The origin of language: A scientific approach to the study of man

Topoi 4 (2):181-186 (1985)
Abstract
The Enlightenment regarded language as one of the most significant achievements of man. Consequently inquiries into the origin and development of language play a central role in eighteenth-century moral philosophy. This new science of man consciously adopts the method of analysis and synthesis used in the natural sciences of the time. In moral philosophy, analysis corresponds to the search for the basic principles of human nature. Synthesis is identified with the attempt to interpret all artificial achievements of man (arts, sciences and institutions) as the effect of these principles and of man's physical and social environment - an attempt known as theoretical history. The type of explanation envisaged by theoretical historians is based on the principle of causality. It consists in a genetic reconstruction of the social phenomenon under investigation. Inquiries into the origin of language follow this pattern of explanation. They form part of theoretical history and thus represent a major aspect of the eighteenth-century scientific study of man.
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