The Lockean theory of communication

Noûs 26 (3):303-324 (1992)
The Lockean theory of communication is here defined as the theory that communication takes place when a hearer grasps some sort of mental object, distinct from the speaker's words, that the speaker's words express. This theory contrasts with the view that spoken languages are the very medium of a kind of thought of which overt speech is the most basic form. This article is a critique of some of the most common motives for adopting a Lockean theory of communication. It is not enough that words in some sense express thoughts. It is not enough that animals and prelinguistic infants in some sense think. It is not enough that speakers mean something by what they say or that hearers must understand a speaker's presuppositions. On the contrary, any explanation of how children can learn to communicate in the way the Lockean imagines will presuppose that words can instill beliefs in some way more fundamental than the Lockean theory itself can explain.
Keywords linguistic communication  Locke, John
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DOI 10.2307/2215956
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