones, etc.) have drawn Freud's attention to the special meaning of symbolism; very early on he noticed that these were dreams that could be least dealt with by the method of interpretation; gradually he comes to the conclusion that symbolization poses a specific problem, although there is no actual symbolic function worthy of being counted among the procedures of dream work. Everything leads to the same conclusion that one does not need to assume a special symbolizing activity of the soul in the dream work, but that the dream uses such symbolizations, which are already contained in the conscious thinking, because they are representable,
mostly also because of their freedom from censorship, better meet the requirements of dream formation. (»Alles leitet zum gleichen Schluss, dass man keine besondere symbolisierende Tätigkeit der Seele bei der Traumarbeit anzunehmen braucht, sondern daß der Traum sich solcher Symbolisierungen, welche im bewussten Denken bereits fertig enthalten sind, bedient, weil sie wegen ihrer Darstellbarkeit,
zumeist auch wegen ihrer Zensurfreiheit, den Anforderungen der Traumbildung besser genügen.«(6)). >Presenting/Freud.
Ricoeur I 113
Disguise/Freud: wherever neurosis makes use of [the] disguise, it transforms the paths once taken by the whole of humanity in ancient cultural periods, and of their existence under slight burial still today
Bearing witness to language, superstition and custom.(7)
For this reason, the analytical interpretation must be replaced here by a genetic interpretation: the symbol has a particular overdetermination, which is not the result of dream work, but of a previous cultural fact: thus it is often only the remnant of a conceptual and linguistic identity of the past.
Interpretation/Dream Interpretation/Freud/Ricoeur: the actual path of interpretation are the dreamer's ideas and not the given connections in the symbol itself. Ultimately, symbolic interpretation and analytical interpretation remain two different techniques, the first being subordinate to the second "as an aid"(8).

1. S. Freud, Studien über Hysterie, GW I
2. S. Freud, GW II/III 101
3. Ibid, 103
4. Ibid, 104
5. Ibid.
6. S. Freud GW II/III, 354.
7. Ibid, 532.
8. Ibid, 365.

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Freud I
S. Freud
Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse Hamburg 2011

Ricoeur I
Paul Ricoeur
De L’interprétation. Essai sur Sigmund Freud
German Edition:
Die Interpretation. Ein Versuch über Freud Frankfurt/M. 1999

Ricoeur II
Paul Ricoeur
Interpretation theory: discourse and the surplus of meaning Fort Worth 1976

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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2022-08-12
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