Epicurus and his predecessors on the origin of language∗

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Epicurus' theory of the origin of language has been investigated many times, both in the context of his general theory of the origin of culture and in its own right. Among the various aspects of his theory that have attracted attention, the epistemological has played the most important role. What I try to provide here is not a complete account of the successes and limitations of previous studies, but an outline of Epicurus' theory about the development of language as it can be reconstructed from his own writings and from other relevant texts. In trying to elucidate the details, I will concentrate on some which are controversial and others which have gone altogether unnoticed by scholars. It is, of course, possible that some of the texts I shall use to throw light on the less clear aspects of Epicurus' theory may reflect nothing more direct than the influence of Epicurean ideas. I hope I shall manage to use such evidence with suitable caution. As the title of this chapter suggests, my subject includes the relation of Epicurus to his predecessors. I will discuss this mainly from the point of view just mentioned, by asking what is known of the stages of development of human language discerned by thinkers before Epicurus.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLanguage and Learning
Subtitle of host publicationPhilosophy of Language in the Hellenistic Age Proceedings of the Ninth Symposium Hellenisticum
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages45
ISBN (Electronic)9780511482526
ISBN (Print)052184181X, 9780521841818
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2005

Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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