Philosophy of Language,” in the
Cambridge Companion to Locke,
points out, to Locke, “signify”meant more than “our contemporary term ‘reference,’ and thus it should not be supposed thatLocke means to argue that our words primarily
to our own ideas.
Guyer explains that‘signify’, (significare) is a technical term from late medieval philosophy of language thatmeans something quite general, namely representing something in some way to thecognitive faculty, and which thus includes functions like
, which apply to meaning as well, if not better than to reference (Ashworth1981:309-11, 314).
Furthermore, there were several schools of thought amongst the Scholastic authors of this meaningof “signify.”
The prevailing view in Locke’s time, and the one to which he subscribed, held thatwords had two functions; primarily as “‘concepts in the mind, […] [and secondarily to] signifythings, but by means of concepts.’”
From this viewpoint, it should be clear that Locke’s definition that words signify ideasmeans more than just the representation of ideas, but rather that words reveal something to thecognitive faculty. The definition of each individual word, “cat,” for example, is more than just arepresentation in the mind of cat or even the definition of cat, but the word actually reveals or expresses to the mind something about what a cat is.However, philosopher John Stuart Mill would later challenge this interpretation that wordsonly signify ideas, or even things through the employment of ideas. In his work
A System of Logic
,he attacks this theory in the Second Chapter, entitled “Of Names.” There he is rebutting philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ theory, which is that “a word (or set of words) serv[es] the double
3 Paul Guyer, “Locke’s Philosophy of language,” In
The Cambridge Companion to Locke
, ed.By Vere Chappell (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 120.4 Ibid., 120.5 Ibid., 122.6 Ibid.7 Ibid.