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Ancient and Philosophy of Medieval Language

Sentences And Facts: Aristotle And The Stoics

Aristotle's aim in thinking about language was not merely to look at the relation of naming-words to things, but to explain how words combine to form assertoric sentences, which can be true or false. On Interpretation studies the functions of nouns and verbs and the mechanism of predication in some detail, but Aristotle remains rather vague about how sentences as a whole link up with reality. In the Categories (14b) he talks of what makes a sentence true (what we might call a state-of-affairs) as a pragma—a vague word, meaning act, thing, or matter.

In the following centuries, it was the Stoics who gave deeper consideration to the semantics of sentences. They distinguished between signifiers (words and groups of words as utterances: for instance Dion), name-bearers (for instance, Dion himself), and significations. They called these significations lekta ("sayables") and understood by them the states-of-affairs revealed by utterances (for instance, Dion's standing, the lekton of "Dion stands"). From this description, it sounds as if the Stoics had an ontology that included both things and states-of-affairs, and the latter were called lekta because they neatly filled the role of being what assertoric sentences signify. The concept of lekta may well have originated in this way, but there are two important qualifications to consider. First, the Stoics held that not only complete assertoric sentences, but also other types of sentences, such as commands and questions, have their lekta; and also that, in addition to these complete lekta, there are incomplete lekta, which are the meanings of predicates (for instance, standing, the lekton of "stands"). Second, the Stoics were materialists, and they considered lekta to be not merely incorporeal but not even to exist.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ambiguity - Ambiguity to Anticolonialism in Middle East - Ottoman Empire And The Mandate SystemAncient and Philosophy of Medieval Language - Words And Things: Plato And Aristotle, Sentences And Facts: Aristotle And The Stoics, Abelard And The Early Middle Ages