Animal Languages in Eighteenth-Century German Philosophy and Science

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 93:72-81 (2022)
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This paper analyzes debates on animal language in eighteenth-century German philosophy and science. Adopting a history of ideas approach, I explain how the study of animal language became tied to the investigation into the origin and development of language towards the end of the eighteenth century. I argue that for large parts of the eighteenth century, the question of the existence of animal languages was studied within the context of the philosophical question of whether animals possess reason. In Germany, the debate concerning animal reason was influenced by Christian Wolff and was taken up by diverse thinkers such as Winkler, Meier, and Reimarus. I argue that in the second half of the eighteenth century the study of animal language became more loosely related to the question of whether animals possess reason: animal language was studied not only in light of the debate on animal reason but also because it sheds light on the nature of animals, on the differences and similarities between animals and humans, and on the origin and development of language. This systematic study of animal language coincided with the rise of linguistics, anthropology, and biology as independent sciences.

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Hein Van Den Berg
University of Amsterdam


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