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The Symbol Theory

"The Symbol Theory, volume 13 in "The Collected Works of Norbert Elias", situates the human capacity for forming symbols in the long-term biological evolution of Homo sapiens, showing how it is linked through communication and orientation to group survival. Elias proceeds to recast the question of the ontological status of knowledge, moving beyond the old philosophical dualisms of idealism/materialism and subject/object. He readjusts the boundary between the ’social’ and the ’natural’ by interweaving evolutionary biology and the social sciences. "The Symbol Theory" provides nothing less than a new image of the human condition as an accidental outcome of the blind flux of an indifferent cosmos. Elias’ Introduction now includes previously unpublished passages written in the days before he died.

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Table of Contents

Norbert Elias (1897-1990) Note on the text Introduction Towards a comprehensive understanding of human beings - reconfiguring sociology, evolutionary biology and philosophy Languages as learned sound patterns and symbols as the ’fifth dimension’ ’Symbol emancipation’ as an evolutionary breakthrough The high survival value of communication by learned sound-symbols To speak, to think, to know - the sociogenesis and psychogenesis of reality-congruent symbols Human society as a level of nature - beyond idealism and materialism From ’truth’ to reality congruence - beyond traditional philosophical theories of knowledge Concept-formation in the ’five-dimensional’ human world - beyond abstraction explanations The distant past and the long future - reality-congruent knowledge and human survival Appendix - Previously unpublished passages in Elias’s Introduction Textual variants Bibliography Index.

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