Algebraic symbols

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Algebra (Fr. algèbre) is a branch of mathematics

  • which reduces the solution of problems to manipulations of symbolic expressions, and
  • concerned with the properties and relationships of abstract entities represented in symbolic form.

Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan begins to use algebraic symbols in 1955 -- in an attempt to formalise psychoanalysis.

Formalization of Psychoanalysis

Three main reasons lie behind this attempt at formalization.

1. Formalization is necessary for psychoanalysis to acquire scientific status.
Just as Claude Lévi-Strauss uses quasi-mathematical formulae in an attempt to set anthropology on a more scientific footing, Lacan attempts to do the same for psychoanalysis
Lacan used quasi-mathematical formulae in an attempt to set psychoanalysis on a more scientific footing.
2. Formalization can provide a core of psychoanalytic theory which can be transmitted integrally even to those who have never experienced psychoanalytic treatment.
The formulae thus become an essential aspect of the training of psychoanalysis which take their place alongside training analysis as a medium for the transmission of psychoanalytic knowledge.
3. Formalization of psychoanalytic theory in terms of algebraic symbols is a means of preventing intuitive understanding, which Lacan regards as an imaginary lure which hinders access to the symbolic.
Rather than being understood in an intuitive way, the algebraic symbols are to be used, manipulated and read in various different ways.[1]

List of Algebraic Symbols

The algebraic symbols used by Lacan appear principally in the mathemes, schema l and the graph of desire.

It is important to remember that the symbols do not always refer to the same concept throughout Lacan's work, but are used in different ways as his work develops.

List of Algebraic Symbols

See Also


  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.313

See Also