Leibnizian Idea of a Universal Language

Halina Święczkowska

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/szhf.2020.005

Abstract


Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the creator of one of the largest modern philosophical systems, deserves our attention as a theoretician of the language for several reasons. Firstly, due to the cognitive issue of the function of the language sign studies by the philosopher, as well as the role of the sign in the thought process. The Leibnizian theory of cognition rests, to a large extent, on a linguistic foundation. Secondly, Leibniz is a representative of the material linguistics, author of many studies and dissertations, in which he deals with the origin of language and genealogical classification of world languages. By emphasizing the culture-forming nature of language, the philosopher investigated the functions of language in the life of an individual and society. For the most part, Leibniz is recognized as one of the originators of the idea of a universal language, an idea that accompanied him since the very inception of his scientific pursuits. Undoubtedly, this idea stood in close relation to the philosophical system the philosopher was building. It can be assumed that the successive Leibnizian projects that were aimed at the implementation of the above idea resulted also from the intensive research on existing language systems conceived of by the philosopher in a very broad sense. Paradoxically, though Leibniz has been associated with the idea of a perfect language, he never went beyond his preliminary sketches and tentative comments on this project. It is worth, then, inquiring into the reasons justifying the need for creating such a language and the goals that the thinker would like to achieve with it. This essay is an attempt to offer at least a partial answer to the question concerning Leibniz’s motivation for the need to create a universal language. It is relevant, among other things, due to Leibniz’s claim which contradicts the idea of a universal language, in which he clearly stresses that “every language, even the poorest one, can express everything”, as well as owing to Leibniz’s historical contribution to the idea of formalization and to the mechanization of the reasoning processes. This paper is also an attempt to reconstruct the paradigm of language research pursued in a specific period of time in 17th century language theory.


Keywords


philosophy of language; Leibniz; universal language

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