Linguistics, Anthropology, and Philosophy in the French Enlightenment: Language Theory and Ideology

Linguistics, Anthropology, and Philosophy in the French Enlightenment: Language Theory and Ideology

Linguistics, Anthropology, and Philosophy in the French Enlightenment: Language Theory and Ideology

Linguistics, Anthropology, and Philosophy in the French Enlightenment: Language Theory and Ideology

Synopsis

Linguistics, Anthropology and Philosophy in the French Enlightenment treats the development of linguistic thought from Descartes to Degerando as both a part of and a determining factor in the emergence of modern consciousness. Through his careful analyses of works by the most influential thinkers of the time, Ulrich Ricken demonstrates that the central significance of language in the philosophy of the enlightenment, reflected and acted upon contemporary understandings of humanity as a whole. The author discusses contemporary developments in England, Germany and Italy and covers an unusually broad range of writers and ideas including Leibniz, Wolff, Herder and Humboldt. This study places history of language philosophy within the broader context of the history of ideas, aesthetics and historical anthropology and will be of interest to scholars working in these disciplines.

Excerpt

The interest in the history of academic disciplines that has increased dramatically during the last few years has caused the publications concerning the specific field of linguistics to amass in a proportionate fashion. This, in turn, has opened the discussion concerning the object and methods of a formal history of linguistics. A number of demands are being made of this venture, among them that one ought to integrate linguistics into the more general history of the humanities and that one should attend to the interaction of linguistic theories with other disciplines, such as philosophy and the natural sciences.

One must ask whether the history of linguistics can contribute to the current understanding of this discipline by revealing the factors involved in the development of linguistic thinking and laying bare its role in the abstract interrelations of ideas within the history of the humanities as a whole. Our expectation of a positive answer to this question lends the history of all academic disciplines its relevance to modern theories of their present-day counterparts.

A methodology that typically adopts the characteristics of a “hunt for predecessors” would hardly be suited to uncovering the historical motivations of inquiries into the nature of language. Rather, it runs the risk of becoming a historicizing self-confirmation of present perspectives and, to that end, of selectively isolating disparate elements of the past and wrenching them out of their historical context. A similar danger resides in modernizing historical views under the aegis of current concerns by couching them in modern linguistic terminology. Such a methodology holds out little hope of revealing the status of linguistic theory in connection with the general development of knowledge and ideology.

The dependence of linguistic theories on philosophical presuppositions has been emphasized often enough. Yet linguistic theories are not just an expression, but rather frequently the constitutive element of philosophical systems. Ever since antiquity, language has been the object of theoretical reflection within systematic philosophy. Conceptions of language were, and hence are (although perhaps today less directly so than in previous centuries) not only co-determined by ideology and theories of disciplines,

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