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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton 2019

8 Meaning in pre-19th century thought

Stephan Meier-Oeser

Abstract

The article provides a broad survey of the historical development of western theories of meaning from antiquity to the late 18th century. Although it is chronological and structured by the names of the most important authors, schools, and traditions, the focus is mainly on the theoretical content relevant to the issue of linguistic meaning, or on doctrines that are directly related to it. I attempt to show that the history of semantic thought does not have the structure of a continuous ascent or progress; it is rather a complex multilayer process characterized by several ruptures, such as the decline of ancient or the expulsion of medieval learning by Renaissance Humanism, each connected with substantial losses. Quite a number of the discoveries of modern semantics are therefore in fact rediscoveries of much older insights.

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