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The self-referentiality (from Latin referre "refer to something"), even Autoreferenzialität, self-referentiality , self-reference and self-reference, is a term that describes how a symbol , an idea or statement (or a model, picture or story) to itself Refers. The term is derived from the identity of symbol and referent (reference object).

In the narrower sense, the term has a purely logical meaning. Depending on the area, different reference objects are addressed.

Logical paradoxes

The concept of self-reference has been studied epistemologically (e.g. in connection with Cantor's diagonal method , Russell's antinomy and Gödel's incompleteness theorem ).

Different logical statements or theories can be put together in contradiction and thus distorted in meaning and generate logical paradoxes . In Gödel, Escher, Bach this is called the "strange loop".

  • Liar paradox : "This sentence is not true."
  • The barber paradox : "The (only) barber in a village shaves all those (and only those) who do not shave themselves."

A statement without self-contradiction is always coherent and self-referential. Each of the classical paradoxes can be logically and formally broken down by Tarski's metalinguistic scheme of the convention T : The statement “ x-paradox is the case” is true if x-paradox is the case. The paradoxes lack the linguistic quality of equation .


Epistemology, philosophy or logic

Thinking about thinking.

Language, computer science, mathematics

Sentences that relate to themselves , such as: "This sentence was translated from Japanese by a computer". (This sentence is nonsense in Japanese.)

Systems theory

This is an empirical application. One tries to describe (living, social) systems that are supposed to be self-referential. The term can be viewed in the system-theoretical context with that of autopoiesis .

Self-referential systems stabilize on themselves and thereby cut themselves off from their environment. This gives them stability and enables system formation and identity . Self-referential systems are "operationally closed"; in their processes they only refer to themselves and do not reach out into their environment. They only react to changes in their own system. The resource creation is to be considered independently of this.


In political science and constitutional theory, self-referential is a political system that constantly reproduces the conditions for its continued existence from within itself. An open society is not possible as soon as power elites only obey their own laws. In sociology, one sees self-referentiality as a characteristic of the party state. The judge of the Federal Constitutional Court Peter M. Huber warned that "the right to vote, the structure of political funding, the lack of direct democracy at federal level and the organizational structures of political parties favor the self-referentiality of the political system and increase the speechlessness between citizens and politics."

Literature and art

Self-referentiality has a long tradition in literature and art. The technical term mise en abyme is used here .

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Erwin K. Scheuch , Ute Scheuch: Cliques, Klüngel and Careers. 1992, ISBN 3-499-12599-4 , p. 175.
  2. Klaus Kunze : The total party state. 1998, ISBN 3-933334-01-2 , p. 24 ff.
  3. Peter M. Huber: In the crisis of meaning. In: . October 1, 2015, accessed October 5, 2015 .