Sense (philosophy)

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Sense is an inside-reaching in various scientific disciplines term that partly the Hang content of a linguistic expression refers (in the semantics ), or more generally to clarify the relationship between language, thought, intentionality and reality is.

Uses of words

"Sense" is used differently in different areas:

  • As a linguistic sense:
    • "Meaning" as a synonym for meaning (Engl. Meaning). See also ( meaning theory ).
    • "Sense" (today: intension ) as an opposite of reference (in Gottlob Frege , who, however, describes the reference as "meaning"). Similar “sense” as intension in Rudolf Carnap .
    • In linguistics, “sense” also describes the expression of meaning or “reading” of a word (English sense) . See under polysemy .
  • As a sense of action:
The concept of the sense of action forms a transition area between sociology and philosophy . "Sense" is a synonym for the aim or purpose of the action . See under action theory .

Philosophical Approaches

The teleological sense is what something is there for. It is about being organized or being guided towards a goal.

From the metaphysical sense of the finite beings is when the relationship to the infinite being or God should be emphasized.


The integrative function of the human mind was first described by Aristotle and introduced into science as sensus communis ( de anima III / 2). The recognition of movement, number, size and causal connections is, according to Aristotle, not the achievement of the individual senses, but of a common sense (sensus communis).


A modern, "system-theoretical" view of this whole is represented by Niklas Luhmann , who understood communication as the essence of society and gave the concept of "meaning" an important position. He defines: "Sense is constant updating of possibilities". His main work, Social Systems, is fundamental . Luhmann's concept of system is based on a functional context that maintains itself in a stable order by being separated from the environment. A system must therefore primarily be capable of actively generating and designing special limits. For Luhmann, mental and social systems are constituted as contexts of meaning. The concept of meaning includes every form of order of human, conscious experience; there is therefore no meaningless experience. The world is far too complex to be perfectly captured by one system. Therefore, according to Luhmann, the constructed “picture” of the world is always a simplification, a reduction of the infinite complexity to a manageable level. Instead of the external complexity of the world, the “human” system creates an internal order. Luhmann understands this event as the formation of meaning. The complexity gradient is balanced out by the meaning system in the form of a subjective world design that reduces the external world. The system interprets the world selectively and thus reduces the complexity to what is accessible to it. This enables structured possibilities for one's own experience and action. Meaning always appears in definable contexts and at the same time points beyond the context to which it belongs; it makes other possibilities imaginable and, according to Luhmann, precisely this is where the function of the formation of meaning lies.

In Luhmann's view, meaning is “the unity of the difference between actuality and potential ”. Communication always constitutes meaning, is current selection from the potential of all previously given possibilities. According to Luhmann, meaning regulates the selective processing of experience, is the selective relationship between system and world. Sense enables complexity to be reduced and maintained at the same time. Meaning can therefore be understood as the premise of processing experience. Sense enables consciousness to make a choice and refers to what has not been chosen through what has been chosen and thus to the boundlessness of the world. According to this terminology, communication cannot be a transfer of meaning or information, rather communication is a common updating of meaning that informs at least one of the participants. For Niklas Luhmann, the central importance of semantics lies in the premises of meaning within a social system that are worth preserving.


The American organizational psychologist Karl E. Weick called sense as the result of a social process, which he sensemaking (Engl. Meaning generate ) calls. From this point of view, sense is a psychological construction that arises and is changed in the process of sensemaking.

See also


  • Thank God Frege : About meaning and meaning. In: Journal for Philosophy and Philosophical Criticism , NF 100, 1892, pp. 25–50. Also in: Gottlob Frege: Function, Concept, Meaning. Five logical studies. Edited and introduced by Günther Patzig. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1962. pp. 38-63.
  • Niklas Luhmann : Social Systems. Outline of a general theory , Frankfurt am Main 1984, especially the 2nd chapter “Sense”, ISBN 3-518-28266-2 .
  • John Lyons : Semantik , Volume I, Beck, Munich 1980, especially p. 210 ff., ISBN 3-406-05272-X .

Individual evidence

  1. Gottlob Frege: About meaning and meaning.
  2. ^ Karl E. Weick (1995): The process of organizing, Suhrkamp Wissenschaft 1194, ISBN 978-3-518-28794-1 .