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F., J.C. (1928). Symbolism. Its Meaning and Effect: By A. N. Whitehead, F.R.S., Hon. D.Sc., Hon. LL.D. (Cambridge University Press, 1928. Pp. 104. Price 4 s. 6 d.). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 9:378.

(1928). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 9:378

Symbolism. Its Meaning and Effect: By A. N. Whitehead, F.R.S., Hon. D.Sc., Hon. LL.D. (Cambridge University Press, 1928. Pp. 104. Price 4 s. 6 d.)

Review by:
J. C. F.

The greater part of this little book, which represents the Barbour-Page Lectures at the University of Virginia in 1927, is epistemological in character and therefore does not call for detailed criticism in this JOURNAL—a fact for which the present reviewer is not altogether sorry, for the book is far from easy reading (though—quite genuinely—this is a reflection more upon the reviewer's intelligence than upon the clarity of the distinguished writer).

Symbolism is here taken in a much wider sense than that understood by psycho-analytical writers. The human mind is said to function symbolically 'when some components of its experience elicit consciousness, beliefs, emotions, and usages, respecting other components of its experience'. As defined in this way symbolism includes language, written and spoken, and 'the use of sense perceptions in the character of symbols for more primitive elements in our experience'. It plays a dominant part in the way in which higher organisms conduct their lives and is at once the course of progress and of error. There follows a discussion which is of considerable interest from the point of view of the general theory of knowledge, but in which the more intimate psychological factors (especially those to which psycho-analytic work has drawn attention) do not receive much notice. In the last chapter, however, the author outlines his view of the sociological value of symbolism. Cultural progress inplies a threat to social solidarity, which is most secure at the level of instinctive response. Symbolism ensures the arousal of adequate social affects, ensuring responses that are favourable to the preservation of the group, but at the same time without the uniformity or complete freedom from criticism that is characteristic of instinct. It is obvious that Professor Whitehead is here in touch with problems which also confront the psycho-analyst who is interested in the social applications of his science. Unfortunately he has not availed himself of the data provided by psycho-analytic research, so that the present book does not advance this aspect of the subject to the extent that might otherwise have been expected.

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