Thomas Reid on Signs and Language

Philosophy Compass 12 (3):e12409 (2017)
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Thomas Reid's philosophy of mind, epistemology, and philosophy of language all rely on his account of signs and signification. On Reid's view, some entities play a role of indicating other entities to our minds. In some cases, our sensitivity to this indication is learned through experience, whereas in others, the sensitivity is built in to our natural constitutions. Unlike representation, which was presumed to depend on resemblances and necessary connections, signification is the sort of relationship that can occur without any intrinsic ties between the sign and the thing signified. Of particular interest is the priority Reid gives to natural signs. Reid deploys his robust account of natural signs in a way that allows him to sidestep some skeptical worries common in the early modern period, as well as in grounding “artificial” human languages like English or Cantonese on a more basic human capacity for communication, that is, itself, the result of our sensitivity to natural signs of other people's minds.



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Lewis Powell
State University of New York, Buffalo

Citations of this work

Reid on Language and the Culture of Mind.Rebecca Copenhaver - 2021 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 99 (2):211-225.
Thomas Reid on Promises and Social Operations of the Human Mind.Ruth Boeker - 2021 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 103 (2):350-371.

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References found in this work

Perceiving Bodies Immediately: Thomas Reid's Insight.Marina Folescu - 2015 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 32 (1):19-36.
A realism for Reid: Mediated but direct.Rebecca Copenhaver - 2004 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 12 (1):61 – 74.
Thomas Reid's direct realism.Rebecca Copenhaver - 2000 - Reid Studies 4 (1):17-34.
Elements of Speech Act Theory in the Work of Thomas Reid.Karl Schuhmann & Barry Smith - 1990 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 7 (1):47 - 66.

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