Language as Encoding Thought vs. Language as Medium of Thought: On the Question of J. G. Fichte’s Influence on Wilhelm von Humboldt

Idealistic Studies 36 (3):219-234 (2006)
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In this paper I take up the question of the possible influence of J. G. Fichte on Wilhelm von Humboldt’s theory of language. I first argue that the historical record is unclear, but show that there is a deep philosophical difference between the two views and, as a result of this difference, we should conclude that the influence was small. Drawing on a distinction made by Michael Dummett, I show that Fichte understands language as encoding thought while Humboldt understands language as a medium of thought. The consequences of this difference affect a wide range of issues from their views on the nature of personal pronouns, to their theories of communicative understanding, to their theories of the proper nature of inquiry into language.
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