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Summary From the very beginning of his career Berkeley was deeply concerned with the nature of signification and the role of signs in human thought, knowledge, and language. These concerns seem to be motivated primarily by concerns about religious mysteries, although they have much broader application. A 'mystery,' in the relevant sense, is a sentence to which religious believers assent 'by faith' which involves terms that do not stand for ideas possessed by those believers. In trying to explain how one can be said to believe what is asserted by a sentence without having an idea corresponding to each of the terms in that sentence, Berkeley developed a radical theory of language which has sometimes been seen as a predecessor to the views of the later Wittgenstein.
Key works The main primary sources for Berkeley's theory of language are the manuscript and published versions of the Introduction to the Principles and the seventh dialogue of Alciphron. Berman 1981 makes the case for the origin of Berkeley's theory in a particular historical dispute about religious mysteries. The early development of Berkeley's theory is traced by Belfrage 1985, Belfrage 1986, and Belfrage 1986. Berman attributes to Berkeley a form of emotivism or non-cognitivism about religious mysteries and moral language. The claim that Berkeley was a non-cognitivist is disputed with respect to Berkeley's early manuscript materials by Jakapi 2003 and Williford 2003, and with respect to Alciphron by Jakapi 2002. An alternative interpretation of Berkeley's mature positive theory is provided by Williford & Jakapi 2009. The case for similarity between Berkeley and the later Wittgenstein is made by Flew 1974.
Introductions A comprehensive overview of Berkeley's thought regarding signs and signification is provided by Winkler 2005.
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  1. Robert L. Armstrong (1969). Berkeley's Theory of Signification. Journal of the History of Philosophy 7 (2):163-176.
    Berkeley's theory of signification is explicated and analyzed. Signification: (1) replaces abstract general ideas in the recognition of similar ideas, (2) replaces causation as the relation between ideas of sense and their external sources, (3) replaces substance in the account of sensible objects. Its supposedly simple character cannot be maintained. There are at least three different kinds of signification: signification within categories, Signification across categories, And ontological signification. Berkeley's immaterialistic metaphysics, Relying heavily upon the theory of signification, Is fantastic but (...)
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  2. M. R. Ayers (1986). Berkeley and the Meaning of Existence. History of European Ideas 7 (6):567-573.
  3. Jeffrey Barnouw (2008). The Two Motives Behind Berkeley's Expressly Unmotivated Signs : Sure Perception and Personal Providence. In Stephen H. Daniel (ed.), New Interpretations of Berkeley's Thought. Humanity Books.
  4. M. W. Beal (1976). Berkeley's Deletions. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 6 (3):455 - 478.
  5. Bertil Belfrage (2007). The Theological Positivism of George Berkeley (1707-1708). Acta Philosophica Fennica 83:37-52.
    Did George Berkeley, as I argued long ago in Belfrage (1986), defend a theory of "emotive meaning" in his Manuscript Introduction (an early version of the introduction to the Principles)? This question has raised a broad spectrum of different issues, which I think it is important to keep apart, such as rhetorical, psychological, semantic, ethical, metaphysical, and theological aspects. In the present paper, I hope to clear the ground of ambiguities, which have led to serious misunderstandings on this interesting point (...)
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  6. Bertil Belfrage (1986). Berkeley's Theory of Emotive Meaning (1708). Hisory of European Ideas 7 (6):643-649.
  7. Bertil Belfrage (1986). Development of Berkeley's Early Theory of Meaning. Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 176 (3):319-330.
  8. Bertil Belfrage (1985). The Clash on Semantics in Berkeley's Notebook A. Hermathena 139:117-126.
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  9. David Berman (1981). Cognitive Theology and Emotive Mysteries in Berkeley's Alciphron. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 81:219-229.
  10. Richard Brook (2003). Berkeley's Theory of Vision: Transparency and Signification. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11 (4):691 – 699.
    By "transparency" with respect to Berkeley's theory of signs, I mean the notion that because of the often close association between signs and what they signify, we mistakenly think we sense what is signified by the sense that accesses the sign. I argue that although this makes sense for some examples, for a variety of reasons it's not really applicable to Berkeley's claim that we mistakenly think we immediately see distance ('outness') when we, in fact, immediately see only light and (...)
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  11. Richard Brook (1995). Berkeley, Causality, and Signification. International Studies in Philosophy 27 (2):15-31.
  12. James W. Cornman (1970). Theoretical Terms, Berkeleian Notions, and Minds. In Colin Murray Turbayne (ed.), A Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge / George Berkeley, with Critical Essays. Bobbs-Merrill.
  13. James P. Danaher (2002). Is Berkeley's World a Divine Language? Modern Theology 18 (3):361-373.
    George Berkeley (1685–1753) believed that the visible world was a series of signs that constituted a divine language through which God was speaking to us. Given the nature of language and the nature of the visual world, this paper examines to what extent the visual world could be a divine language and to what extent God could speak to us through it.
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  14. Stephen H. Daniel (2011). Berkeley's Rejection of Divine Analogy. Science Et Esprit 63 (2):149-161.
    Berkeley argues that claims about divine predication (e.g., God is wise or exists) should be understood literally rather than analogically, because like all spirits (i.e., causes), God is intelligible only in terms of the extent of his effects. By focusing on the harmony and order of nature, Berkeley thus unites his view of God with his doctrines of mind, force, grace, and power, and avoids challenges to religious claims that are raised by appeals to analogy. The essay concludes by showing (...)
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  15. Stephen H. Daniel (2001). The Ramist Context of Berkeley's Philosophy. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 9 (3):487 – 505.
    Berkeley's doctrines about mind, the language of nature, substance, minima sensibilia, notions, abstract ideas, inference, and freedom appropriate principles developed by the 16th-century logician Peter Ramus and his 17th-century followers (e.g., Alexander Richardson, William Ames, John Milton). Even though Berkeley expresses himself in Cartesian or Lockean terms, he relies on a Ramist way of thinking that is not a form of mere rhetoric or pedagogy but a logic and ontology grounded in Stoicism. This article summarizes the central features of Ramism, (...)
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  16. Katherine Dunlop (2011). The Role of Visual Language in Berkeley's Account of Generality. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 83 (3):525-559.
  17. Daniel E. Flage (1987). Berkeley's Doctrine of Notions: A Reconstruction Based on His Theory of Meaning. St. Martin's Press.
  18. Anthony Flew (1974). Was Berkeley a Precursor of Wittgenstein? In W. B. Todd (ed.), Hume and the Enlightenment: Essays Presented to Ernest Campbell Mossner. Edinburgh University Press.
  19. Antony Flew (1989). Berkeley's Doctrine of Notions: A Reconstruction Based on His Theory of Meaning. [REVIEW] Journal of the History of Philosophy 27 (4):622-624.
  20. Denis Forest (1997). George Berkeley Langage Visuel, Communication Universelle. Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 187 (4):429 - 446.
    Le motif du langage visuel, qui traverse l'ensemble de l'oeuvre de Berkeley, n'est pas seulement le noyau de sa philosophie de la perception. Il est aussi le préréquisit d'une preuve originale de l'existence de Dieu, une évaluation spécifique de la nature de l'expérience commune et de la portée de l'explication scientifique, et il a des conséquences singulières quant à la doctrine de la création du monde. La première conclusion de l'article est qu'en dépit du rejet berkeleyen du mécanisme, on peut (...)
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  21. Melissa Frankel (2009). Berkeley, Meaning and Minds: Remarks on Glezakos' Comments. Philosophia 37 (3):409-413.
    This is a response to Stavroula Glezakos’ commentary on my paper, in which I address three main points: (1) whether Berkeley is entitled to argue via inference to the best explanation, (2) whether Berkeley’s likeness principle might be too strict, and (3) whether the texts support my reading.
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  22. Melissa Frankel (2009). Something-We-Know-Not-What, Something-We-Know-Not-Why: Berkeley, Meaning and Minds. Philosophia 37 (3):381-402.
    It is sometimes suggested that Berkeley adheres to an empirical criterion of meaning, on which a term is meaningful just in case it signifies an idea (i.e., an immediate object of perceptual experience). This criterion is thought to underlie his rejection of the term ‘matter’ as meaningless. As is well known, Berkeley thinks that it is impossible to perceive matter. If one cannot perceive matter, then, per Berkeley, one can have no idea of it; if one can have no idea (...)
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  23. E. J. Furlong (1964). Berkeley's Theory of Meaning. Mind 73 (291):437-438.
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  24. Stavroula Glezakos (2009). Comments on Melissa Frankel's “Something-We-Know-Not-What, Something-We-Know-Not Why: Berkeley, Meaning and Minds”. Philosophia 37 (3):403-407.
  25. Roomet Jakapi (2003). Entry 720 of Berkeleys Philosophical Commentaries and Noncognitive Propositions in Scripture. Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 85 (1):86-90.
  26. Roomet Jakapi (2002). Emotive Meaning and Christian Mysteries in Berkeley's Alciphron. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 10 (3):401 – 411.
    (2002). Emotive meaning and Christian mysteries in Berkeley’s Alciphron. British Journal for the History of Philosophy: Vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 401-411. doi: 10.1080/09608780210143218.
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  27. Roomet Jakapi (2002). Faith, Truth, Revelation and Meaning in Berkeley's Defense of the Christian Religion (in Alciphron). Modern Schoolman 80 (1):23-34.
  28. P. J. E. Kail (2007). Berkeley, the Ends of Language, and the Principles of Human Knowledge. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 107 (1pt3):265-278.
    This paper discusses some key connections between Berkeley's reflections on language in the introduction to his Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge and the doctrines espoused in the body of that work, in particular his views on vulgar causal discourse and his response to the objection that his metaphysics imputes massive error to ordinary thought. I argue also that there is some mileage in the view that Berkeley's thought might be an early form of non-cognitivism.
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  29. John K. Kearney (1975). Thought, Language, and Meaning in Berkeley's Philosophy. New Scholasticism 49 (3):280-294.
    This paper evaluates karl popper's claim in his "conjectures and refutations" that berkeley's "nominalism" is at the root of his "instrumentalist" philosophy of science. the argument of the paper is divided into two parts. in the first part, it is argued that, according to berkeley, "thought" is ontologically prior to "language". in this sense, berkeley's instrumentalism is rooted in a metaphysics of experience and not in a theory of language. in the second part, it is argued that the meaning of (...)
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  30. E. G. King (1970). Language, Berkeley, and God. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 1 (2):112 - 123.
  31. A. David Kline (1987). Berkeley's Divine Language Argument. In Ernest Sosa (ed.), Essays on the Philosophy of George Berkeley. D. Reidel.
  32. Thomas M. Lennon (1988). Berkeley and the Ineffable. Synthese 75 (2):231 - 250.
  33. Antonia LoLordo (2009). Comments on Kenneth P. Winkler's “Signification, Intention, Projection”. Philosophia 37 (3):503-505.
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  34. R. M. Martin (1952). On the Berkeley-Russell Theory of Proper Names. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 13 (2):221-231.
  35. Lawrence A. Mirarchi (1982). Dynamical Implications of Berkeley's Doctrine of Heterogeneity: A Note on the Language Model of Nature. In Colin M. Turbayne (ed.), Berkeley: Critical and Interpretive Essays.
  36. J. Murphy (1965). Berkeley and the Metaphor of Mental Sustance. Ratio 7:170-179.
  37. Paul J. Olscamp (1970). The Moral Philosophy of George Berkeley. The Hague,Martinus Nijhoff.
    ARCHIVES INTERNATIONALES D'HISTOIRE DES IDEES INTERNATIONAL ARCHIVES OF THE HISTORY OF IDEAS 33 PAUL J. OLSCAMP The Moral Philosophy of George Berkeley ..
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  38. Kenneth L. Pearce, Berkeley's Meta-Ontology: Bodies, Forces, and the Semantics of 'Exists'.
    To the great puzzlement of his readers, Berkeley begins by arguing that nothing exists other than minds and ideas, but concludes by claiming to have defended the existence of bodies. How can Berkeley's idealism amount to such a defense? I introduce resources from Berkeley's philosophy of language, and especially his analysis of the discourse of physics, to defend a novel answer to this question. According to Berkeley, the technical terms of physics are meaningful despite failing to designate any reality; their (...)
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  39. Kenneth L. Pearce (2014). Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World. Dissertation, University of Southern California
  40. Kenneth L. Pearce (2008). The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley. Religious Studies 44 (3):249-268.
    George Berkeley's linguistic account of sense perception is one of the most central tenets of his philosophy. It is intended as a solution to a wide range of critical issues in both metaphysics and theology. However, it is not clear from Berkeley's writings just how this ‘universal language of the Author of Nature’ is to be interpreted. This paper discusses the nature of the theory of sense perception as language, together with its metaphysical and theological motivations, then proceeds to develop (...)
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  41. Jean-Paul Pittion & David Berman (1969). A New Letter by Berkeley to Browne on Divine Analogy. Mind 78 (311):375-392.
  42. Timothy Pritchard (2012). Meaning, Signification, and Suggestion: Berkeley on General Words. History of Philosophy Quarterly 29 (3):301-317.
    Discussion of Berkeley’s theory of language has largely ignored what he says about the ‘meaning’ of a general word. Berkeley distinguishes the meaning of a general word both from the extension of the word and from what the word might suggest in the mind of the language user. D. Flage has argued that Berkeley has an ‘extensional’ theory of meaning, but this is based on passages where Berkeley does not speak of word meaning. When Berkeley explicitly discusses the meaning of (...)
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  43. David R. Raynor (1988). Berkeley's Doctrine of Notions: A Reconstruction Based on His Theory of Meaning. Philosophical Books 29 (3):131-131.
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  44. Roland J. Teske (1989). Berkeley's Doctrine of Notions: A Reconstruction Based on His Theory of Meaning. By Daniel E. Flage. Modern Schoolman 66 (3):234-236.
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  45. Colin Murray Turbayne (1970). Berkeley's Metaphysical Grammar. In , A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge / George Berkeley with Critical Essays. Bobbs-Merrill.
  46. E. W. Van Steenburgh (1963). Berkeley Revisited. Journal of Philosophy 60 (4):85-89.
  47. Kenneth Williford (2003). Berkeley's Theory of Operative Language in the Manuscript Introduction. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11 (2):271 – 301.
    (2003). Berkeley's theory of operative language in the Manuscript Introduction. British Journal for the History of Philosophy: Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 271-301. doi: 10.1080/09608780320001047877.
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  48. Kenneth Williford & Roomet Jakapi 1 (2009). Berkeley's Theory of Meaning in Alciphron VII. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 17 (1):99-118.
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  49. Kenneth Williford & Roomet Jakapi (2009). Berkeley's Theory of Meaning in Alciphron VII. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 17 (1):99 – 118.
  50. Kenneth P. Winkler (2009). Early Modern Intentionalism: Replies to LoLordo's Comments. Philosophia 37 (3):507-509.
    I clarify Locke’s intentionalism and explain what we might gain by paying more attention to the role of linguistic intentions in the work of the British empiricists.
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