Meaning and Reference in Aristotle's Concept of the Linguistic Sign

Foundations of Science 13 (3-4):307-324 (2008)
Abstract
To Aristotle, spoken words are symbols, not of objects in the world, but of our mental experiences related to these objects. Presently there are two major strands of interpretation of Aristotle’s concept of the linguistic sign. First, there is the structuralist account offered by Coseriu (Geschichte der Sprachphilosophie. Von den Anfängen bis Rousseau, 2003 [1969], pp. 65–108) whose interpretation is reminiscent of the Saussurean sign concept. A second interpretation, offered by Lieb (in: Geckeler (Ed.) Logos Semantikos: Studia Linguistica in Honorem Eugenio Coseriu 1921–1981, 1981) and Weidemann (in: Schmitter (Ed.) Geschichte der Sprachtheorie 2. Sprachtheorien der abendländischen Antike, 1991), says that Aristotle’s concept of the linguistic sign is similar to the one presented in Ogden and Richard’s (The meaning of meaning: A study of the influence of language upon thought and of the science of symbolism, 1970 [1923]) semiotic triangle. This paper starts off with an introductory outline of the so-called phýsei-thései discussion which started during presocratic times and culminated in Plato’s Cratylus. Aristotle’s concept of the linguistic sign is to be regarded as a solution to the stalemate position reached in the Cratylus. Next, a discussion is offered of both Coseriu’s and Lieb’s analysis. We submit that Aristotle’s concept of the linguistic sign shows features of both Saussure’s and Ogden and Richards’s sign concept but that it does not exclusively predict one of the two. We argue that Aristotle’s concept of the linguistic sign is based on three different relations which together evince his teleological as well empiricist point of view: one internal (symbolic) relation and two external relations, i.e. a likeness relation and a relation katà synthéken
Keywords Aristotle  Plato  Presocratics  E. Coseriu  H.H. Lieb   phýsei vs. thései  Sign concept  Bilateralness  Triadic sign concept  Arbitrariness  Similarity  Meaning  Reference   katà synthéken   Páthema  Intentionality  Teleology  Semantics  Symbol  Theory of language  Philosophy of language  Historiography of the language sciences
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