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Francis Lodwick

(1619—1694) linguistic scholar


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Francis Lodwick was born in London in August 1619 and died there on 5 January 1694. He was the son of Waldrave Lodwick, a Protestant refugee from Flanders, who settled in London, established himself as a merchant and married a local girl. Francis never went to university and described himself as a ‘mechanick’, but it is clear that he was a well-educated and well-read man – he possessed, for example, an extensive library. He made a good living as a London-based merchant, and became friendly with Samuel Hartlib. Hartlib was, among other things, a sort of peddler of information, interested in keeping up to date with scientific, religious and political events across the body of mainland Europe. It is therefore scarcely surprising that he and the members of his circle were keenly interested in scientific communication and in the search for a suitable medium for such international exchanges – a ‘universal characteristic’. This would be a language that would replace scholastic Latin, which had been for centuries the language of the educated elite. The universal characteristic, it was hoped, would be not merely universal but perspicuous and logical in its structure, a sort of symbolic reflection of the structure of thought itself. It should possess a complex symbol for a complex concept, decomposable into simple symbols for the simple concepts into which it can be analysed. Lodwick's two works on this subject, A Common Writing (1647) and The Ground-work or Foundation laid (1652), were an important influence on Wilkins's Essay Towards a Real Character (1668). After Wilkins' death, Lodwick collaborated with John Aubrey in an attempt to improve the Essay, but their efforts met with little success. The idea, however, was revived by the young Leibniz, whose search for a universal characteristic was an important stimulus to his philosophical thinking, influencing his views about analysis and the nature of truth. Leibniz went beyond his predecessors, however, in regarding the real characteristic not merely as a means of facilitating communication, but as laying bare the structure of thought itself. In his later years, Lodwick became friendly with Robert Hooke, and became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1681. His proposal of a phonetic alphabet, in which related symbols would stand for related sounds, appeared in a paper ‘An Essay towards an Universal Alphabet’, published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1686.

From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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