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Continuity and Innovation in Medieval and Modern PhilosophyKnowledge, Mind and Language$
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John Marenbon

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265499

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265499.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright British Academy, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use.date: 21 September 2021

Essences and Signification: Response to Martin Lenz

Essences and Signification: Response to Martin Lenz

(p.69) Essences and Signification: Response to Martin Lenz
Continuity and Innovation in Medieval and Modern Philosophy

Michael Ayers

British Academy

This chapter argues that contrary to the thesis of the previous chapter, Locke's theory of meaning, as of knowledge, is explicitly individualistic. He understands a natural language as a construction out of its speakers' idiolects, the terms of which have sufficiently overlapping intensions and extensions for the purposes of common life and coarse communication. But the sciences and systematic natural history require a more precise and determinate ‘philosophical’ language, since both clear thought and effective collaboration in these areas are achievable only by a deliberate refinement of ordinary language in which individuals agree on fixed and common idea–term relationships—i.e., in the case of complex ideas, definitions agreed in the light of careful observation, experiment and reflection. Locke's whole discussion of language is geared to the advocacy of this programme, intended to fill a need without which science could not progress. Locke reasonably assumes shared experience of the world and the possibility of explaining one's meaning to another, in words or ostensively. Although fundamentally individualistic, the model is not readily vulnerable to the commonplace criticisms of ‘mentalism’.

Keywords:   John Locke, philosophy of language, semantic externalism, signification, semantic individualism, private language

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