Langer’s Logic of Signs and Symbols: Its Sources and Application
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Over the last few decades, philosopher of art Susanne K. Langer (1895-1985) has gained growing attention for her wide-ranging and innovative philosophy of mind and culture. A central element in this philosophy is her distinction between sign and symbol. In order to understand the way in which Langer draws this distinction it is essential to know her philosophically formative sources: Henry Sheffer, Alfred North Whitehead, Ernst Cassirer and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Having explained this background, I will argue that Langer’s distinction between signs and symbols not only has significant theoretical value but can be used to explain important differences between certain kinds of artistic images. I will illustrate this with a series of murals in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, painted by the Bogside Artists. Unlike Northern Ireland’s standard sectarian murals, the murals of the Bogside Artists do not function as territorial signs or as political message boards but as symbols that are vehicles for conception, reflection and commemoration. It is argued that Langer’s notion of art as a non-discursive, open-ended symbol can contribute to a better understanding of the murals of the Bogside Artists and to an argument for their preservation.
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- Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922). Translated by C. K. Ogden. London: Routledge, 1996.
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