Tullio Viola presents a working paper on ‚Reflexive Thinking and Cultural Transmission‘

According to a rather widespread view of the relationship between individuals and their socio-cultural context, people articulate their thoughts and normative commitments through expressive tools or conceptual repertoires that are available in their social group. The research project here presented deals with a more specific and hitherto underrated case. I will investigate those cases in which the individual articulation of a thought is not carried out in an explicit manner, but hides behind the transmission of expressive tools that are charged with symbolic value. Those expressive tools may in turn become the object of long traditions that travel in space and time. Some examples: a legend, folktale, or rumor may provide members of a social group with a way to express their inarticulate needs and concerns; a picture, verbal formula or gesture may be resorted to in very different historical and geographical settings in virtue of a seemingly context-transcending expressive power; the memory of a historical event, or of a historical figure, may crystallize into a value-laden paradigm and thus become the object of a stable transmission chain. As I will argue, these apparently heterogenous examples are held together not only by their symbolic nature, but also by a significant overlapping between the act of articulation (i.e., the act by which individuals make explicit to themselves and others their thoughts and normative commitments) and the act of cultural transmission (i.e., the act by which individuals receive and pass on a cultural representation). In exploring the implications of this idea, my study will draw on the theoretical resources that have come out of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century dialogue between philosophy, social sciences, and Kulturwissenschaften. But it will also critically discuss some empirical findings in the field of history and sociology. Aim of this double methodology is to explore new insights about the philosophical puzzles of articulation while suggesting new paths of empirical investigation.