ARISTOTLE (384-322 BC)
student of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, Aristotle shared his teacher’s reverence for human knowledge, revising many of Plato’s ideas by emphasizing methods rooted in observation and experience. Aristotle surveyed and systematized nearly all the existing branches of knowledge and provided the first ordered accounts of biology, psychology, physics, and literary theory. In addition, Aristotle invented the field known as formal logic, pioneered zoology, and addressed virtually every major philosophical problem known during his time.
AUGUSTINE (SAINT) (354-430 AD)
philosopher and religious thinker who was among the first to distinguish clearly between natural and conventional signs and to espouse the view that there is an interpretive component to the whole process of representation.
BARTHES, ROLAND (1915-1980)
French semiotician who claimed that the largely unconscious mythological thinking of human beings manifests itself in all kinds of discourses, spectacles, performances, and symbols.
BENEDICT, RUTH (1887-1948)
American anthropologist, student of Franz Boas, who pioneered ethnological research on Native American tribes during the 1920s and 1930s. Benedict maintained that every culture developed its own particular moral and lifestyle systems that largely determined the choices individuals reared and living in that culture made throughout their lives.
BOAS, FRANZ (1858–1942)
American anthropologist who claimed that culture largely determined the ways in which individuals developed their personalities and their worldviews.
CAMPBELL, JOSEPH (1904–1987)
American writer, editor, and teacher, known for his writings on myth. Influenced by the psychoanalytical ideas of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and the novels of James Joyce and Thomas Mann, he formulated the theory that myths across the world are culture-specific manifestations of the universal need of the human psyche to explain social, cosmological, and spiritual realities.
CASSIRER, ERNST (1874-1945)
German philosopher and educator, whose works dealt mainly with the theory of knowledge, the history of epistemology, and the philosophy of science. He proposed that language and myth spring from the same unconscious creative force, and that the categories of myth underlie human symbols and human actions.
CHOMSKY, NOAM (1928-)
American linguist who claims that the human brain is especially constructed to detect and reproduce language. According to Chomsky, children instinctively apply innate grammatical rules to process the verbal input to which they are exposed.
DARWIN, CHARLES (1809-1882)
British zoologist who formulated the theory of “natural selection,” which holds that reproductive success in organisms tends to promote adaptation that is necessary for survival.
DERRIDA, JACQUES (1930–)
French philosopher whose work originated a method of analysis—known as deconstruction—that has been applied to literature, linguistics, philosophy, law, and architecture, by which texts are seen to be infinitely interpretable.
DURKHEIM, EMILE (1858-1917)
French sociologist and philosopher who saw remarkable similarities among the world’s myths, which he explained as being based in a “collective consciousness” that is a consequence of specific brain functions.
ECO, UMBERTO (1932-)
Italian semiotician and novelist who has provided various theoretical frameworks for the study of signs and who claims that while the interpretation of a text may be influenced primarily by culture, there is, nevertheless, an authorial purpose inherent in the text that cannot be ignored.
ELIADE, MIRCEA (1907-1986)
Romanian-born historian of religions who saw myth as the means by which humans come to a coherent understanding of existence. Although specific myths may over time become trivialized, people have the ability to reexperience their true metaphysical nature.
FOUCAULT, MICHEL (1926-1984)
French semiotician and philosopher who attempted to show that the basic ideas that people normally take to be permanent truths about human nature and society are instead no more than the products of historical processes.
FREUD, SIGMUND (1856-1939)
German psychologist and founder of psychoanalysis who suggested that the moral behavioral patterns that have ensured the survival of the human species are built into human genetic structure. He also formulated the theory of the “unconscious” as a region of the mind that stores wishes, memories, fears, feelings, and ideas that are prevented from expression in conscious awareness. These manifest themselves instead in symbolic and unusual ways, especially in dreams, neurotic syndromes, and artistic texts.
GREIMAS, ALGIRDAS JULIEN (1917-1992)
French semiotician who developed the branch of semiotics known as narratology, i.e. the study of how human beings in different cultures invent remarkably similar stories (myths, tales, etc.) with virtually the same stock of characters, motifs, themes, and actions.
HEGEL, G. F. W. (1770-1831)
German philosopher who argued that reality was filtered largely by acquired mental processes, although there existed a rational logic that governed human actions.
HERDER, JOHANN GOTTFRIED VON (1744–1803)
German philosopher who emphasized the profound differences that existed among individuals who lived in different cultures. His work laid the foundation for the comparative study of civilizations.
HERODOTUS (c. 484-425 BC)
Greek thinker and first historian who spent a large part of his life traveling in Asia, Egypt, and Greece, noting and recording for posterity differences in the dress, food, etiquette, and rituals of the people he encountered. His annotations have come to constitute some of the first analyses of cultural differences.
HIPPOCRATES (c. 460-377 BC)
Greek founder of medical science who established semeiotics as the study of symptoms.
HUMBOLDT, WILHELM VON (1767-1835)
Prussian statesman, educational reformer, and philologist who claimed that language reflects the culture and character of its speakers and that the study of language cannot be extricated from a consideration of the cultural system to which it belongs.
JAKOBSON, ROMAN (1896-1982)
Moscow-born linguist and semiotician who carried out most of his work in the United States. Among his contributions to semiotics, linguistics, and communication theory is a widely-used model that identifies the main functions and components of human communication.
JUNG, CARL GUSTAV (1875-1961)
Swiss psychiatrist who believed that the unconscious mind consisted of two interacting dimensions: the personal unconscious, the repressed feelings and thoughts developed during an individual’s life, and the collective unconscious, those inherited feelings, thoughts, and memories shared by all humanity. He coined the term archetype to refer to the latter. Archetypes manifest themselves as recurring symbols in cultures the world over.
KHALDUN, IBN (1332-1406)
Medieval Algerian scholar who wrote a fascinating treatise on the difference between nomadic and city-dwelling Bedouins. He suggested that the environment in which the two types of Bedouins lived determined their differential behaviors.
LÉVI-STRAUSS, CLAUDE (1908–)
Belgian-born anthropologist based in Paris who sees culture as an external manifestation of the nature of human sign systems.
LOCKE, JOHN (1632-1704)
English philosopher who was among the first to suggest the inclusion of semiotics in philosophical inquiry. In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Locke defined semiotics as the “doctrine of signs.”
Austrian zoologist who was instrumental in the founding of ethology, the study of animals in their natural habitats. He is perhaps best known for his discovery that auditory and visual stimuli from an animal’s parents are needed to induce the young to follow the parents, but that any object or human being could elicit the same response by presenting the same stimuli. He called this phenomenon imprinting.
MALINOWSKI, BRONISLAW (1884-1942)
founder of the structuralist-functionalist school of anthropology in Britain, Malinowski claimed that each sign, symbol, code, or ritual, even if it might seem strange at first, had structural properties that came about to solve a specific problem and, thus, to serve a specific human function.
MARX, KARL (1818-1883)
German social theorist who claimed that new forms of a society emerged as a consequence of individuals struggling to gain control over the production, use, and ownership of material goods. In Marx’s conception of utopia, there is no capitalism and no state, just a working society in which all give according to their means and take according to their needs.
MCLUHAN, MARSHALL (1911-1980)
Canadian communication theorist who argued that electronic technology has transformed the world into a “global village,” and that technological innovations are the factors in human evolution.
MEAD, MARGARET (1901-78)
American anthropologist, student of Franz Boas, widely known for her studies of primitive societies and her contributions to cultural anthropology. Mead spent many years studying how culture influences individual personality, maintaining that the specific child-rearing practices of a culture shaped the behavior and temperament of the maturing individual.
MONTAIGNE, MICHEL DE (1533-1592)
French essayist who tried to dispel the pejorative view that had arisen in the sixteenth century vis-à-vis so-called “primitive” cultures, arguing that it was crucial above all else to understand the morality of other peoples on their own terms, not in terms of one’s own cultural predispositions and system of ethics.
MORGAN, LEWIS HENRY (1818-1881)
American philosopher who claimed that all cultures, no matter how diverse, developed according to a regular series of predictable stages—from savagery, to barbarism, to civilization.
MORRIS, CHARLES (1901-1979)
American semiotician who conceived of semiosis as a chain of observable phenomena. Morris divided semiotics into the study of (1) relations between a sign and other signs, which he called syntactics; (2) relations between signs and their denotative meanings, which he called semantics; (3) relations between signs and interpreters, which he called pragmatics.
PEIRCE, CHARLES SANDERS (1839-1914)
American logician and mathematician who, along with Ferdinand de Saussure, is considered to be the founder of the modern-day scientific study of signs.
PLATO (c. 428-347 BC)
one of the most famous philosophers of ancient Greece, Plato was the first to use the term philosophy, which meant “love of knowledge.” Chief among his ideas was the theory of forms, by which he proposed that objects in the physical world merely resemble perfect forms in the ideal world, and that only the perfect forms should be the objective of philosophical inquiry.
POLO, MARCO (c. 1254-1324)
Italian adventurer who was fascinated by the customs of the peoples he met on his travels through China and other parts of Asia. His chronicles of his voyages provided medieval Europeans with a wide range of information about the cultures of the Far East.
RADCLIFFE-BROWN, ALFRED (1881-1955)
British anthropologist who emphasized the social functional aspects of Bronislaw Malinowski’s approach to the study of culture.
RICHARDS I. A. (1893-1979)
English literary critic and educator who emphasized the cognitive importance of metaphor.
ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES (1712-1778)
French philosopher who linked a life of happiness to the attainment of a state of “natural life” similar to that of indigenous tribes and of children. As a consequence, he advocated the elimination of the corrupting influences of Western civilization.
SAPIR, EDWARD (1884-1939)
American anthropologist and linguist, student of Franz Boas, who investigated how language shaped the minds and behaviors of its users.
SAUSSURE, FERDINAND DE (1857-1913)
Swiss linguist who became a modern-day founder of semiotic theory.
SEBEOK, THOMAS A. (1920-)
leading American semiotician and linguist famous for his work on animal communication and sign theory, and for the establishment of the fields of zoosemiotics and biosemiotics.
SPENCER, HERBERT (1820-1903)
English philosopher who conceived of societies and cultural institutions as rankable on the exact same scale as living things, from the most simple to the most complex.
TACITUS, CORNELIUS (c. 55-117 AD)
Roman historian who described the character, manners, and geographical distribution of the German tribes he studied.
TURING, ALAN MATHISON (1912-1954)
British mathematician who envisioned a device, referred to as the “Turing machine,” that could, in theory, perform any calculation. He also originated the “Turing test,” a procedure designed to show that a computer might be judged to be intelligent.
TYLOR, EDWARD B. (1832-1917)
British founder of cultural anthropology who founded the first department of anthropology at Oxford University in 1884. Tylor’s studies on the role of religion in cultures, along with his definition of culture, were important early contributions to the field of anthropology.
VICO, GIAMBATTISTA (1688-1744)
Italian philosopher who sought to unravel the origins of culture by analyzing the meanings of the first words. He also proposed a cyclical theory of history, according to which human societies progress through a series of stages from sensory barbarism to civilization and then return to barbarism, but of a reflective kind.
WHORF, BENJAMIN LEE (1897-1941)
American linguist and anthropologist, student of Edward Sapir, who kindled widespread interest among culture theorists in the view that language, thought, and culture are interdependent systems.
WILSON, EDWARD OSBORNE (1929-)
American evolutionary biologist who argues that many human behavioral characteristics (such as heroism, altruism, aggressiveness, and male dominance) should be understood as evolutionary outcomes, and that human behavior is genetically determined.
WUNDT, WILHELM MAX (1832-1920)
German psychologist, generally recognized as the founder of scientific psychology as an autonomous field of study. In 1862, Wundt offered the first academic course in psychology; and in 1879, he established the first laboratory for conducting experimental research in psychology.