Characteristica Universalis

In Kevin Mulligan (ed.), Language, Truth and Ontology. London: Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 48--77 (1992)
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Recent work in formal philosophy has concentrated over-whelmingly on the logical problems pertaining to epistemic shortfall - which is to say on the various ways in which partial and sometimes incorrect information may be stored and processed. A directly depicting language, in contrast, would reflect a condition of epistemic perfection. It would enable us to construct representations not of our knowledge but of the structures of reality itself, in much the way that chemical diagrams allow the representation (at a certain level of abstractness) of the structures of molecules of different sorts. A diagram of such a language would be true if that which it sets out to depict exists in reality, i.e. if the structural relations between the names (and other bits and pieces in the diagram) map structural relations among the corresponding objects in the world. Otherwise it would be false. All of this should, of course, be perfectly familiar. (See, for example, Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1027 b 22, 1051 b 32ff.) The present paper seeks to go further than its predecessors, however, in offering a detailed account of the syntax of a working universal characteristic and of the ways in which it might be used.
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