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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, Similar problems are also raised by Berkeley's critique of abstraction: if there is no abstract, general idea triangle then there is no one idea which is the meaning of the word 'triangle'. These puzzles and concerns led Berkeley to rethink the ideational theory of meaning he had inherited from his predecessors. How far Berkeley goes in departing from that theory is a matter of considerable scholarly dispute.
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 the philosophy of language in Berkeley's Alciphron and that of the later Wittgenstein is made by Flew 1974Roberts 2007 has argued that Berkeley already held this view as early as the 1708 Manuscript Introduction. This interpretation has been further developed and defended by Pearce 2017.
Introductions Overviews of Berkeley's philosophy of language include Winkler 2005 and Roberts 2017.
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  1. Berkeley on Common Sense.S. Seth Bordner - forthcoming - In Samuel C. Rickless (ed.), The Oxford Handbook to Berkeley.
    Debate surrounds whether Berkeley’s philosophy is a defense of, or merely consistent with, common sense, as well as what Berkeley means by “common sense.” This paper defends a view that synthesizes elements of recent approaches: by “common sense” Berkeley means primarily the (de re) belief that the things immediately perceived are the real things, characteristically held by the vulgar and exemplified by vulgar ways of speech. In holding that it is a natural belief, this view is consistent with recent accounts (...)
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  2. Berkeley's Theory of Language.Kenneth L. Pearce - forthcoming - In Samuel C. Rickless (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Berkeley. New York: Oxford University Press.
    In the Introduction to the Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, Berkeley attacks the “received opinion that language has no other end but the communicating our ideas, and that every significant name stands for an idea” (PHK, Intro §19). How far does Berkeley go in rejecting this ‘received opinion’? Does he offer a general theory of language to replace it? If so, what is the nature of this theory? In this chapter, I consider three main interpretations of Berkeley's view: (...)
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  3. Die Sprache Gottes – George Berkeleys Auffassung des Naturgeschehens.Fasko Manuel - 2021 - Basel: Schwabe Verlag.
    Was ist George Berkeleys Auffassung des sinnlich wahrnehmbaren Naturgeschehens? Sie zu erklären und nachzuvollziehen ist Ziel des Bandes. Er zeigt, dass Berkeley das Naturgeschehen als einen göttlichen Diskurs sieht; das visuell Wahrgenommene ist dabei die Sprache. Berkeley beharrt darauf, diese These der göttlichen Sprache wörtlich auszulegen, da sie Grundlage eines seiner Ansicht nach einzigartigen Gottesbeweises ist. Um Berkeleys Argumentation zu verstehen, muss man sich auch mit den (historischen) Umständen beschäftigen, in welchen er diese These entwickelt und verteidigt. Deshalb wird sie (...)
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  4. Language and the Structure of Berkeley’s World. [REVIEW]Eugene Callahan - 2019 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 27 (1):218-221.
  5. Sobre la ontología inmaterialista: el concepto de idea en Berkeley / On Immaterialist Ontology: Berkeley's Concept of Idea.Alberto Luis López - 2019 - Areté. Revista de Filosofía 31 (2):427-449.
    Berkeley’s immaterialist philosophy has been frequently underestimated as a result of the misunderstanding of his ontological proposal, specifically because of the complexity of his concept of idea. The aim of this paper is then to clarify and explain that concept because from it depends the correct understanding of Berkeley’s ontological and immaterialist proposal. To do this, 1) I will show some examples of the misunderstanding that the berkeleian proposal has had, mainly due to his concept of idea; 2) I will (...)
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  6. Berkeley, Expressivism, and Pragmatism.Piotr K. Szałek - 2019 - Forum Philosophicum: International Journal for Philosophy 24 (2):435-456.
    There is a long-standing dispute among scholars concerning Berkeley’s supposed commitment to an emotivist theory of meaning as the very first instance of non-cognitivism. According to this position, the domains of religious and moral language do not refer to facts about the world, but rather express the emotional attitudes of religious or moral language users. Some scholars involved in the dispute argue for taking Berkeley to be an emotivist, while others hold that we should not do so. This paper puts (...)
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  7. Berkeley on the Relation Between Abstract Ideas and Language in Alciphron VII.Peter West - 2019 - Ruch Filozoficzny 74 (4):51.
  8. Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World. [REVIEW]Melissa Frankel - 2017 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2017.
  9. Berkeley: el conocimiento nocional de la mente / Berkeley on the Notional Knowledge of Mind.Alberto Luis López - 2017 - Contrastes: Revista Internacional de Filosofía 22 (1):137-154.
    In this paper I expose and analyze the berkeleian proposal of notional knowledge. Among other things, this proposal represents Berkeley´s attempt to know the mind or spirit, that is, the thinking and active thing that, by its own activity, results unrepresentable as idea. As such knowledge is already mentioned in the Philosophical Commentaries I will refer to them to know the origins of that proposal. However, as notional knowledge appears in more detail in later works I will make use especially (...)
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  10. Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World.Kenneth L. Pearce - 2017 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Berkeley's philosophy is meant to be a defense of commonsense. However, Berkeley's claim that the ultimate constituents of physical reality are fleeting, causally passive ideas appears to be radically at odds with commonsense. In particular, such a theory seems unable to account for the robust structure which commonsense (and Newtonian physics) takes the world to exhibit. The problem of structure, as I understand it, includes the problem of how qualities can be grouped by their co-occurrence in a single enduring object (...)
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  11. Berkeley on Language.John Russell Roberts - 2017 - In Richard Brook & Bertil Belfrage (eds.), The Bloomsbury Companion to Berkeley. London: Bloomsubry.
  12. Lenguaje, materia y Dios. Un estudio sobre los Dialogues de Berkeley / Language, Matter, and God. A survey on Berkeley's Dialogues.Alberto Luis López - 2015 - Estudios Filosóficos 186 (2):213-233.
    En este artículo analizo algunas cuestiones centrales de la obra Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, como son el lenguaje, el conocimiento sensible, la materia y Dios, a la par que desarrollo nuevos temas como el argumento del sostenedor o algunos aspectos teológicos. Pese a que estas cuestiones aparecen dispersas a lo largo de la obra considero que deben estudiarse en conjunto y en el orden en que las presento, porque ayuda a comprender mejor lo planteado en los Dialogues a (...)
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  13. On Hume's Defense of Berkeley.Alan Schwerin - 2015 - Open Journal of Philosophy 5 (6):327 - 337.
    In 1739 Hume bequeathed a bold view of the self to the philosophical community that would prove highly influential, but equally controversial. His bundle theory of the self elicited substantial opposition soon after its appearance in the Treatise of Human Nature. Yet Hume makes it clear to his readers that his views on the self rest on respectable foundations: namely, the views of the highly regarded Irish philosopher, George Berkeley. As the author of the Treatise sees it, his account of (...)
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  14. Berkeley's Pragmatic Bent: Its Implications for His Social Philosophy.Richard J. Van Iten - 2015 - In Sebastien Charles (ed.), Berkeley Revisited: Moral, Social and Political Philosophy. Voltaire Foundation. pp. 83-98.
  15. Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World.Kenneth L. Pearce - 2014 - Dissertation, University of Southern California
    Berkeley's philosophy is meant to be a defense of commonsense. However, Berkeley's claim that the ultimate constituents of physical reality are fleeting, causally passive ideas appears to be radically at odds with commonsense. In particular, such a theory seems unable to account for the robust structure which commonsense (and Newtonian physics) takes the world to exhibit. The problem of structure, as I understand it, includes the problem of how qualities can be grouped by their co-occurrence in a single enduring object (...)
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  16. Language and Thought.Laurent Jaffro - 2013 - In James A. Harris (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford University Press. pp. 128.
    This chapter set outs the variety of eighteenth-century approaches to the relations between language and thought, beginning with post-Lockean debates focused on the status of abstract general ideas, and ending with anti-empiricist Scottish philosophy at the end of the century. The empiricist theory of signs, notably in George Berkeley, is one important dimension of the discussions: ‘Ideas’ are centre stage, although they do not exhaust the empiricist furniture of the mind. There is also a different philosophical trend illustrated by neglected (...)
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  17. Meaning, Signification, and Suggestion: Berkeley on General Words.Timothy Pritchard - 2012 - 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 (...)
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  18. Stoicism in Berkeley's Philosophy.Stephen H. Daniel - 2011 - In Bertil Belfrage & Timo Airaksinen (eds.), Berkeley's Lasting Legacy: 300 Years Later. Cambridge Scholars Press. pp. 121-34.
    Commentators have not said much regarding Berkeley and Stoicism. Even when they do, they generally limit their remarks to Berkeley’s Siris (1744) where he invokes characteristically Stoic themes about the World Soul, “seminal reasons,” and the animating fire of the universe. The Stoic heritage of other Berkeleian doctrines (e.g., about mind or the semiotic character of nature) is seldom recognized, and when it is, little is made of it in explaining his other doctrines (e.g., immaterialism). None of this is surprising, (...)
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  19. Berkeley's Rejection of Divine Analogy.Stephen H. Daniel - 2011 - 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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  20. The Role of Visual Language in Berkeley’s Account of Generality.Katherine Dunlop - 2011 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 83 (3):525-559.
  21. Berkeley ’in Dil Ve Anlam Yaklaşimi Üzerine Bir İncelemeA Study On The Design Of Language And Meaning In Berkeley‘.Atakan Altınörs - 2010 - Ethos: Dialogues in Philosophy and Social Sciences 3 (1).
    Bu makalemizde, Berkeley’in dil ve anlam yaklaşımını incelemeye çalıştık. Söz konusu yaklaşımının tarihî bağlamını belirtmek üzere, öncelikle Locke’un anlam teorisine yönelttiği itirazı takdim etmeyi denedik. Locke’a yönelik itirazının temelinde, “soyut idealar”ın mevcudiyeti konusunda, aralarındaki bir fikir ayrılığının yattığını gözlemledik. Locke’un anlam teorisinin aksine, Berkeley kelimelerin sadece ve her kullanıldıklarında soyut ideaların yerini tutmaya -veya aynı manâda, onlara işaret etmeye- yaramadığını savunur; bu bakımdan Berkeley’in nezdinde anlamlılık, bir kelimenin bir ideanın yerini tutması olgusuyla açıklanamaz ve açıklanmamalıdır.In this article, we sought to (...)
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  22. Berkeley, Meaning and Minds: Remarks on Glezakos' Comments.Melissa Frankel - 2009 - 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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  23. Something-We-Know-Not-What, Something-We-Know-Not-Why: Berkeley, Meaning and Minds.Melissa Frankel - 2009 - 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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  24. Comments on Melissa Frankel’s “Something-We-Know-Not-What, Something-We-Know-Not Why: Berkeley, Meaning and Minds”.Stavroula Glezakos - 2009 - Philosophia 37 (3):403-407.
  25. Comments on Kenneth P. Winkler’s “Signification, Intention, Projection”.Antonia LoLordo - 2009 - Philosophia 37 (3):503-505.
    These are my comments on Ken Winkler's account of Locke's philosophy of language.
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  26. Berkeley's Theory of Meaning in Alciphron VII.Kenneth Williford & Roomet Jakapi - 2009 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 17 (1):99 – 118.
  27. Early Modern Intentionalism: Replies to LoLordo’s Comments.Kenneth P. Winkler - 2009 - 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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  28. Signification, Intention, Projection.Kenneth P. Winkler - 2009 - Philosophia 37 (3):477-501.
    Locke is what present-day aestheticians, critics, and historians call an intentionalist. He believes that when we interpret speech and writing, we aim—in large part and perhaps even for the most part—to recover the intentions, or intended meanings, of the speaker or writer. Berkeley and Hume shared Locke’s commitment to intentionalism, but it is a theme that recent philosophical interpreters of all three writers have left largely unexplored. In this paper I discuss the bearing of intentionalism on more familiar themes in (...)
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  29. The Two Motives Behind Berkeley's Expressly Unmotivated Signs : Sure Perception and Personal Providence.Jeffrey Barnouw - 2008 - In Stephen H. Daniel (ed.), New Interpretations of Berkeley's Thought. Humanity Books.
  30. La muralla del sujeto: Percepción y lenguaje en Berkeley.Alejandro Vázquez Ortiz - 2008 - A Parte Rei 58:3.
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  31. The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley.Kenneth L. Pearce - 2008 - 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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  32. The Theological Positivism of George Berkeley (1707-1708).Bertil Belfrage - 2007 - 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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  33. Christian Mysteries and Berkeley's Alleged Non-Cognitivism.Roomet Jakapi - 2007 - In Stephen H. Daniel (ed.), Reexamining Berkeley's Philosophy.
  34. Berkeley, the Ends of Language, and the Principles of Human Knowledge.P. J. E. Kail - 2007 - 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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  35. Berkeley and the Doctrine of Signs.Kenneth P. Winkler - 2005 - In Kenneth Winkler (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Berkeley. Cambridge University Press. pp. 125.
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  36. Berkeley’s Theory of Vision: Transparency and Signification.Richard Brook - 2003 - 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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  37. Entry 720 of Berkeleys Philosophical Commentaries and Noncognitive Propositions in Scripture.Roomet Jakapi - 2003 - Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 85 (1):86-90.
  38. Berkeley's Alchiphron or the Language of God.Teja Oblak - 2003 - Phainomena 43.
    The author of the article presents Berkeley's theory of emotive language as seen in his book Alchiphron or the Minute Philosophy. Through the presentation of Berkeley's book the author tries to present her own interpretation of the emotive language theory and thus descend from the strict metaphysical framework to the grounds of linguistics and religion. By connecting the fields that seem extremely separate from each other, the author endeavours for a sort of re-actualization of the Berkeleyan theory of language. Her (...)
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  39. Berkeley's Theory of Operative Language in the Manuscript Introduction.Kenneth Williford - 2003 - 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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  40. Is Berkeley's World a Divine Language?James P. Danaher - 2002 - 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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  41. Emotive Meaning and Christian Mysteries in Berkeley’s Alciphron.Roomet Jakapi - 2002 - 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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  42. Faith, Truth, Revelation and Meaning in Berkeley’s Defense of the Christian Religion.Roomet Jakapi - 2002 - Modern Schoolman 80 (1):23-34.
  43. The Ramist Context of Berkeley's Philosophy.Stephen H. Daniel - 2001 - 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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  44. George Berkeley Langage Visuel, Communication Universelle.Denis Forest - 1997 - 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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  45. The Rhetoric of Berkeley's Philosophy. [REVIEW]James Mahon - 1996 - Berkeley Newsletter 14:15-17.
    In this review of Peter Walmsley's book, the first book-length treatment of Berkeley as a writer, Berkeley is shown to be a master stylist. He is also shown to have a theory of language that is "explicitly rhetorical," since he held, contrary to Locke, that language had ends other than the communication of ideas.
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  46. Berkeley, Causality, and Signification.Richard Brook - 1995 - International Studies in Philosophy 27 (2):15-31.
  47. Berkeley Et le Voile des Mots.Geneviève Brykman - 1993 - Vrin.
    Appuyé d’abord sur la critique de l’abstraction, l’immatérialisme de Berkeley évolua sensiblement par la mise en avant du caractère inévitablement métaphorique des formes de discours des hommes. En effet, le voile des mots était en réalité un double voile : le premier se tient dans la poussière savante des partisans des idées abstraites; le second se montre dans le caractère indicible de ce dont nous n’avons pas d’idées et dont nous parlons par analogies et métaphores.Or, si l’immatérialisme au sens strict (...)
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  48. George Berkeley Filosofia E Critica Dei Linguaggi Scientifici.Luigi Neri - 1991 - Clueb.
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  49. Berkeley's Doctrine of Notions: A Reconstruction Based on His Theory of Meaning. [REVIEW]Jonathan Dancy - 1990 - Philosophical Review 99 (1):111.
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  50. Semiotyka sensualizmu immanentnego. Idea, pojęcie i słowo w filozofii Berkeley\'a'.Jerzy Kopania - 1990 - Idea Studia nad strukturą i rozwojem pojęć filozoficznych 3 (3):45-68.
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