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Signs, Mind and Society: Early Modern Theories of Language

Dr Avi Lifschitz

15 credits

Thursdays 4-6, term 1 only

This course explores early modern ways of thinking about language and its cognitive and social roles. After a brief survey of earlier discussions of the origins of language and linguistic conventionality, we shall analyse contrasting views of language in the seventeenth century (a passive expression of thought or a necessary tool for mental operations?). Special attention will be given to the problematic revival of the Epicurean history of language and civilisation in eighteenth-century essays on the emergence of human society, political institutions, and the arts. These works will be read with reference to contemporary accounts of deaf-mutes, early language acquisition, and the mental operations of feral children and indigenous overseas communities. The authors whose works will be discussed in this course include Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Condillac, Diderot, Rousseau, Hamann, and Herder.

Assessment: 1 essay totalling 4000 words

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