Meaning: Ancient Comments on Five Lines of Aristotle

Richard Sorabji

in The Oxford Handbook of Aristotle

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780195187489
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 Meaning: Ancient Comments on Five Lines of Aristotle

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The opening five lines of On Interpretation 1 contain Aristotle's influential account of the meaning of verbs and names, in which he describes them as signs of mental experiences that are in turn likenesses of actual things. The passage occasioned much comment from the ancient commentators, and among modern philosophers the resulting tradition has been criticized by Hilary Putnam. Many modern philosophers hold that thinking involves having representations, and there is discussion (e.g., Michael Tye) of whether these representations should be likenesses of what is thought, or rather some kind of symbols. On a view espoused by Jerry Fodor, the symbols constituting thought form a special language of thought, mentalese, which is different from any natural language, and on another (Norman Malcolm, Hilary Putnam), representations are not needed for thought at all. Where Aristotle stands on these issues depends on how the five lines are taken. The lines treat two things as symbols and one as a likeness. Images play an important role in Aristotle's account of meaning.

Keywords: Aristotle; meaning; On Interpretation; thought; experiences; likeness; symbols; images; representations; mentalese

Article.  7727 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Classical Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language

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