Hobbes: Language and the IS-Ought
Hobbes considers speech — names and their connections — as invention: ‘The most noble and profitable invention’ (EW Will, 18.)1 Speech separates man from the beast, without it there would be no commonwealth and, consequently, no peace. Also, there would be no science and little art. In Leviathan, Hobbes says, ‘The general use of speech, is to transfer our mental discourse, into verbal’ (ibid.). This makes for two benefits which provide a neat distinction between ‘mark’ and ‘sign’. Marks serve the memory of the user; they need not be words nor need they be known to other than him who uses them to remember. Marks suggest the benefit of language including signs, as a mnemotechnical device. Signs have the function of communication. The greater complexity of using signs is suggested by its function. Communication involves the connection and ordering of words one to another with attention to systematic exactness and agreed upon meaning. From the use of language proceed both specific political benefits and entertainments; and, with each of these a corresponding possibility for abuse.
KeywordsHuman Functioning Civil Code Public Dimension Moral Language Systematic Exactness
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- 1.Cf. EW II, 305: ‘The explication of words, whereby the matter inquired after is propounded, is conducive to knowledge; the only way to know is by definition’.Google Scholar
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