"Common Language" and "Common Sense" from Lorenzo Valla to Leibniz (book project, 2015-2019)
What kind of language should we use in philosophy? Should we use the common language of the people or is this far too imprecise and should we develop our own technical vocabulary? If we argue for the first position, what do we mean by "common language", "common sense", "the people", and related notions? If we argue for the second position, why do we think that common language does not suffice, and what is the relationship between this technical terminology and our common, non-technical language? These issues are well known from contemporary philosophy but they are also at stake in the critique that humanists and early-modern philosophers leveled against the language of the scholastics. This project studies this critique, focusing on Quattrocento humanists such as Valla and Pontano, sixteenth century humanists such as Vives and Sanches, and early-modern philosophers such as Gassendi, Hobbes, Digby, Thomas White, and Leibniz. From Valla to Leibniz we read that we should follow common linguistic usage and convention – Valla said it in Latin, Leibniz in German (der Gebrauch ist der Meister) – but what counts as “common” was not so easy to define. The project studies important shifts in thinking about the use of language in philosophy, focusing on notions such as "common linguistic usage", "common sense", and "the people". While most thinkers attacked Aristotelianism for its departure from common sense and common language, we also see thinkers such as Digby and White defending a form of Aristotelianism, stripped of its late-scholastic accretions, because they believed that it embodied common sense compatible with the new mechanical philosophy. This project traces these debates from the fifteenth to the late seventeenth century, showing how the language critique aided in the demise of Aristotelianism.
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