restricted access Did Hobbes Have a Semantic Theory of Truth?
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Did Hobbes Have a Semantic Theory of Truth? WILLEM R. DEJONG 1. INTRODUCTION THE qUESTIONRAISEDin the title of this article may strike the reader as a bit anachronistic. A phrase like 'semantic theory of truth' evokes associations with rather recent developments in logic, especially the work of Alfred Tarski. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that Hobbes made important observations of a semantical nature. Moreover, in an interesting article still frequently referred to, R. M. Martin has argued that Hobbes "has in mind a clear-cut semantical concept of truth."' Examining Hobbes's semantical ideas somewhat more closely than Martin did, T6rnebohm has given a more precise characterization of Hobbes's view on truth and falsity; he speaks of Hobbes's comprehension theory of truth. ~One of the main purposes of this article is to investigate whether such a theory is correctly attributed to Hobbes. For Tarski 'true' and 'false' are predicates of (declarative) sentences) But this is not enough to speak of a semantic theory of truth: The leading idea behind Tarski's fundamental work in the field of semantics is (a restricted version of) the principle of compositionality. This principle, also known as Frege's principle, says that the semantic value of a (complex) expression is a function of the semantic values of the syntactic (and categorematic) parts it is ' R. M. Martin, "On the Semantics of Hobbes," Philosophyand PhenomenologicalResearch 14 095314): 2o5-11, esp. ~o7, 211. Cf. I. C. Hungerland and G. R. Vick, "Hobbes's Theory of Language, Speech and Reasoning," in ThomasHobbes:Computatwsire Logica--Logic, translated and commentary by A. Martinich, ed. and introduced by I. C. Hungerland and G. R. Vick (New York: 1981), 15--167, esp. 17, 121-22. 9 H. T6rnebohm, "A Study in Hobbes' Theory of Denotation and Truth," Theor~a26 (196o): 53-7o; see p. 66. 3 A. Tarski, "The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics," Philosophy and PhenomenologicalResearch4 (1944): 341-375; see p. 342. [63] 64 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 28:1 JANUARY 199o composed of. Moreover, in the case of linguistic expressions which are (deciarative ) sentences this semantic value should be its truth-value. 4 As we shall see, Hobbes's theory of propositions is basically a theory of subject-predicate propositions. It is therefore reasonable to qualify his theory of truth as a semantic one only if it satisfies Frege's principle to a certain extent. Ideally, this means that the truth-value of subject-predicate propositions should be conceived as a function of the semantic interpretations of its subject and predicate. In the next three sections I will concentrate principally on the logicosyntactical aspects of language. I will then discuss successively the general structure of propositions, the various sorts of names, and the syntax of Hobbes's theory of propositions. Section 5 is devoted to Hobbes's theory of truth as interpreted by Martin and T0rnebohm. The outcome of this examination makes it necessary to break away from Martin's restricted conception of semantics. Martin, like Tarski, takes semantics as "semantics in the narrower sense," i.e., as the discipline Quine refers to as the theory of reference. 5 However, sometimes this term is used in a broader sense; the field of semantics is taken then to include the theory of meaning too. Although the wording differs frequently, the distinction between meaning and reference is almost a constant in the history of thinking about language. On the side of meaning one finds terms like connotation, intension, conception , signification and analyticity, while terms like naming, denoting, extension (and sometimes again signification) are ]inked to the notion of reference. In the Computatio sive Logica, the first part of De Corpore, containing Hobbes's most mature work on the philosophy of language, this opposition is displayed by way of a distinction between, on the one side, nominare, denotare and appellare and, on the other side, significare. Hobbes's view of the significative, as opposed to the denotative, role of linguistic expressions is treated in sections 6, 7, and 8. There it will be shown that Hobbes's radical nominalism is decisive for his doctrine of signification; moreover, this nominalism raises serious problems for the relation...