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   Course Title    Ancient Greek Philosophy on Language
Lecturer    Nikolay P. Grintser
Institution    Russian State University
Country    Russia

I. Summary

The course is addressed to the third through fifth year students majoring in the "Classical Culture" program (Faculty of History and Philology) as well as to the graduates of the Philosophy Department specializing in classical philosophy. It presupposes advanced knowledge of ancient Greek and Latin (at least 2 years of studies) as it would be based on reading and commenting on relevant passages from ancient sources beginning from the Presocratics up to the Hellenistic period. The main goal is to introduce students to the main views of classical philosophers on the origins and functioning of language, to discuss the core ideas expressed and to show different ways they were solved in antiquity. Hence, at the end of the course students should be able not only to interpret the relevant texts serving as course material, but also to get an outline of the system of "linguistic philosophy" in antiquity and (as an addition) to compare it with the methods in which language is analyzed in contemporary Western philosophy. " In this respect, the objective is to show the continuity of Greek philosophic tradition in dealing with linguistic issues Therefore, the course is structured not in chronological order, but tends to be problem-based. The material will be divided into three major sections: "Views on the Origin of Language", "The Idea of Linguistic Signification" and "Structure of Language and Structure of Philosophic Argumentation".

The course is optional and is related to the general obligatory courses on "Classical Philosophy" (students should take the latter before taking the optional course) and "History of the Humanities in the Classical Age". It's a one-semester course and presupposes 24 hours of lectures and 10 hours of practical classes (seminars). The evaluation includes seminar work (30% of the total evaluation), short oral presentations (one 15-minute long talk on a particular problem or text – 30%), and the final paper (3500 words, 10 pages – 40%).

II. Contents

Section 1. Views on the Origin of Language

The idea of language in early literary texts (from Homer up to V century BC). Emergence of language in the philosophy of Presocratics. Nature/convention dichotomy in its application to language: distinctions between origin-oriented and function-oriented interpretations. The beginnings of language in Plato's Cratylus, the figure of "law-giver" and its possible interpretations. Language in the philosophy of Aristotle: different types of phone and their distinctions. Origin and the continuous development of language in the philosophy of Epicurus: possible interpretations. Parallelism of the theories of linguistic and cultural development. Development and functioning of language and the analogy/anomaly dichotomy in Stoic and Alexandrian philology. Philosophical dimensions of this opposition. Etymology as a tool for investigating the history of language in Stoic philosophy.

Section 2. The Idea of Linguistic Signification

The emergence of the idea of linguistic signs in Presocratic philosophy (Heraclitus, Parmenides, Democritus). The idea of naming in Plato's Cratylus. Etymology and signification. Nature/convention opposition and its meaning for the theory of signification. Double notions for linguistic signs by Aristotle (semeion/symbolon) and in Stoic philosophy (semainomenon/lekton). The idea of propositional truth and falsity. Possible meanings of Stoic lekton. The idea of signification in Epicurean philosophy (Philodemus). The theory of signification by Augustine and its relation to Stoic theory. Hierarchy of linguistic signification. Linguistic signs and the logical structure of proposition (Aristotle, Stoics, St. Augustine).

Section 3. Structure of Language and Structure of Philosophic Argumentation

The role of linguistic discussions in philosophical texts: internal arguments or mere illustrations? Parmenides and Plato on "not-being": "linguistic" or "ontological" interpretations. Etymological proofs of metaphysical conclusions (Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, Stoics). Aristotle's and Stoic categories in their relation to language. Logic and linguistics in Stoic theory.

"Linguistic philosophy" in ancient and modern times. Possible pairs for comparison: Plato-Wittgenstein, Plato-Frege, Aristotle-Tarsky, Aristotle-Carnap. Classical theories of linguistic signs and modern semiotics of Peirce and de Saussure. Basic principles for a correct comparison: parallel problems and differences of approach.

III. Schedule of lectures and seminars




History of the Language Theory in Classical Antiquity. General Introduction

4 hours


Origins of language according to the Presocratics, Plato and Aristotle.

4 hours


Plato's Cratylus. Structure and Meaning of the Dialogue

2 hours

2 hours

Development of Language in Epicurean Theory

2 hours


The Idea of Linguistic Signs. First Approaches.

2 hours


Linguistic Signs by Aristotle and the Stoics

2 hours

4 hours

Augustine's De dialectica. Main notions and structure of the treatise.


2 hours

Etymology within the Structure of Philosophical Argument

2 hours


Ancient and Modern Linguistic Philosophy. Contemporary Ways of Comparison.

2 hours


Plato and Wittgenstein. Parallel facts and different methods.

2 hours

2 hours

IV. Bibliography

a) Classical Texts

Apollonii Dyscoli. De constructione libri quattuor. Ed. G. Uhlig. Leipzig, 1913.

Aristotelis Analytica priora et posteriora. Ed. W.D. Ross, Oxford, 1968

Aristotelis Topica et Sophistici Elenchi. Ed. W.D. Ross, Oxford, 1958

Aristotle. The Categories. On Interpretation. Prior Analytics. Ed. H.P. Cooke, H. Tredennic. Cambridge-London, 1983

Augustinus. De dialectica. Ed, J. Pinborg. Leipzig, 1975.

Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. Griechisch und Deutsch von H. Diels, hrsg. von W. Kranz. Zürich-Hildesheim, 198512.

Diogenis Laertii Vitae philosophorum. V. 1-2. Ed. H.S. Long,. Oxford, 1964.

Lucretius. De rerum natura. Ed. C. Bailey. Oxford. 1947.

Platonis Opera. V. 1-5. Rec. I. Burnet. Oxford, 1952-1954

Sexti Empirici Opera. V. 1-2. Ed. H. Mutchmann. Leipzig, 1984

Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta. Coll. H. von Arnim. V. 1-4. Leiden, 1964.

Varro. De lingua latina. Ed. G.Goetz, F. Schoell. Amsterdam, 1964.

b) Secondary literature

Belardi W. Il linguaggio nella filosofia di Aristotele. Roma, 1975.

Classen C.J. Sprachliche Deutung als Triebkraft platonischen und sokratischen Philosophierens. München, 1959.

Cornford F. M. Principium Sapientiae: the Origins of Greek Philosophical Thought. Cambridge, 1952.

Coseriu E. Die Geschichte der Sprachphilosophie von der Antike bis zum Gegenwart. Stuttgart, 1975.

Denyer N. Language, Thought and Falsity in Ancient Greek Philosophy. London-New York, 1991.

Di Cesare D. La semantica nella filosofia greca. Roma, 1980.

Heitsch E. Parmenides und die Anfänge der Ontologie und Logik. München, 1974.

Hoelscher W. Parmenides. Von Wesen des Seienden. München, 1986.

Hoffmann E. Die Sprache und die archaische Logik. Tübingen, 1925.

Kraus M. Name und Sache. Ein Problem im frühgriechischen Denken. Amsterdam, 1987.

Manetti G. Theories of the Sign in the Classical Antiquity. Indianapolis, 1993.

Matériaux pour une histoire des théories linguistiques. Lille, 1984.

Pleger W. H. Der Logos der Dinge. Eine Studie zu Heraklit. Frankfurt a.M., 1987.

Prier R. A. Archaic Logik: Symbol and Structure in Heraclitus, Parmenides and Empedocles. The Hague-Paris, 1976.

Sprachphilosophie in Antike und Mittelalter. Amsterdam, 1986.

Sprachtheorien der abendländischen Antike. Tübingen, 1991.

The History of Linguistics in the Classical Period. Amsterdam, 1987.

V. Samples of the possible topics for final papers

  1. The semantics of the verb 'to be' in Greek philosophy.
  2. The role of etymology by Presocratics.
  3. The conception of 'name' by Plato.
  4. "Thought" and "expression" in Aristotle.
  5. Epicurean linguistic terminology.
  6. The notion of verbum in St, Augustine.
  7. Plato and Wittgenstein on falsity of linguistic expression.

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