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SIGNIFICATION AND DENOTATION FROM BOETHIUS TO OCKHAM.* Prima facie, Ockham has little to say about the tortured story of the term "denotation." Baudry's Lexicon does not mention it. As far as I know—and in any case in his crucial texts on signification and supposition, Ockham does not use "denotation" but at most "denotari," in the passive form. However in this paper I shall try to provide some evidences for a further history of the term "denotation" and I shall suggest that this term started to shift from the intensional side to the extensional one just with or after Ockham. Today "denotation" (along with its counterpart, "connotation") is alternatively considered as a property or function of(i) single terms, (ii) predicative sentences, (iii) descriptive noun phrases and definite descriptions. In each case one has to decide whether this term has to be taken intensionally or extensionally: is "denotation" tied to meaning or to referents? Does one mean by "denotation" what is meant by the term or the named thing and, in case of sentences, what is the case? As far as connotation is concerned, if denotation has an extensional scope, it becomes the equivalent of intension; if on the contrary denotation has an intensional scope, then connotation becomes a sort of further meaning depending on the first one. These terminological discrepancies are such that Geach (1962:65) suggested that this term should be "withdrawn from philosophical currency" since it produces "a sad tale of confusion." *I thank Maria Teresa Beonio Brocchieri Fumagalli for her many useful suggestions . I also thank Andrea Tabarroni, Roberto Lambertini and Costantino Marmo for having discussed with me some passages of this paper, whose origin was a seminar on the medieval theory of signs, University of Bologna, Chair of Semiotics, Academic Year 1982-83. 2 UMBERTO ECO In the framework ofstructural linguistics denotation is intensional. Such is the case of Hjelmslev (1943), where the difference between a denotative semiotics and a connotative one lies in the fact that the former is a semiotic whose expression plane is not a semiotics, while the latter is a semiotics whose expression plane is a semiotics. But the denotative relationship has to do with the correlation between the form of expression and the form of content. It would be risky to say that, according to Hjelmslev, an expression denotes a content—substance. Likewise Barthes (1964) elaborates upon Hjelmslev's suggestions and develops a merely intensional approach to denotation. A denotative relationship always occurs between a signifier and a first (or zero) degree signified.1 Thus one can say that in the structuralistic milieu denotation, if we assume as a parameter the well known Frege's triangle, is more similar to the Sinn than to the Bedeutung, that is, more similar to the sense than to the reference.2. The whole picture changes radically in the Anglo-Saxon tradition ofphilosophy oflanguage and of truth conditional semantics: in Russell's On denoting" (1905) denotation is undoubtedly linked to reference . This usage is followed by the whole of Anglo-Saxon philosophical tradition (see for instance Ogden and Richards 1923 and Morris 1946). In this sense, an expression denotes the class of individuals of 1 In the framework ofcomponential analysis, "denotation" has been used for the sense-relationships expressed by a lexical term—such as 'father's brother' expressed by 'uncle' (see for instance Leech 1974:238). Prieto (1975:67, 109) means by '(de)notative' or 'notative' any conception of a linguistic term or of a significant object in so far as it appears as the member of a class of objects fulfilling the same purpose ("membre de la classe du système d'intercompréhension qui le détermine"), where such a class belongs to the universe ofsense. 2 This, at least, if one realizes that the Fregean "Bedeutung" was a very ambiguous term, and should better be rephrased as "Bezeichnung" (which translates more of less "designation"). In the German philosophical lexicon "Bedeutung" stands usually for "meaning" while "Bezeichnung" stands for "reference " or "denotation" or "designation." See for instance Husserl (1970), where it is said that a sign signifies (bedeutet) a meaning and designates (bezeichnet) a thing. Dummett (1973, 5) translates the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 1-29
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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