The use of philosophical symbols to communicate different ideas about morality, knowledge, and existence is as old as the origin of philosophical discourses. Symbols are identical to every language because they do not represent certain things that are not generally observable.
Philosophical symbols like cave, Yin and Yang, Eye of Horus, and Scales of Justice, among others, were not necessarily invented by philosophers but they communicate philosophical information about the symbols that they represent.
Symbols add a lot of color to philosophical discourses by helping readers and listeners make sense of the ideas being shared. Symbols exist in various cultures and religious backgrounds, serving different purposes.
However, if they have philosophical themes, they can be described as philosophical symbols because they inspire philosophical activities. Below are some symbols that connote philosophical meanings to the beholders or conceivers;
The cave was a symbol used by the ancient Philosopher Plato to explain the value of knowledge and the plague of ignorance to any society. Plato considered a group of prisoners in a cave. Their hands were tied and they were facing the wall in the cave. Since they faced the wall, they could only see shadows from a fire that was lit behind them.
This shadow according to Plato represented the flick reality that most people are exposed to by relying on the senses. As such Plato considered sense knowledge derived from perception as limited. He continues by narrating that one of the prisoners escapes from the cave and sees the world outside the cave.
This freedom of the prisoners enables them to see things in reality and not shadows. Also, this said Plato is what happens when we break free from the prison of ignorance through philosophical inquiry.
The Yin and Yang
In Chinese Philosophy, the place of the Yin and Yang symbols cannot be overemphasized because they represent the unity of opposites which is a major philosophical theme. While Yin represents the principle of darkness and Passiveness, Yang represents light, masculinity, and activity.
The Yin and Yang are always in harmony even though they are opposing forces. These symbols also align with the philosophy of Heraclitus which mentions the harmony of opposites is an element of reality.
The Eye of Horus
Egyptian mythology has also significantly influenced philosophy, especially with the eye of Horus, an ancient myth that represented divine wisdom and healing. It was simply an eye with some special markings on it.
The markings are used to depict the plurality of perception and human understanding in the face of reality. This emphasizes a point many idealist philosophers have been advancing for many centuries about how the senses are too weak to grasp divine wisdom.
The Ouroboros: The Eternal Cycle
The Ouroboros is a symbol of a Serpent that is biting its tail. Although it is s serpent the symbol does not have anything to do with a serpent. Rather it represents the cycle of life birth death and rebirth.
It signified that the ending of a thing often signals a new beginning and that life is in perpetual flux and nothing is lost in the cycle of life. In Indian and Sanskrit philosophy, the Ouroboros may represent reincarnation and the transformation of life from one form to another. It implies the end of one stage and the beginning of another.
The Scales of Justice: Weighing Right and Wrong
The tendency for justice is in the conscience of every man and the scale of justice serves to remind people about what justice represents. The scales of justice also have some relevance as a philosophical symbol because it is about the ancient philosophical theme of justice.
The scale of justice represents fairness and impartiality which are the attributes of justice across all cultures. Ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary philosophers have philosophized on the subject of justice because of its role in social stability and peace. The scale of justice which has balance pans and always communicates the place of justice in the society.
Each of these philosophical symbols ignites reflection and contemplation and has contributed to human discourses on various philosophical themes. A lot of nuances and meanings are contained in each symbol and they have retained their significance to this day.
Irrespective of their philosophical schools and ideology, philosophical symbols have been used by philosophers in almost every age in the history of philosophy. There is difficulty in categorizing certain mental abstractions like a flying horse as philosophical symbols because, in reality, they do concern items with observable features. Also, their existence is probable.
Despite the difficulty in concluding about what stands as a philosophical symbol and what does not, such symbols often invite the beholders to contemplate the meanings that they embody.
Their contemplation of symbols is not dogmatic as to make them accept supposed truths but to direct them through knowledge in the ever-continuous search for truth in philosophical reflections.Share