M. (twisted_apples) wrote in hobbes_matters,

hobbes and early speech acts

“In the late twentieth-century, one of the principal debates in the philosophy of language was whether words or sentences were the basic unit of language. The argument for sentences is that the most basic function of language is to express a thought, and the smallest linguistic unit that can express a complete thought is a sentence. The argument for words is that sentences depend on words because they are made up of words, and the meaning of a sentence is a function of the meanings of its words. To some extent, Hobbes appreciated both positions. When he talks about language itself, he begins with the meanings of individual words. However, when he talks about how language is used for communication, he presents an inchoate theory of speech acts, which takes the actions performed using complete sentences as the primary linguistic unit...

Hobbes was more insightful about the use of language than almost any other philosopher prior to the twentieth century. His distinction between a sentence used to counsel someone and a sentence (sometimes the very same sentence) used to command someone is put to good use in Leviathan when he explains what a law is. A law is a command; it is to be followed because the speaker wants it to be followed. A counsel gives advice and need not be followed by the person who gets it. A command expresses what is or appears to be good for the speaker, while a counsel expresses what it supposed to be good for addressee... At least as impressive is his recognition that religious language ought to be used to honor God, not to describe him. This difference between two uses of language supports his sharp distinction between faith and reason [i.e., fideism]. The language of reason is descriptive; the language of faith is honorific. The two cannot contradict each other precisely because language used honorifically is neither true nor false, but either appropriate or inappropriate...” A.P. Martinich, Hobbes (137-138, 146)
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded