January 9, 2009

Quote of the Day: A Summary of Berkeley's Mature Doctrine of Signs

Although the details are sketchy, Berkeley's basic point is clear: A sign may be significant not because it marks an idea, or even because it can be traced to something with which we are immediately acquainted, but because it is a working part of a system of signs that makes a genuine difference to our lives - to our thoughts, actions, and emotions. (Kenneth P. Winkler, "Berkeley and the Doctrine of Signs" in Winkler, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Berkeley, p. 151)
This is Winkler's summary of Berkeley's mature "doctrine of signs" as developed in Alciphron 7. By the way, I highly recommend this paper, especially for its insights about Berkeley's critique of abstraction. My principle complaint about this otherwise excellent paper (which I have not quite finished reading yet) is that Winkler's treatment of divine language is far too brief and what he does say is incorrect: specifically he claims (p. 138) that all the signs in the language of sense perception are what he calls 'marks' - what I, in "The Semantics of Sense Perception", called 'concrete terms'. For the reasons I discussed at length in that paper, this must be false. Winkler backpedals a little in a footnote, but not far enough. Posted by Kenny at January 9, 2009 4:20 PM
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