Texte d’une communication (en anglais) intitulée « John Locke and langage [John Locke et le langage] » présentée au Colloque annuel de la Société Henry Sweet pour l’Histoire des Idées Linguistiques, au Collège Trinity de Dublin, Irelande, du 28 au 31 août 2003. [Paper presented at the Annual Colloquium of the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas, at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, in August 2003.]
« …language, therefore, lies in truth, not truth in language, as something merely signified by language. But the constitutive share of language in truth does not establish an identity of truth and language. »
Adorno, T. (1994), Negative Dialectics, New York, Continuum Publishing Company, 416p.
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the logical consequences on the philosophy of language of the treatment of the notions of being and knowledge in John Locke’s system of thought. Locke’s impact on the philosophy of language can best be ascertained by examining the totality of his system, rather than any isolated opinion he may (or may not) have held with respect to language per se. We shall begin by demonstrating that Locke, much like Helvétius (Laurendeau 1997d) and Diderot, is not an explicit glottophilosopher. In order to put things in their proper perspective, one need only note that AN ESSAY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING (1690) is divided as follows:
– Two epistles, one to the Earl of Pembroke and one to the reader
– Book One: Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate
– Book Two: Of Ideas
– Book Three: Of Words
– Book Four: Of knowledge and probability
As its title clearly indicates, Locke’s main work is a treatise on gnoseology (Laurendeau 1990e). Misconceptions soon arise however when we are overly faithful to the seemingly clear distinctions displayed in this table of content. We should not be misled into believing that John Locke’s views on language are only to be found in Book Three of AN ESSAY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING. They are actually flowing as an implicit concern in the totality of his works. In fact, the anti-speculative empiricism which Locke initiates tends to open philosophy to glottocentrism (Laurendeau 2000d: 47-52), by restricting the manifestation of general ideas to the sector of language. In a manner similar to nominalism, while simultaneously preparing the advent of his French successors Condillac (1971, 1977), Voltaire (1972, 1977) and many others, Locke puts into place the gnoseological framework that will be the cause of the linguisticist turn in philosophy. The question of the ontological status of the notion of substance is the key element in this dynamic. Our inquiry will therefore examine the importance and influence of the shift from an ontological gnoseology to a linguisticist gnoseology, and how this shift potentially impacted Locke’s conception of semantics in Of Words…
Between Materialism and Empiricism
« From Locke, a wide culture proceeds, influencing English philosophers more especially; the forms adopted by this school were various, but the principle was the same; it became a general method of regarding things in a popular way, and calls itself Philosophy, although the object of Philosophy is not to be met with here. »
Hegel, G.W.F. (1963), « Locke », Lectures on the History of Philosophy, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York, The Humanities Press, vol.3 – Medieval and Modern Philosophy, p. 295.
Significant portions of Locke’s ontological views are grounded in the tradition of English materialism initiated by Bacon (1915, 1960) and Hobbes. Yet Locke also sees its foundations in empiricism. This ambivalent tradition, with its style, its tone, its twists owes immensely to the non-philosophical reality of 17th century England, a buzzing world of craft, commerce, booming capitalism, and practical activities of all sort (Novack 1971, see also Laurendeau 1990a, 1990g).
With respect to being, Locke defends the position that action on the objective world takes precedence over intellectual rumination. In conformity with the English tradition he inherits, Locke’s materialism is partly anti-philosophical and inspired by the direct observation of industrial modernity.
(1) « A pestle and mortar will as soon bring any particle of matter to indivisibility, as the acutest thought of a mathematician; and a surveyor may as soon with his chain measure our infinite space as a philosopher by the quickest flight of mind reach it, or by thinking comprehend it; which is to have a positive idea of it. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XVII, OF THE IDEA OF INFINITY, p 290.
To an English philosopher such as Locke, the human understanding of the world is itself a solid foundation for the autonomous action of the mind. Locke also spontaneously admits the main ontological option of materialism: the existence of external objects as the exclusive source of sensible qualities.
(2) « The understanding seems to me not to have the least glimmering of any idea which it doth not receive from one of these two [i.e. sensation and reflection – P.L.]. External objects furnish the mind with the ideas of sensible qualities, which are all those different perceptions they produce in us; and the mind furnishes the understanding with ideas of its own operations. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter I, OF IDEAS IN GENERAL, AND THEIR ORIGINAL, p 124.
The own operations of the mind are all but independent from the world. Locke would agree with the following statement: It is false that the experience of children shows that they have an idea of a triangle before they have seen a triangle or other figure upon which they may reason by analogy (Gassendi 1972: 256). He explains it in detail in Book One. He does indeed praise the role of reason in the process of knowledge, nonetheless he steadfastly rejects the principle of autonomous or innate reasonning and/or action.
(3) « But how can these men think the use of reason necessary to discover principles that are supposed innate, when reason (if we may believe them) is nothing else but the faculty of deducing unknown truths from principles or propositions that are already known? That certainly can never be thought innate which we have need of reason to discover… »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book I, NEITHER PRINCIPLES NOR IDEAS ARE INNATE, chapter I, NO INNATE SPECULATIVE PRINCIPLES, p 43.
Such a systematic rejection of the tradition of innate ideas will unavoidably create conditions favorable to a doctrine of intellectual acquisition in which language will have an unavoidable role to play. But we should simply notice for the moment that the definition provided by Locke of reason is in strict conformity with materialist rationality. The ontology of materialism asserts that the object exists outside of our perceiving consciousness. The gnoseological consequence is the existence of the faculty of deducing unknown truths from principles or propositions that are already known. Locke seems to acknowledge at least this much. Locke also admits that sensations are the source of knowledge, however his particular conception seems to suggest that a notion of internal sensation will create conditions favorable to a shift towards empiricism.
(4) « I pretend not to teach, but to inquire; and therefore cannot but confess here again – that external and internal sensation are the only passages I can find of knowledge to the understanding. These alone, as far as I can discover, are the windows by which light is let into this dark room. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XI, OF DISCERNING, AND OTHER OPERATIONS OF THE MIND, pp 211-212.
Locke is regarding things in a popular way (Hegel). That explains a good part of his spontaneous materialism. At one and the same time, Locke’s adherence to the dynamics of the English bourgeoisie, coupled with his concrete and practical treatment of philosophy will lead him to overstate the importance of common sense against general speculative understanding. This seems to indicate that utility has become the new criteria for the appropriateness of knowledge.
(5) « It is of great use to the sailor to know the lenght of his line, though he cannot with it fathom all the depths of the ocean. It is well he knows [sic] that it is long enough to reach the bottom, at such places as are necessary to direct his voyage, and caution him against running upon shoals that may ruin him. Our business here is not to know all things, but those which concern our conduct. If we can find out those measures, whereby a rational creature, put in that state in which man is in this world, may and ought to govern his opinions, and actions depending theron, we need not to be troubled that some other things escape our knowledge. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, INTRODUCTION, pp 30-31.
In other words: we should give priority to types of knowledge centered on our specific activities. Our business here is not to know all things… this is a pragmatic program in a nutshell. This idea will have tremendous repercussions in philosophy. It is the first decisive step from the materialist inquiry of an endless objective world towards the empiricist stabilization of the subject’s surrounding environment. This common-sensical idea will quickly become one of the key elements of Locke’s ontology. Soon there will be no object other than the empirical properties of the so-called object. This shift implies that sensation, rather than objective existence, is now the foundation of ontology.
(6) « Sensation convinces us that there are solid extended substances; and reflection, that there are thinking ones: experience assures us of the existence of such beings, and that the one hath a power to move body by impulse, the other by thought; this we cannot doubt of. Experience, I say, every moment furnishes us with the clear ideas both of the one and the other. But beyond these ideas, as received from their proper sources, our faculties will not reach. If we would inquire further into their nature, causes, and manner, we perceive not the nature of extension clearer than we do of thinking. If we would explain them any further, one is as easy as the other; and there is no more difficulty to conceive how a substance we know not should by thought, set body into motion, than how a substance we know not should, by impulse, set body into motion. So that we are no more able to discover wherein the ideas belonging to body consist, than those belonging to spirit. From whence it seems probable to me that the simple ideas we receive from sensation and reflection are the boundaries of our thoughts; beyond which the mind, whatever efforts it would make, is not able to advance one jot; nor can it make any discoveries, when it would pry into the nature and hidden causes of those ideas. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXIII, OF OUR COMPLEX IDEAS OF SUBSTANCES, pp 414-415.
The unreachable boundaries that Locke seems to be suggesting here are those of the objective reality external to our consciousness. Materialist sensualism and materialist rationality are now both being rejected by Locke. Searching for an unknown substance is useless. Locke’s empiricism prefigures a great deal of the agnosticism of Kant (1989) and Hume (1990, 1992). We can see that empiricism is actually a form of subjective idealism (the boundaries of our thoughts) disguised as a type of materialism (sensation convinces us that there are solid extended substances). Perception (of an objective reality) is reduced to the internal mental substratum of perception. In his increasingly explicit denial of any objective substratum, Locke leans progressively towards the abandonment of ontology. His having confused ontology and gnoseology leads him to describe things of the mind as if they were the things of the world. For instance, Locke considers that his philosophical investigation is not about gold or saffron but about the sensorial idea which they trigger in our mind.
(7) « For to speak truly, yellowness is not actually in gold, but is a power in gold to produce that idea in us by our eyes, when placed in a due light; and the heat, which we cannot leave out of our idea of the sun, is no more really in the sun, than the white colour it introduces into wax. These are both equally powers in the sun, operating, by the motion and figure of its sensible parts, so on a man, as to make him have the idea of heat; and so on wax, as to make it capable to produce in a man the idea of white. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXIII, OF OUR COMPLEX IDEAS OF SUBSTANCES, pp 400-401.
Yellowness is not in gold, but in the eye of the observer… Heat is not in the sun. It is a power to generate sensations and ideas in man, and so on… Berkeley’s immaterialism is just around the corner. Where, must we ask ourselves, is the surveyor’s capacity to measure our infinite space with his chain? Where is the thermometer, that crafted device which reacts to the heat of the sun without sensation or the slightest intervention on the part of a subject? As practical as they may be, these common tools are now out of the empirical system of philosophy. On the notions of being and knowledge, Locke’s philosophical outlook has evolved from one of a common sense materialism to a type of philosophical empiricism. As we shall see, his philosophical analysis of language will also have a popular conception of speech and thought as its starting point.
An ontocentrist vision of language
Locke considers that the verbal formulation alters the content of speech in a manner similar to the way the seasoning alters the taste of what is being cooked. What one says is external to how one says it, as the dish is external to its dressing. Locke’s vision of language is spontaneously ontocentrist (Laurendeau 2000d: 55-59) However, this ontocentrist vision of language is formulated within the empiricist framework… such that, despite their multiple subjective limitations, our ideas remain separated from our words. Such a view represents a consistently empiricist position when one admits that ideas are subjective whereas language is inter-subjective… According to Locke we act, we abstract, we name, and general names are the result of a thorough mental practice on the originally perceived data. Words are general, not things… (Minas 1980: 183). Also, Locke’s ontocentrism leans towards a common-sensical understanding of practical realities, and consequently it seems clear that several facets of Locke’s spontaneous views on language are in harmony with the materialist side of his thought. Locke considers, for example, that since the general ideas are not innate, the general names come from the mental processing of practical action (Laurendeau 1990i).
(8) « Hath a child an idea of impossibility and identity, before it has of white or black, sweet or bitter? And is it from the knowledge of this principle that it concludes, that wormwood rubbed on the nipple hath not the same taste that it used to receive from thence? Is it the actual knowledge of impossibile est idem esse, et non esse, that makes a child distinguish between its mother and a stranger; or that makes it fond of the one and flee the other? Or does the mind regulate itself and its assent by ideas that it never yet had? Or the understanding draw conclusions from principles which it never knew or understood? The names impossibility and identity stand for two ideas, so far from being innate, or born with us, that I think it requires great care and attention to form them right in our understandings. They are so far from being brought into the world with us, so remote from the thoughts of infancy and childhood, that I believe, upon examination it will be found that many grown men want them. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book I, NEITHER PRINCIPLES NOR IDEAS ARE INNATE, chapter III, OTHER CONSIDERATIONS CONCERNING INNATE PRINCIPLES, BOTH SPECULATIVE AND PRACTICAL, p 93.
The argument here is not about language, but about the non-existence of innate ideas. The naming is used as a part of the gnoseological investigation, symptomatic of conceptualization. Clearly, to Locke, a being or a notion can exist without being named. One can produce accurate perceptions (a child distinguish[ing] between its mother and a stranger) or convincing action without verbal reasoning. A great many things happen outside of language. Conversely, one can also formulate flatus vocis (Laurendeau 2000d: 41), namely wording without substance.
(9) « I shall imagine I have done some service to truth, peace, and learning, if, by any enlargement on this subject, I can make men reflect on their own use of language; and give them reason to suspect, [sic] that, since it is frequent for others, it may also be possible for them, to have sometimes very good and approved words in their mouths and writings, with very uncertain, little, or no signification. And therefore it is not unreasonable for them to be wary herein themselves, and not to be unwilling to have them examined by others. With this design, therefore, I shall go on with what I have further to say concerning this matter. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.2, book III, OF WORDS, chapter V, OF THE NAMES OF MIXED MODES AND RELATIONS, pp 54-55.
All in all, Locke’s comments on language inside and outside of Book III are fundamentally non-glottocentrist. Language remains a secondary philosophical concern. The over-emphasis on language as a philosophical category will happen despite Locke’s explicit opinion on language, and because his views of ontology and gnoseology -not his views of speech, rhetoric, or naming- will provide the philosophical and logical foundations for glottophilosophies. Locke is not influential as a language philosopher but on language philosophers. We shall now examine how it is that this has come to be the case.
Towards glottocentrism: on Substance
« When positivists speak about « metaphysics » they often seem to have rather vaguely in mind the kind of thing Aristotle referred to as « first philosophy ». This they characterise as « metaphysics » any attempt to arrive at a very wide generalisation about the world, or to describe « the essential nature of the real » or « the substance of things. » This, they say, cannot be done and should not be attempted; and so the word « metaphysics » acquires with them its derogatory significance.
Such a characterisation of « metaphysics » clearly derives from John Locke, whose ideas have had great influence in modern positivism. For he may be said to have been expressing « anti-metaphysical » conceptions, in this sense, when he wrote that we can form no idea of « the secret abstract nature of substance in general » – for he was saying that it is impossible to work out any accurate idea of the nature of substance as such [Locke, Essay on Human understanding, Book II].
Such an attempt, however, to define « metaphysics » in terms of its subject-matter, is hardly satisfactory. For in a sense, all science, as well as philosophy, is concerned with the substance of things and with the nature of the world. If then to speak of the substance of things and with the nature of the world is « metaphysical » then science itself has a metaphysical tendency. »
Cornforth, M.C. (1962), Science Versus Idealism – In Defense of Philosophy against Positivism and Pragmatism, New York, International Publishers, pp .281-282.
The move towards glottocentrism begins with a methodically empiricist and antimaterialist attack on the notion of substance, which is a very tricky phenomenon in modern philosophy. In appearance, notions such as substance, or essence look more like empty idealist abstractions. To criticize and undermine their significance by placing greater emphasis on the concrete and specific seems to be a consistent way to proceed within materialist parameters. However, the attack on substance ends up being an attack on the portion of reality which is not reached by common knowledge. Presented in this way, the attack on substance becomes a way of promoting everything that is perceived by the grasping mind to the exclusion of what exists outside of our consciousness. Thus the main materialist ontological position is rejected. We are back to the old idea that materialism is metaphysical because it allows for a place in its speculative system for an undiscovered substance. Such a substance is, to Locke, an uncertain supposition of we-know-not-what… and also… a word.
(10) « I confess there is another idea which would be of general use for mankind to have, as it is of general talk as if they had it; and that is the idea of substance; which we neither have nor can have by sensation or reflection. If nature took care to provide us any ideas, we might well expect they should be such as by our own faculties we cannot procure to ourselves; but we see, on the contrary, that since, by those ways whereby other ideas are brought into our minds, this is not, we have no such clear idea at all; and therefore signify nothing by the word substance but only an uncertain supposition of we know not what, i.e. of something whereof we have no particular distinct positive idea, which we take to be the substratum, or support, of those ideas we do know. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book I, NEITHER PRINCIPLES NOR IDEAS ARE INNATE, chapter III, OTHER CONSIDERATIONS CONCERNING INNATE PRINCIPLES, BOTH SPECULATIVE AND PRACTICAL, pp 107-108.
The Cartesian tradition stated that an idea had to be clear in order to be ontologically accurate. Now, one of the main features of the concept of substance -its lacking precision because of the unavoidable gnoseological flux in any attempt to grasp existence- is used by Locke as an argument to discredit all type of objective speculative reasoning. According to Locke, the notion of substance, as it is commonly used, never really distinguishes itself from the specifics. The idea of substance is a sort of flawed conceptual instrument aiming at producing a compensation for our incapacity to properly isolate beings in our process of knowledge.
(11) Hence, when we talk or think of any particular sort of corporeal substances, as horse, stone, &c, though the idea we have of either of them be but the complication or collection of those several simple ideas of sensible qualities, which we used to find united in the thing called horse or stone; yet, because we cannot conceive how they should subsist alone, nor one in another, we suppose them existing in and supported by some common subject; which support we denote by the name substance, though it be certain we have no clear or distinct idea of that thing we suppose a support. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXIII, OF OUR COMPLEX IDEAS OF SUBSTANCES, pp 392-395.
In other words, Locke’s argument is that if we have a herd of animals (say horses and cows), and if we decide to divide the horses from the cows, we shall have to do so by relying on strictly sensible qualities, such as: those with horns from those without horns. Such an empirically driven division teaches us nothing about the essence of either animal i.e. on what any particular horse or cow is supposed to have in common with any other horse or cow as a substance. Our blindness to the fundamental specificity of each horse is supposed to be at the origin of the notion of substance that brings us to the decision of classifying all horses together. Needless to say, such reasoning denies the material characteristics of the substance itself. If I place horses and cows in the same set under the label herbivores or mammals, it is clear that inner material features, fundamental and common to both types of animal, are the causes of these classifications and of these generic terms. Locke does not entertain this kind of materialist reasoning. To him, substance is an idea, and a very unclear one. Paving the way for Berkeley (1979), Locke promotes the classical empiricist argument against the reality of substance: substance does not supercede or outlast the cluster of all the sensible qualities of a being (Ferguson 1999: 135-136).
(12) » By the complex idea of extended, figured, coloured, and all other sensible qualities, which is all that we know of it, we are as far from the idea of the substance of body, as if we knew nothing at all: nor after all the acquaintance and familiarity which we imagine we have with matter, and the many qualities men assure themselves they perceive and know in bodies, will it perhaps upon examination be found, that they have any more or clearer primary ideas belonging to body, than they have belonging to immaterial spirit. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXIII, OF OUR COMPLEX IDEAS OF SUBSTANCES, p 407.
We see the dynamics of Locke’s reasoning here. After all, the fact of eating grass or having teats is nothing other than two more sensible observable features. We are still in the specific, the perceivable, the empirical. Consequently when we use a generic term, such as matter, we might be deluding ourselves by once again having recourse to our old speculative habits. What are we referring to here? Is it the fundamental material feature of all objects or a mere classificatory idea? By saying matter, says Locke, we do not know exactly what we are naming. Therefore, the whole attempt to classify by names is permanently jeopardized by the uncertainty of the notion of substance. Such an opinion leads directly towards a clear reiteration of the nominalist option: substance is nothing other than a name.
(13) « That our ranking and distinguishing natural substances into species consists in the nominal essences the mind makes, and not in the real essences to be found in the things themselves, is further evident from our ideas of spirits. For the mind getting, only be reflecting on its own operations, those simple ideas which it attributes to spirits, it hath or can have no other notion of spirit but by attributing all those operations it finds in itself to a sort of beings; without consideration of matter. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.2, book III, OF WORDS, chapter VI, OF THE NAME OF SUBSTANCES, p 66.
These nominal essences the mind makes represent the subjectivization of general notions achieved by empiricism. A nominal essence is not a real essence. The only existing thing is a specific thing, and all generalization is an action of the mind triggered by our mental speculations over these irreducible specificities. There is no fundamental logic, just a plurality of specific logics. And in the view of the empiricist’s plurality of logics, there is no such thing as a stable substance, and a specific name is not necessarily an accurate conceptual classification.
(14) » But to return to the species of corporeal substances. If I should ask any one whether ice and water were two distinct species of things, I doubt not but I should be answered in the affirmative: and it cannot be denied but he that says they are two distinct species is in the right. But if an Englishman bred in Jamaica, who perhaps had never seen or heard of ice, coming into England in the winter, find the water he put in his basin at night in a great part frozen in the morning, and, not knowing any peculiar name it had, should call it hardened water; I ask whether this would be a new species to him, different from water? And I think it would be answered here. It would not be to him a new species, no more than congealed jelly, when it is cold, is a distinct species from the same jelly fluid and warm; or than liquid gold in the furnace is a distinct species from hard gold in the hands of a workman. And if this be so, it is plain that our distinct species are nothing but distinct complex ideas, with distinct names annexed to them. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.2, book III, OF WORDS, chapter VI, OF THE NAME OF SUBSTANCES, p 69.
The name ice is a flawed specification of the idea of hardened water, which is still water, like congealed jelly is still jelly. It is already very interesting to notice that it is the lexical opposition ice/water which grounds Locke’s argumentation here. That verbal distinction is instrumentalized in such a way as to undermine the specific substance, rather than the belief -entertained by some Jamaican Robinson Crusoe- that ice and water could or could not be the same thing. Even in the book Of Words, Locke is not enquiring after specific names but after general notions. In conformity with the empiricist program, Locke takes a firm anti-ontological stand and dumps the notion of substance. Having done so, he notices the manifestation of a verbal-nominalist erzat: the all too human invention of so-called nominal essences for which he could care less. His task is to destroy philosophy, at least in its old fashioned metaphysical-speculative manifestation. Considerations about speech or general wording are neither central nor autonomous from the core of the anti-substantialist argumentation he puts forward.
After having properly discarded philosophical ontology for himself and posterity, Locke… continues to investigate being, and does so with such systematicity that he ends up unexpectedly and outwardly influenced by the logical consequences of his anti-ontological options.
Towards glottocentrism: from Ontology to Semantics
« This is the philosophy of Locke, in which there is no trace of speculation. The great end of Philosophy, which is to know the truth, is in it sought to be attained in an empiric way; it thus indeed serves to draw attention to general determinations. But such a philosophy not only represents the standpoint of ordinary consciousness, to which all the determinations of its thought appear as if given, humble as it is in the oblivion of its activity, but in this method of derivation and psychological origination that which alone concerns Philosophy, the question of whether these thoughts and relationships have truth in and for themselves, is not present at all, inasmuch as the only object aimed at is to describe the manner in which thought accepts what is given to it. »
Hegel, G.W.F. (1963), « Locke », Lectures on the History of Philosophy, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York, The Humanities Press, vol.3 – Medieval and Modern Philosophy, p .310.
Having abandoned the speculative activity leading to general notions, like essence, or substance -Hegel would say: having abandoned Philosophy- Locke is left with his only remaining portion of speculative thought: the semantics of language (Hanna 1991). The crucial point we must retain is that Locke does not exactly notice the shift from ontology to linguistic semantics initiated by his stand. Condillac, on the other hand, will not be so blind. He will peacefully become a glottocentrist logician and grammarian (Laurendeau 2000b). After having scuppered philosophy, Locke still tries to articulate his views within the parameters of philosophical ontology and gnoseology. As we shall see in greater detail, he is already, unbeknowst to himself, a glottocentrist. In major portions of his philosophical reasoning, which are all part of developments external to the book On Words, Locke is still not talking openly about language. And already the new type of speculation taking place is completely tainted with verbalism. In his detailed analysis of collective ideas, still believing that he is working on… ideas, Locke actually describes… their lexical marking in English.
(15) « Besides these complex ideas of several single substances, as of man, horse, gold, violet, apple &c., the mind hath also complex collective ideas of substances; which I so call, because such ideas are made up of many particular substances considered together, as united into one idea, and which so joined are looked on as one; v.g. the idea of such a collection of men as make an army, though consisting of a great number of distinct substances, is as much one idea as the idea of a man: and the great collective idea of all bodies whatsoever, signified by the name world, is as much one idea as the idea of any the least particle of matter in it; it sufficing to the unity of any idea, that it be considered as one representation or picture, though made up of ever so many particulars.
These collective ideas of substances the mind makes, by its power of composition, and uniting severally either simple or complex ideas into one, as it does, by the same faculty, make the complex ideas of particular substances, consisting of an aggregate of divers simple ideas, united in one substance. And as the mind, by putting together the repeated ideas of unity, makes the collective modes, or complex idea of any number, as a score, or a gross, &c, -so, by putting together several particular substances, it makes collective ideas of substances, as a troop, an army, a swarm, a city, a fleet; each of which every one finds that he represents to his own mind by one idea, in one view; and so under that notion considers those several things as perfectly one, as one ship, or one atom. Nor is it harder to conceive how an army of ten thousand men should make one idea, then how a man should make one idea; it being as easy to the mind to unit into one the idea of a great number of men, and consider it as one, as it is to unite into one particular all the distinct ideas that make up the composition of a man, and consider them all together as one.
Amongst such kind of collective ideas are to be counted most part of artificial things, at least such of them as are made up of distinct substances: and, in truth, if we consider all these collective ideas aright [sic], as army, constellation, universe, as they are united into so many single ideas, they are but the artificial draughts of the mind; bringing things very remote, and independent of one another, into one view, the better to contemplate and discourse of them, united into one conception, and signified by one name. For there are no things so remote, nor so contrary, which the mind cannot, by this art of composition, bring into one idea; as is visible in that signified by the name universe. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXIV, OF COLLECTIVE IDEAS OF SUBSTANCES, pp 424-425.
The above quotation does not teach us a iota about collective ideas. Rather it is a development about the semantics of collective words such as army, constellation, world, universe. As such, Locke’s treatment of the question would merit a place of honour in any lexicological treatise about generic pluralities. In the same book, believing that he is studying the notion of relation, Locke describes a few English antonyms: father/son, husband/wife, concubine.
(16) « Thus when the mind considers Caius as such a positive being, it takes nothing into that idea but what really exists in Caius; v.g. when I consider him as a man, I have nothing in my mind but the complex idea of the species, man. So likewise, when I say Caius is a white man, I have nothing but the bare consideration of a man who hath that white colour. But when I give Caius the name husband, I intimate some other person; and when I give him the name whiter, I intimate some other thing: in both cases my thought is led to something beyond Caius, and there are two things brought into consideration. And since any idea, whether simple or complex, may be the occasion why the mind thus brings two things together, and as it were takes a view of them at once, though still considered as distinct: therefore any of our ideas may be the foundation of relation. As in the above-mentioned instance, the contract and ceremony of marriage with Sempronia is the occasion of the denomination and relation of husband; and the colour white the occasion why he is said to be whiter than free-stone.
These and the like relations, expressed by relative terms that have others answering them, with a reciprocal intimation, as father and son, bigger and less, cause and effect, are very obvious to every one and everybody at first sight perceives the relation. For father and son, husband and wife, and such other correlative terms, seem so nearly to belong one to another, and through custom, do so nearly chime and answer one another in people’s memories, that, upon the naming of either of them, the thoughts are presently carried beyond the thing so named; and nobody overlooks or doubts of a relation, where it is so plainly intimated. But where languages have failed to give correlative names, there the relation is not always so easily taken notice of. Concubine is, no doubt, a relative name, as well as wife: but in languages where this and the like words have not a correlative term, there people are not so apt to take them to be so, as wanting that evident mark of relation which is between correlatives which seem to explain one another, and not to be able to exist, but together. Hence, it is that many of those names which, duly considered, do include evident relations, have been called external denominations. But all names that are more than empty sounds must signify some idea, which is either in the thing to which the name is applied, and then it is positive, and is looked on as united and existing in the thing to which the denomination is given; or else it arises from the respect the mind finds in it to something distinct from it, with which it considers it, and then it includes a relation.
Another sort of relative terms there is, which are not looked on to be either relative, or so much as external denominations: which yet, under the form and appearance of signifying something absolute in the subject, do conceal a tacit, though less observable, relation. Such are the seemingly positive terms such as old, great, imperfect, &c… »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXV, OF IDEAS OF RELATION, pp 427-428.
If Locke had wanted to address the relativity of things or perceptions, he could have used the excellent example he himself gives of white as a racial denomination. A very questionable denomination that changes drastically depending on the ethnic group entertaining beliefs and prejudices about it. Yet Locke lost his perspective on relative ideas, choosing to inquire into relative terms, without noticing that the ontological and gnoseological -the mere philosophical– perspectives are vanishing. And as mentioned previously, this development turns into the technical equivalent of an unconscious treatise of lexicology.
(17) « Concerning relation in general, these things may be considered:
First, That there is no one thing, whether simple idea, substance, mode, or relation, or name of either of them, which is not capable of almost an infinite number of considerations in reference to other things: and therefore this makes no small part of men’s thoughts and words: v.g. one single man may at once be concerned in, and sustain all these following relations and many more viz. Father, brother, son, grandfather, grandson, father-in-law, son-in-law, husband, friend, enemy, subject, general, judge, patron, client, professor, European, Englishman, islander, servant, master, possessor, captain, superior, inferior, bigger, less, older, younger, contemporary, like, unlike, &c., to an almost infinite number: he being capable of as many relations as there can be occasions of comparing him to other things, in any manner of agreement, disagreement, or respect whatsoever. For, as I said, relation is a way of comparing or considering two things together, and giving one or both of them some appellation from that comparison; and sometimes giving even the relation itself a name. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXV, OF IDEAS OF RELATION, pp 429-430.
Words, words, nothing but words… We are no longer dealing with the triadic idea of beings on one side, thoughts on another, and names on yet another. Locke’s philosophical demonstration -whatever it might be- develops a dependence on language, namely, naming, verbalizing, antonyming… This much seems unavoidable. As a matter of fact, Locke is coherent in all of this, inexorably coherent. The reality of substance has been taken out of his system. It always has been. Consequently, taken for the study of some substance, the study of the generic word -the word person for instance- is nothing other than semantics.
(18) « Any substance vitally united to the present thinking being is a part of that very same self which now is; anything united to it by a consciousness of former actions, makes also a part of the same self, which is the same both then and now.
Person, as I take it, is the name for this self. Wherever a man finds what he calls himself, there, I think, another may say is the same person. It is a forensic term, appropriating actions and their merit; and so belongs only to intelligent agents, capable of a law, and happiness, and misery. This personality extends itself beyond present existence to what is past, only by consciousness, – whereby it becomes concerned and accountable; owns and imputes to itself past actions, just upon the same ground and for the same reason as it does the present. All which is founded in a concern for happiness, the unavoidable concomitant of consciousness; that which is conscious of pleasure and pain, desiring that that self that is conscious should be happy. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXVII, OF IDEAS OF IDENTITY AND DIVERSITY, pp 466-467.
Elsewhere in the Treatise… a correlative problem is given a strictly verbalist solution (Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXVIII, OF IDEAS OF OTHER RELATIONS, pp 472-473). In so many other moments in the philosophical development, the reasoning is grounded in the semantic of names (Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXIX, OF CLEAR AND OBSCURE, DISTINCT AND CONFUSED IDEAS, pp 489-490; Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXIX, OF CLEAR AND OBSCURE, DISTINCT AND CONFUSED IDEAS, p 491; Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXXI, OF ADEQUATE AND INADEQUATE IDEAS, pp 510-511). It is clear that when deprived of the scope of ontological investigation, the activity of generalization is condemned to investigating semantics. When a virulently anti-metaphysical empiricism deprives philosophical speculation of contact with objective reality and the gnoseological notion of substance, philosophical speculation’s only other alternative is that of glottophilosophy.
Towards glottocentrism: Glottognoseology
« Locke considers how the understanding is only conscisousness, and in being so is something in consciousness, and he only recognizes the implicit in as far as it is in the same. »
Hegel, G.W.F. (1963), « Locke », Lectures on the History of Philosophy, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York, The Humanities Press, vol.3 – Medieval and Modern Philosophy, p .300.
When language is mobilized as a descriptive manifestation of the organization of individual or collective knowledge, we have glottognoseology (Laurendeau 1997d, 2000d). Articulated or spontaneous, glottognoseology is always a symptom of the glottocentrist deviation. It handles language as if it was some mysterious thesaurus of old or recent knowledge. Glottognoseology harmonizes the trivialization of philosophical speculation, the promotion of common sense, and the over-emphasis that is placed on the subjectivist compendium that is inherent to the empiricist program. All of the symptoms of glottognoseology are present in Locke’s thought. First, the popular meaning of thinking in English grounds our knowledge of what thinking is as a fact.
(19) « Perception, as it is in the first faculty of the mind exercised about our ideas; so it is the first and simpliest idea we have from reflection, and as by some called thinking in general. Though thinking, in the propriety of the English tongue, signifies that sort of operation in the mind about its ideas, wherein the mind is active; where it, with some degree of voluntary attention, considers anything. For in bare naked perception, the mind is, for the most part, only passive; and what it perceives, it cannot avoid perceiving. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter IX, OF PERCEPTION, p 183.
What would remain of this line of thought if the English language would have been different? The English words understanding and wit correspond to the unique word esprit in French, a verbal phenomenon which allows Helvétius to amalgamate the two notions (Laurendeau 1997d). Could this have happened here as well? Let us look at another example: the semantics of the words faculty and will (in English) are the tools by which one understands what the will is as a faculty.
(20) « However, the name faculty, which men have given to this power called the will, and whereby they have been led into a way of talking of the will as acting, may, by an appropriation that disguises its true sense, serve a little to palliate the absurdity; yet the will, in truth, signifies nothing but a power or ability to prefer or choose: and when the will, under the name of a faculty, is considered as it is, barely as an ability to do something, the absurdity in saying it is free, or not free, will easily discover itself. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXI, OF THE IDEA OF POWER, p 321.
Could such an argument still be maintained if one of these lexemes was not the hyperonym of the other in English? Also symptomatic of Locke’s glottognoseology is how he considers that we have the ideas since we have the words, or that ideas cannot be « determinate » (clear and distinct) without correlating them directly to words (Hanna 1991: 781).
(21) « To slide, roll, tumble, walk, creep, run, dance, leap, skip, and abundance of others that might be named, are words which are no sooner heard but everyone who understands English has presently in his mind distinct ideas, which are all but the different modifications of motions. Modes of motion answer those of extension; swift and slow are two different ideas of motion, the measures whereof are made of the distances of time and space put together; so they are complex ideas, comprehending time and space with motion. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XVIII, OF OTHER SIMPLE MODES, pp 294-295.
This might very well be the case, however, is the lexical (English) list of types of motions the only thesaurus of knowledge we have about our ever-changing natural and social world? Is our knowledge of motion all in the wording and nowhere in the acting? In true glottognoseological fashion, the existence of different words is supposed to be what grounds different notions.
(22) « There are some that would persuade us, that body and extension are the same thing, who either change the signification of words, which I would not suspect them of, -they having so severely condemned the philosophy of others, because it hath been too much placed in the uncertain meaning or deceitful obscurity of doubtful or insignificant terms. If, therefore, they mean by body and extension, viz. by body something that is solid and extended, whose parts are separable and movable different ways; and by extension, only the space that lies between the extremities of those solid coherent parts, and which is possessed by them, -they confound very different ideas one with another; for I appeal to every man’s own thoughts, whether the idea of space be not as distinct from that of solidity, as it is from the idea of scarlet color? »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XIII, OF SIMPLE MODES:- AND FIRST, OF THE SIMPLE MODES OF THE IDEA OF SPACE, p 225.
… or of crimson color, or of purple color, if these differences are still linguistically accurate. And if they cease to be, would they also cease to operate conceptually, or for the senses? Insofar as glottognoseology is concerned, the answer is a resounding Yes! But what does Locke say? If glottognoseology is present in Locke’s philosophy, one could expect to find an explicit formulation of it in his writing. Interestingly, we do find just such a formulation.
(23) « For it is evident that, in the beginning of languages and societies of men, several of those complex ideas which were consequent to the constitutions established amongst them, must needs have been in the minds of men, before they existed anywhere else; and that many names that stood for such complex ideas were in use, and so those ideas framed, before the combinations they stood for ever existed.
Indeed, now that languages are made, and abound with words standing for such combinations, an usual way of getting these complex ideas is, by the explication of those terms that stand for them. For, consisting of a company of simple ideas combined, they may, by words standing for those simple ideas, be represented to the mind of one who understands those words, though that complex combination of simple ideas were never offered to his mind by the real existence of things. Thus a man may come to have the idea of sacrilege or murder, by enumerating to him the simple ideas which these words stand for; without ever seeing either of them committed. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XL, OF MIXED MODES, pp 382-383.
The empirical understanding has been blatantly superseded by the abstract and non-practical knowledge of lexical semantics. After such an explicit formulation of the clearest glottognoseological stand, the gnoseological dynamic is now in place and applies to all of the major notions criticized by Locke. In order to understand essence, you need to study the polysemy, the paradigmatics, and the etymology of the word essence.
(24) « But since the essences of things are thought by some (and not without reason) to be wholly unknown, it may not be amiss to consider the several significations of the word essence.
First, Essence may be taken for the very being of anything whereby it is what it is. And thus the real internal, but generally (in substances) unknown constitution of things, whereon their discoverable qualities depend, may be called their essence. This is the proper original signification of the word, as is evident from the formation of it; essentia, in its primary notation, signifying properly, being. And in this sense it is still used, when we speak of the essence of particular things, without giving them any name.
Secondly, The learning and disputes of the schools having been much busied about genus and species, the word essence has almost lost his primary signification: and instead of the real constitution of things, has been almost wholly applied to the artificial constitution of genus and species. It is true, there is ordinarily supposed a real constitution of the sorts of things ; and it is past doubt there must be some real constitution, on which any collection of simple ideas co-existing must depend. But it being evident that things are ranked under names into sorts of species, only as they agree to certain abstract ideas, to which we have annexed those names, the essence of each genus or sort, comes to be nothing but that abstract idea which the general, or sortal (if I may have leave so to call it from sort, as I do general from genus,) name stands for. And this we shall find to be that which the word essence imports in its most familliar use.
These two sorts of essences, I suppose may not unfitly be termed, the one the real, the other nominal essence.
Between the nominal essence and the name there is so near a connection, that the name of any sort of things cannot be attributed to any particular being but what has this essence, whereby it answers that abstract idea whereof that name is the sign. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.2, book III, OF WORDS, chapter III, OF GENERAL TERMS, pp 25-27.
A spontaneous lexical semantics (Hüllen 1999: 446) is seen as the most appropriate grasp of the compendium of our knowledge of a notion. This is encyclopedic thought in the most lexicographical sense of the world. And it will have an immense posterity in positivist and neopositivist philosophy.
» Since the universal as such, the idea of species, is, acording to Locke, merely a product of our mind, which is not itself objective, but relates merely to objects which are germane to it, and for which the particular of qualities, conditions, time, place, etc., are separated, Locke distinguishes essences into real essences and nominal essences; the former of these express the true essence of things, while species on the other hand are mere nominal essences which no doubt express something which is present in the objects, but which do not exhaust these objects. They serve to distinguish species for our knowledge, but the real essence of nature we do not know. »
Hegel, G.W.F. (1963), « Locke », Lectures on the History of Philosophy, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York, The Humanities Press, vol.3 – Medieval and Modern Philosophy, pp .308-309.
Having backfired in a certain sense, Locke’s philosophy confirms that one does not stop speculating merely because one has decided to destroy the fondations of ontology. Having abandoned the essence of being to the natural sciences, the activity of knowing to the cognitive sciences, the path on which Locke has engaged philosophical speculation will lead it from Berkeley to Hume, to Austin and the neopositivists, and finally towards the entrenchement of its semantic trend. Austin’s over-emphasis of vernacular statements will be matched by the neopositivists fetichization of scientific formulation (the so called Linguistic Philosophy – Cornforth 1965). And it will be glottocentrism in both cases.
What Locke said about language -in On Words or elsewhere- will not be summarized here (see Hanna 1991). The important point is that Locke’s general opinion on language shows serious resistances vis-à-vis the linguisticist trend his very philosophy is objectively putting into place. Despite himself, Locke expresses explicit objection to the core of glottognoseology.
(25) « By all which it is clear, that our distinguishing substances into species by names, is not at all founded on their real essences; nor can we pretend to range and determine them exactly into species, according to internal essential differences. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.2, book III, OF WORDS, chapter VI, OF THE NAME OF SUBSTANCES, p 71.
Despite himself, Locke is perfectly aware of the fact that language displays the knowledge of a world which was not the world of philosophers or logicians. He says it, loud and clear.
(26) « But supposing that the real essences of substances were discoverable by those that would severely apply themselves to that inquiry, yet we could not reasonably think that the ranking of things under general names was regulated by those internal real constitutions, or anything else but their obvious appearances; since languages, in all countries, have been established long before sciences. So that they have not been philosophers or logicians, or such who have troubled them. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.2, book III, OF WORDS, chapter VI, OF THE NAME OF SUBSTANCES, p 75.
Locke simply does not seem to make the connection between his critiques of the so called abuse of language (Laurendeau 1997d) and his having indulged in this very kind of abuse. His spontaneous acknowledgement that the wording is not the thinking, leads him to a type of meticulousness in formulation that would be adopted by any scholar trying to express himself with precision.
(27) « I say should be, because it is not every one, nor perhaps any one, who is so careful of his language as to use no word till he views in his mind the precise determined idea which he resolves to make it the sign of. The want of this is the cause of no small obscurity and confusion in men’s thoughts and discourses.
I know there are not words enough in any language to answer all the variety of ideas that enter into men’s discourse and reasoning. But this hinders not but that when any one uses any term, he may have in his mind a determined idea, which he makes it the sign of, and to which he should keep it steadily annexed during that present discourse. Where he does not, or cannot do this, he in vain pretends to clear and distinct ideas: it is plain his are not so; and therefore there can be expected nothing but obscurity and confusion, where such terms are made use of which have not such a precise determination. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, THE EPISTLE TO THE READER, pp 22-24.
He defines his terms as precisely as he can.
(28) « To avoid multiplying of words [sic], I would crave leave here, under the word action, to comprehend the forebearance too of any action proposed: sitting still, or holding one’s peace, when walking or speaking are proposed, though mere forbearances, requiring as much the determination of the will, and being as often weighty in their consequences, as the contrary actions, may, on that consideration, well enough pass for action too: but this, I say, that I may not be mistaken, if (for brevity’s sake) I speak thus. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXI, OF THE IDEA OF POWER, p 330.
Often giving little thought to verbal affirmations (Spinoza 1955: 36), he even accuses words rather than ideas of being the source of confusion and disputation.
(29) « The knowing precisely what our words stand for would, I imagine, in this as well as a great many other case, quickly end the dispute. For I am apt to think that men, when they come to examine them, find their simple ideas all generally to agree, though in discourse with one another they perhaps confound one another with different names. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XIII, OF SIMPLE MODES:- AND FIRST, OF THE SIMPLE MODES OF THE IDEA OF SPACE, pp 236-237.
He clearly exemplifies the fact that semantics can be the source of a falsely conceptual disagreement.
(30) » Indeed another coming after, and in conversation learning from him the word courage, may make an idea, to which he gives the name courage, different from what the first author applied it to, and has in his mind when he uses it. And in this case, if he designs that his idea in thinking should be comfortable to the other’s idea, as the name he uses in speaking is comfortable in sound to his from whom he learned it, his idea may be very wrong and inadequate…. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book II, OF IDEAS, chapter XXXI, OF ADEQUATE AND INADEQUATE IDEAS, p 505.
He is even conscious of the arbitrariness of the sign!
(31) « Thus we may conceive how words which were by nature so well adapted to that purpose [i.e. the communication of thoughts – P.L.], came to be made use of by men as the signs of their ideas; not by any natural connexion that there is between particular articulate sounds and certain ideas, for then there would be but one language amongst all men; but by a voluntary imposition, whereby such a word is made arbitrarily the mark of such an idea. The use, then, of words, is to be sensible marks of ideas; and the ideas they stand for are their proper and immediate signification. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.2, book III, OF WORDS, chapter II, OF THE SIGNIFICATION OF WORDS, pp 8-9.
But none of the elements of rationality which Locke formulates about the reality of language operate in his system. No part of his rational ontocentrist conception of language will prevent his system from unfolding the logical consequences of its onto-gnoseological options. Locke’s philosophy initiates a type of glottocentrism that will inevitably attain epistemological hegemony.
The empiricist, the ideological champion of sensation, becomes his opposite, the short-sighted speculative philosopher, trapped within the narrowing field of glottophilosophy. After all, linguistic semantics is merely another type of mental abstraction, and its omnipresence makes it merely unavoidable, because language is trivial, and empiricism lionizes the trivial… Very well… So be it… Language will be admitted as the crucial speculative tool of the empiricist philosopher. But verbalism and the glottognoseos will be the one and only form of speculation admitted. This is an interesting dialectical turn of events coming from a stream of philosophy which made a point of discarding medieval scholasticism for the psittacism it was! Now, thanks to the empiricist shift, to this day, the major manifestation of the current crisis of philosophy is its fetishist fixation on language. The fundamental conditions for that crisis were provided by John Locke. Locke claims that we learn what we are told (but what are we to make of those things that are shown to us in silence, willingly or unwillingly?).
(32) « There is, I fear, this further weakness in the foregoing argument, which would persuade us that therefore those maxims are to be thought innate, which men admit at first hearing; because that assent to propositions which they are not thought nor do receive from the force of any argument or demonstration, but a bare explication or understanding of the terms. Under which there seems to me to lie this fallacy, that men are supposed not to be taught nor to learn anything de novo; when, in truth, they are taught, and do learn something they were ignorant of before. For first, it is evident that they have learned the terms, and their signification; neither of which was born with them. But this is not all the acquired knowledge in the case; the ideas themselves, about which the proposition is, are not born with them, no more than their names, but got afterwards. So that in all propositions that are assented to at first hearing, the terms of the proposition, their standing for such ideas, and the ideas themselves that they stand for, being neither of them innate, I would fain know what there is remaining in such propositions that is innate. For I would gladly have any one name that proposition whose terms or ideas were either of them innate. We by degrees get ideas and name, and learn their appropriated connexion one with another… »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.1, book I, NEITHER PRINCIPLES NOR IDEAS ARE INNATE, chapter I, NO INNATE SPECULATIVE PRINCIPLES, pp 56-57.
Openly glottocentrist, he claims that we should teach through verbal indication.
(33) « I confess that, in the beginning of languages, it was necessary to have the idea before one gave it the name: and so it is still, where, making a new complex idea, one also, by giving it a new name, makes a new word. But this concerns not languages made, which have generally pretty well provided for ideas which men have frequent occasion to have and communicate; and in such, I ask whether it be not the ordinary method, thay children learn the names of mixed modes before they have their ideas? What one of a thousand ever frames the ideas of glory and ambition, before he has heard the name of them? In simple ideas and substances I grant it is otherwise; which, being such ideas as have a real existence and union in nature, the ideas and names are got one before the other, as it happens. »
Locke, J. (1959), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, New York, Dover Publications, vol.2, book III, OF WORDS, chapter V, OF THE NAMES OF MIXED MODES AND REL,ATIONS, p 53.
The resistances of spontaneous materialism, still very strong in Locke, were the only negative dialectics to ever work his system from within. But the idea that language is in truth was swiftly replaced by the idea that truth is in language. When semantics becomes the ultimate speculative substitute, glottophilosophy is born. Usually highly monolingual and ethnocentrist, glottophilosophy is put in jeopardy by the awareness of linguistic and social diversity. Since Locke remains fundamentally an English humanist (in the pejorative sense of the term) and all in all a gnoseological subjectivist, another factor places his successful program in major jeopardy: the permanent and shifting crisis of the objective world, roaring outside of our consciousness like one huge non-verbal tangle of dynamic and polymorphic complexity.
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