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Skepticism and the Philosophy of Language in Early Modern Thought

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Skepticism and the Philosophy of Language in Early Modern Thought

ABSTRACT: This paper discusses the importance of skeptical arguments for the philosophy of language in early modern thought. It contrasts the rationalist conception of language and knowledge with that of philosophers who adopt some sort of skeptical position, maintaining that these philosophers end up by giving language a greater importance than rationalists. The criticism of the rationalists' appeal to natural light is examined, as well as skeptical arguments limiting knowledge such as the so-called 'maker's knowledge' argument. This argument is then seen as capital for favoring a positive interpretation of the importance of language for knowledge.

The revival of ancient skepticism in early XVIth century has been considered one of the major forces in the development of modern thought, especially as regards the discussion about the nature of knowledge and the sciences. Richard Popkin in his History of Skepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza (1979) has shown that skeptical arguments were influential in the attack against traditional scholastic conceptions of science, opening the way to the development of the new scientific method. The dispute between those who embraced skepticism and those who tried to refute or surpass it was central to the philosophical scene well into the XVIIIth century.

However, the importance of the discussion of the nature and role of language in this process and its relation to skeptical arguments has scarcely been examined. My objective in this paper is to extend Popkin's analysis of the role of skepticism in the formation of modern thought to the consideration, in general lines, of some of the main features of early modern theories a...

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