Locke, language, and early-modern philosophy (review) [Book Review]

Journal of the History of Philosophy 47 (1):pp. 143-145 (2009)
With the publication of Walter Ott’s Locke’s Philosophy of Language and Michael Losonsky’s Linguistic Turns in Modern Philosophy, serious scholarly attention has returned to Locke’s philosophy of language. In this exhaustively-researched book, Hannah Dawson presents a dark vision of language and the desperate seventeenth-century struggles against it, culminating in Locke’s complete and catastrophic capitulation. She argues that the dominant issue is something called “the problem of language in philosophy.” Seventeenth-century philosophers started seeing the language they used in philosophy as unstable and, consequently, as a veil cutting us off from reality. Prior to Locke, most believed that this “semantic instability” was accidental and remediable, but Dawson argues that Locke viewed it as inherent to language and that he abandoned any hope of reforming language. It turns out that what dissolves the semantic ties between words and reality, making “the problem of language in philosophy” intractable, is the old problem of skepticism and the radical subjectivism entailed by it. Because words signify ideas and
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DOI 10.1353/hph.0.0096
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