Adam Smith

In Benjamin Hill Margaret Cameron (ed.), Sourcebook in the History of Philosophy of Language. pp. 853-858 (2017)
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Abstract

Smith proposes an account of how languages developed. He did so not as historian, but as a philosopher with a special concern about how a nominalist could account for general terms. Names for individuals are taken as fairly unproblematic – say ‘Thames’ and ‘Avon’ for each of the respective rivers. But whence the word ‘river,’ applicable to more than one, if all that exist are particular objects? Smith’s view is not the usual one, according to which people deploy a powerful ability to abstract mentally, and subsequently affix a label to a general concept. He resisted this because he granted that such robust mental processes themselves presuppose the use of words. Rather, what holds the class together is the word itself, a “single appellation.”

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Lewis Powell
State University of New York, Buffalo

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