Kenneth Burke - Language as Action, Language as Cosmos
"In his book Language as Symbolic Action (1966), Burke defined humankind as a "symbol using animal" (p. 3). This definition of man, he argued, means that "reality" has actually "been built up for us through nothing but our symbol system" (p. 5). Without our encyclopedias, atlases, and other assorted reference guides, we would know little about the world that lies beyond our immediate sense experience. What we call "reality," Burke stated, is actually a "clutter of symbols about the past combined with whatever things we know mainly through maps, magazines, newspapers, and the like about the present . . . a construct of our symbol systems" (p. 5). College students wandering from class to class, from English literature to sociology to biology to calculus, encounter a new reality each time they enter a classroom; the courses listed in a university's catalogue "are in effect but so many different terminologies" (p. 5). It stands to reason then that people who consider themselves to be Christian, and who internalize that religion's symbol system, inhabit a reality that is different from the one of practicing Buddhists, or Jews, or Muslims. The same would hold true for people who believe in the tenets of free market capitalism or socialism, Freudian psychoanalysis or Jungian depth psychology, as well as mysticism or materialism. Each belief system has its own vocabulary to describe how the world works and what things mean, thus presenting its adherents with a specific reality."