Gods, animals, and artists: Some problem cases in Herder's philosophy of language

Inquiry 46 (1):65 – 96 (2003)
Abstract
Herder already very early in his career, in the 1760s, established two vitally important and epoch-making principles in the philosophy of language: that thought is essentially dependent on and bounded by language; and that meanings or concepts should be identified - not with such items as the referents involved, Platonic forms, or empiricist 'ideas' - but with word-usages. What did Herder do for an encore? His Treatise on the Origin of Language from 1772 might seem the natural place to look for an answer to this question (since it is his best known work in the philosophy of language by far), but it is really the wrong place to look, because it temporarily regresses to a more conventional and less philosophically interesting position. However, Herder did succeed in making impressive progress in a broader array of works, namely by striving to identify prima facie problem cases confronting his two principles and to reconcile them with the latter. The main ones which he identified were God, animals, and non-linguistic art. In each of these cases, having initially proposed a reconciliation which did not work, he went on to develop a much more plausible one, indeed one which (at least in the two cases that really require one: animals and non-linguistic art) seems broadly correct.
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