Who was Ferdinand de Saussure?

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) was a Swiss structuralist whose lectures were published by students after his death as Course in General Linguistics (1916). A manuscript of his that was found in his house in 1996 emerged as Writings in General Linguistics (2002). Saussure's most influential idea was that language can be understood as a formal system, apart from its actual production and understanding. As a formal system, the elements of language get their meanings from other elements, apart from references to anything outside of language. This insight of the self-contained nature of language and other symbolic systems proved to be a foundation for what across many disciplines, philosophy included, developed as "the linguistic turn."

What is the linguistic turn?

During the last half of the twentieth century, at different times in different humanistic disciplines, scholars turned from talking about people and events in the world to talking about language, symbols, and how people and events were represented in popular culture, as well as academic disciplines. Language became the new main subject across disciplines.

Who was Jacques Lacan?

Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) was a psychoanalyst who was barred from the International Psychoanalytic Association for his ideas, which nonetheless were very influential. His main works are Ecrits (Writings; 1966), The Language of the Self (1978), and his published seminars.

Lacan applied a Saussurian notion of the linguistic order to Freudian psychology. He thought that metaphor and metonymy (substitution of an attribute of a thing for a thing itself) were the main unconscious mechanisms and that psychotherapy literally works as a form of speech that corrects speech by reinserting into discourse what has been obscured from it by neurosis. Lacan is famous for his claim that the ego consists merely of identifications made imaginatively. He meant that human beings imagine themselves as having certain characteristics at an early age and that is how the self develops. Speech creates social connection, but language is a formal system in which words derive meanings from other words only.

Who was Claude Lévi-Strauss?

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-) is a French social anthropologist, who is best known for The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949) and The Savage Mind (1962). He applied Saussurian ideas of the system of language to social structures, analyzing human relations and systems of exchange, particularly in kinship relations.

Claude Lévi-Strauss applied theories of language systems to the ways people relate to each other (AP).

Claude Lévi-Strauss applied theories of language systems to the ways people relate to each other (AP).

Who was Louis Althusser?

Louis Althusser (1918-1990) was a philosopher who was also a member of the French Communist Party. He is known for For Marx (1965), Reading Capital (1968) and especially Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (1978). His main project was to derive from Karl Marx's (1818-1883) writings a scientific system. He viewed science as governed by systems of concepts, or "problematics," that set questions, evidence, and importance. Althusser argued that structures which express ideologies are self-perpetuating and not subject to changing historical forces, as Marx had claimed. Althusser killed his wife in 1980 and was committed to a psychiatric facility, thereby ending his academic career.

Who was Michel Foucault?

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was an acclaimed French philosopher who also had French licenses in psychology and psychopathology. His father and both grandfathers were medical doctors, and the ways in which he analyzed European culture, through an archeology of concepts, probably owes as much to medical diagnostic methodology as it does to continental intellectual criticism.

His principle works are his published dissertation, Madness and Unreason: A History of Madness in the Classical Age (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1963), The Order of Things (1966), The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), Discipline and Punish: The Origin of the Prison (1975) and the multi-volume History of Sexuality (1974). The Order of Things was a best seller in France, leading to his world-wide fame. In that book, Foucault argued that sciences do not simply pop up as sources of truth on their own, but require prior ideas of human nature and truth in order to be supported and accepted as sciences.

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