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The Arbitrariness of the Linguistic Sign: Variations on an Enlightenment Theme

From: Journal of the History of Ideas
Volume 73, Number 4, October 2012
pp. 537-557 | 10.1353/jhi.2012.0042

Abstract

Abstract:

From the late seventeenth century to the middle of the eighteenth, an important shift occurred in attitudes to the arbitrariness of the first human words. While authors such as Locke and Pufendorf emphasized linguistic arbitrariness and human liberty, mid-eighteenth-century thinkers highlighted the natural aspects of language and the limited scope of freedom and reason. This change is linked to the contemporary view of the cultural world as a natural artifice, strongly molded by social and environmental factors. The article highlights hitherto neglected similarities between Leibniz’s ideas on language and mid-eighteenth-century theories, by contrast to the usual focus on Locke.



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