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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 27, 2002

Walter R. Ott
Pages 449-473

Locke and Signification

This paper addresses the following questions: (a) what did Locke mean when he said that ‘words signify ideas’? and (b) what is Locke’s argument for this thesis, and how successful is it? The paper argues that the two most prominent interpretations, those of Norman Kretzmann and E. J. Ashworth, attribute to Locke an argument for his semantic thesis that is fallacious, and that neither can make good sense of two key passages in book 3 of the Essay concerning Human Understanding. An alternative understanding of signification, drawn from the works of Hobbes and the Port-Royal logicians, is explored and shown to provide both a satisfactory interpretation of these two passages and an understanding of Locke’s argument for the thesis that absolves him of fallacy.

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