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Hobbes's Theory of Signification ISABEL C. HUNGERLAND and GEORGE R. VICK IN RECENT YEARS,THERE HAS BEEN AN INCREASEof interest in the philosophical work of Thomas Hobbes, not only an increase in interest in his political philosophy --a field where his importance has long been acknowledged--but in interest in his whole system of ideas. The importance of Hobbcs's work outside political philosophy is now recoguized--belatedly. In a day when philosophy of language (theory of meaning and so on), occupies a prominent place in philosophical work, it is natural that some of the increased interest in Hobbcs should center on his theory of language and speech, of which the most complete and definitive statement is contained in Part First or Logic of his de Corpore. Unfortunately, this recent work on Hobbes's philosophy of language has been marred by failure to note, or at least to give due notice to, his careful and crucial distinction, in the Logic, of two key concepts, the concept of signifying, of an utterer's signifying something, and the concept of an arbitrary, or conventional, correlation between words and things. (The verb "significare" is consistently employed as a term for the first concept; the verb, "denotare," and phrases containing the noun "nomen" and the verb "appellate '" are employed in expressing the second concept.) 2 The results of this failure range from gross mi.~interpretation of Hobbes's theory to inadequate accounts of it. By those who have grossly misinterpreted him, Hobbes has been taken as holdhag a theory of language and meaning which--at least in the etude form attributed to him--has been discredited for more than a decade. The premise which underlies t In our citing of Hobbes's works, we shall employ the usual abbreviations, de Corpore, for example, for Elementa Philosophica Sectio prima de Corpore: and E. W. and Op. Lat., respectively, for The English Works and the Opera Latina of Hobbes, edited by Sir William Molesworth, 1839-45. References to pages of the Leviathan are to the pages of the first edition (also given in the Oxford edition). 2 Hobbes employs "significare" as a technical term, in the sense that he gives a definition of what it is to signify (to use something as a sign) and interprets, in his own way, locutions that seem to go against his definition. He does not, in this sense, employ "'denotare" as a technical term. However, with one apparent exception to be noted later, he does consistently employ "denotare" in a way that precludes its use as a rough synonym for "significare." In Hobbes's time, and earlier, the two verbs could be used interchangeably, as could also, the English "to denote" and "to signify" (see O. E. D. Vol. III). "Denotare" had, in its history, a wide variety of senses, ranging from "to condemn" (late Latin, see A Glossary of Later Latin, [Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1949]) to "to express," "to note down," '~o indicate" (medieval Latin, see A Lexicon of St. Thomas Aquinas, [Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1948]). [4.59] 460 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY this theory (in its crude form) might be put in this way: 8 For a linguistic expression to have meaning is for it to stand for something; (characteristically, "stand for," "represent," "refer," "denote" are employed as rough synonyms for "meaning"), and what an expression means is what it stands for (represents, refers to, denotes). Words like "if" and "is" are taken as not having meaning, or having meaning only in a Pickwickian sense, because they do not stand for anything. Different varieties of the basic theory of meaning result according as the objects of reference are differentiy interpreted. One prominent variety of the theory, the one often attributed to Hobbes, is that linguistic expressions "stand for," "mean," mental images. For example, Richard Peters writes, "[Words] are caused by external things... the word standing for the private phantasm .... " Peters writes also of Hobbes's "peculiarly private theory of meaning.... -5 j. W. N. Watkins once attributed this sort of theory to Hobbes s but in his recent book writes "J. M. Brown has since persuaded me that I was wrong.... ,,r Watkins then...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 459-482
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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