The contribution of G. W. Leibniz's ‘cognitio symbolica’ theory to current debates on knowledge and communication management

Diana Ingenhoff 1 , 1
  • 1 University of Fribourg.


The aim of this paper is to clarify the concepts of knowledge to develop a better theoretical understanding based on one of the eldest semiotic insights from one unfortunately often forgotten philosopher of modern semiotic: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716). In his ‘Meditationes de Cognitione, Veritate, et Ideis’ (1684), he develops a systematical, dichotomous characterization of the different levels of knowledge acquisitions. According to his view, knowledge is essentially symbolic: it takes place in a system of representations which possesses language-like structures and which can be characterized on specific hierarchic levels from ‘dark knowledge’ (‘notio obscura’) up to ‘distinct knowledge’ (‘notio distincta’) to be distinguished by the criteria of recognizing and communicating the single elements (‘notarum notae’) constructing knowledge as a continuum.

From a semiotic point of view, the paper shows that the awareness of the hierarchy of knowledge intensity can supply a framework for conceptual analysis and modeling of knowledge creation processes. As a result, we actually should focus, not only in knowledge management, on the communication processes when creating knowledge. Leibniz shows the fundamental problem of decomposing knowledge in externalization processes, which is only possible by the use of symbols, needing clear explanations through symbols again. Therefore, organization should be concerned with the creation of shared representations and meaning systems with respect to different levels of explicitly as Leibniz showed us.

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The official journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, founded in 1969 as one of the first scholarly journals in the field, Semiotica features articles reporting results of research in all branches of semiotic studies, in-depth reviews of selected current literature in the field, and occasional guest editorials and reports. The journal also publishes occasional Special Issues devoted to topics of particular interest.