The Enlightenment revival of the Epicurean history of language and civilisation

In Neven Leddy & Avi S. Lifschitz (eds.), Epicurus in the Enlightenment. Voltaire Foundation (2009)
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The Epicurean account of the origin of language appealed to eighteenth-century thinkers who tried to reconcile a natural history of language with

the biblical account of Adamic name-giving. As a third way between Aristotelian linguistic conventionality and what was perceived as a Platonic supernatural congruence between words and things, Epicurus’

theory allowed for a measure of contingency to emerge in the evolution of initially natural signs. This hypothesis was taken up by authors as different from one another as Leibniz, Vico, Condillac and Mendelssohn. By integrating the Epicurean account of language into their own theories, however, these authors also revived the tensions inherent in the ancient thesis and had to confront the ensuing difficulties in innovative ways



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Avi Lifschitz
University College London

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References found in this work

Locke, language, and early-modern philosophy.Hannah Dawson - 2007 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Daedala Lingua: Crafted Speech in De Rerum Natura.Brooke Holmes - 2005 - American Journal of Philology 126 (4):527-585.

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