Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 12, No 1 (2016)

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Symbolism, Its Meaning and Effect: The Universal Algebra of Culture

Michel Weber


The paper questions the meaning and significance of Whitehead's theory of symbolism from the perspective of (i) Whitehead's philosophical development, of (ii) the argument provided in Symbolism, Its Meaning and Effect (1927), and of (iii) the history of ideas.

The argument follows the general structure of the Symbolism lectures: first, the topic is introduced; second, it is analyzed through an ontological lens; third, the uses of symbolism are consequently sketched. Our discussion departs from Whitehead's in this third part, that introduces a humanistic standpoint through five conceptual knots: the distinction between the early (High) and the late (Low) Renaissance, the underground survival of the High Renaissance's values (with Is. Newton and J. Toland), Pantheism (a.k.a. Nature Enthusiasm), Republicanism (or Civic Humanism) and Freemasonry (qua Discrete Fraternity). In conclusion, Whitehead's underground inclination for modernity is underlined.

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