The Importance of Names & Signification in Philosophical Systems


We start, first, with the role of names and language in Classical Chinese thought.  We will read Xunzi and Hanfeizi (and possibly Mozi) and consider how their views regarding the importance of names fit into their larger philosophical projects.

We then turn to the nominalism of early modern European thinkers: Hobbes and Descartes.   Hobbes and Descartes were also concerned about the role of language and words.  They, too, focused on the importance of language and mistakes that arise when we are not clear about what is signified by names.  Keeping this in mind will give us a better understanding of their philosophical systems.  For example, much of the secondary literature has many confused readings of Descartes’ Meditations and his two proofs for the existence of God.  The seminar will end with a close reading of Descartes’ Meditations, paying special attention to Meditation 5 and resolve interpretive problems in light of an understanding of his method we reconstruct in the seminar.  Keeping in mind Descartes’ view about how words mislead and confuse us will be a key to making sense of Meditation 5 and to comparing his understanding of language and its role in philosophy with that of Classical Chinese philosophers.