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Article: The Absence of Reference in Hobbes' Philosophy of Language

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

Abstract: Against the dominant view in contemporary Hobbes scholarship, I argue that Hobbes’s philosophy of language implicitly denies that linguistic expressions (names) refer to anything. I defend this thesis both textually, in light of what Hobbes actually said, and contextually, in light of Hobbes’s desertion of the vocabulary of suppositio, which was prevalent in semantics leading up to Hobbes. Hobbes explained away the apparent fact of linguistic reference via a reductive analysis: the relation between words and things wholly reduces to a composite of the relation of signification between words and conceptions, on the one hand, and the relation of representation between conceptions and things, on the other. Intentionality, for Hobbes, accrues to conceptions, not words.

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