restricted access Language and Learning: Philosophy of Language in the Hellenistic Age (review)
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Reviewed by
Dorothea Frede and Brad Inwood, editors. Language and Learning: Philosophy of Language in the Hellenistic Age. Cambridge-New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pp. xi + 353. Cloth, $90.00.

This collection of papers on Hellenistic philosophy of language resulted from the ninth Symposium Hellenisticum, held in Hamburg in July 2001. It makes an important contribution to the secondary literature on this topic and will be valuable to anyone who studies Hellenistic philosophy. Because some chapters discuss broader issues in the philosophy of language or connect Hellenistic ideas about language to other periods, readers interested in the philosophy of language or ancient philosophy in general should also find this volume worthwhile.

Although Frede and Inwood observe that the philosophy of language had not developed into a fully independent area of study during the Hellenistic period, a set of common concerns eventually emerged around such issues as the origins of language or the relations between language and thought. Discussions of these problems became the basis of later philosophical investigation in the Middle Ages and beyond. The ancients studied language in connection with a range of philosophical problems in epistemology, physics, and logic, and did not sever their inquiry from questions of linguistics and grammar. The papers in this collection likewise illuminate the relationship between theories of language and other philosophical issues.

The first four chapters examine Stoic and Epicurean ideas about the origins of language, making clear that the question first raised in Plato's Cratylus of whether language is natural or conventional is far more nuanced than a simple dichotomy. James Allen argues that the Stoics' naturalism depends on understanding the origins of language in relation to the development of human rationality. Names satisfy a natural standard of correctness insofar as they result from the successful exercise of reason; thus, the imposition or thesis of names in early human history does not imply a conventional origin. A. A. Long makes the case for an even stronger connection between Stoic naturalism and the Cratylus, as he argues that the Stoics developed each of three distinct naturalist theses (formal, etymological, and phonetic) presented in that dialogue. He concludes with a detailed analysis of the Stoic theory of semantics he finds in chapter 5 of Augustine's De dialectica.

These accounts of the Stoics are balanced by two chapters on Epicurean theory. Alexander Verlinsky outlines Epicurus' evolutionist view of the origin of language. In the first stage, words arise as spontaneous utterances which are already articulated and naturally related to their objects, while ambiguities are resolved in the second stage. Catherine Atherton focuses on Lucretius' account, raising challenges for the naturalist view that may also stir the interest of more recent proponents. She argues that the superior capacity for articulation possessed by humans does not adequately account for the emergence of intentional communication, which arises not from uncontrolled vocalizations but from a deliberate attempt to convey meaning.

The remainder of the volume addresses various aspects of the use of language. Ineke Sluiter examines the Cynics' rhetoric and concludes that the expression of Cynicism within a certain social context ultimately undermines its anti-conventional message. Charles Brittain explores the use of language as it connects thought to reality. He explains how the development of definitions of concept terms allowed a theory of common sense concerning the relation between concepts and reality to emerge, though he argues that the common sense theory did not arise until Cicero had modified the Stoic view of common conceptions. David Blank examines arguments between the analogist and anomalist views of inflection-derivation (flexion) found in Book 8 of Varro's De lingua latina. He argues persuasively that Crates of Mallos was neither the source of this book nor an anomalist, but had been presented as one of a competing pair of analogy theorists by Varro's empiricist source.

Chapters 8 and 9 focus on logical implications of the use of language. Susanne Bobzien argues that the Stoics resolved fallacies of ambiguity, not by examining the intentions of the speaker, but by appealing to the context for clarification. Because the ambiguous term will [End Page 153] have distinct meanings in each premise, one may accept the truth...