The Origin of Language: Aspects of the Discussion from Condillac to Wundt

The Origin of Language: Aspects of the Discussion from Condillac to Wundt

The Origin of Language: Aspects of the Discussion from Condillac to Wundt

The Origin of Language: Aspects of the Discussion from Condillac to Wundt

Excerpt

This book is intended as a vindication of the--today very unpopular--view of Condillac, Thomas Reid, and Monboddo that language is an invention. It aims to show that their theories are more plausible than is supposed by the many commentators who see them through the eyes of Herder and his successors. I am not giving merely a historical account, but a definite assessment of what lines of approach to the subject have led to valuable results and what lines have led into blind alleys. The book will, I hope, be of particular interest to those who are out of sympathy with the claim, so often made by religious writers, that language is an absolute and unbridgeable distinction between man and other mammals.

The ideas of Condillac, Reid, and Monboddo on the origin of language may fairly be taken as representative of Enlightenment thinking on the subject. The transition to views widely accepted in the nineteenth century is not a straight-forward sequence in time. Herder's essay appeared in 1772, a year earlier than Monboddo's first volume. Nor would it be true to say that a given author adopts a standpoint characteristic of the Enlightenment--or of its opponents--on all subjects at all stages of his career, or even within the compass of a single work. Herder Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (1784-91) is one of the most enlightened books of its century, but not as regards its views on the origin of language.

In speaking of the Enlightenment generally, I certainly mean to include Locke and Hume, but not Kant. I am aware that there is a certain arbitrariness in thus excluding the author of the essay 'Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?' But my point is that Kant's metaphysical approach to psychological problems is totally at variance with the way they were treated by the British empiricists, and initiated attitudes which alienated nineteenth-century thinkers from these philosophers. If the Enlightenment writers on language and Enlightenment philosophers generally are more intelligible than their successors (including, in philosophy, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and Humboldt), it is not because the latter are more . . .

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