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Language, ancient philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-U058-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

The earliest interest in language during the ancient Greek period was largely instrumental: presumed facts about language and its features were pressed into service for the purpose of philosophical argumentation. Perhaps inevitably, this activity gave way to the analysis of language for its own sake. Claims, for example, about the relation between the semantic values of general terms and the existence of universals invited independent inquiry into the nature of the meanings of those general terms themselves. Language thus became an object of philosophical inquiry in its own right. Accordingly, philosophers at least from the time of Plato conducted inquiries proper to philosophy of language. They investigated:

  1. how words acquire their semantic values;

  2. how proper names and other singular terms refer;

  3. how words combine to form larger semantic units;

  4. the compositional principles necessary for language understanding;

  5. how sentences, statements, or propositions come to be truth-evaluable;

and, among later figures of the classical period,

  • (6) how propositions, as abstract, mind- and language-independent entities, are to be (a) characterized in terms of their constituents, (b) related to minds and the natural languages used to express them, and (c) related to the language-independent world.

Citing this article:
Shields, Christopher. Language, ancient philosophy of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-U058-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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