The present age prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The present age prefers the sign to the thing signified is a dictum by German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, first recorded in the preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity.

It made fame by being cited in Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle (1967):

"But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence... illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness."

Here it is in the French edition of the The Society of the Spectacle:

« Et sans doute notre temps... préfère l'image à la chose, la copie à l'original, la représentation à la réalité, l'apparence à l'être... Ce qui est sacré pour lui, ce n'est que l'illusion, mais ce qui est profane, c'est la vérité. Mieux, le sacré grandit à ses yeux à mesure que décroît la vérité et que l'illusion croît, si bien que le comble de l'illusion est aussi pour lui le comble du sacré. »

Here is the dictum in a wider context in the George Eliot translation of 1854.

"But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence, change, inasmuch as it does away with illusion, is an absolute annihilation, or at least a reckless profanation for in these days illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness. Religion has disappeared, and it has been substituted, even among Protestants, by appearance of religion — the Church — in order at least that "the faith" may be imparted to the ignorant and indiscriminating multitude ; that faith being still Christian, because the Christian churches stand now as they did a thousand years ago, and now, as formerly the external signs of the faith are in vogue." --The Essence of Christianity (full text of George Eliot translation)

German original

The text comes from the foreword to the second edition of Das Wesen des Christentums.

"Aber freilich […] diese Zeit, welche das Bild der Sache, die Kopie dem Original, die Vorstellung der Wirklichkeit, den Schein dem Wesen vorzieht […]; denn heilig ist ihr nur die Illusion, profan aber die Wahrheit. Ja die Heiligkeit steigt in ihren Augen in demselben Maße, als die Wahrheit ab- und die Illusion zunimmt, so daß der höchste Grad der Illusion für sie auch der höchste Grad der Heiligkeit ist."

Dutch translation

"Maar voorzeker verkiest deze tijd het beeld boven de zaak, de kopie boven het origineel, de voorstelling boven de werkelijkheid, de schijn boven het wezen, . . .; want heilig is hem slechts de illusie, profaan daarentegen de waarheid. Ja, in zijn ogen wordt de heiligheid in dezelfde mate vergroot waarin de waarheid af- en de illusie toeneemt, zodat de hoogste graad van illusie voor hem tevens de hoogste graad van heiligheid is."--translation via De spektakelmaatschappij





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