Darwin and the linguists: The coevolution of mind and language, part 2. the language–thought relationship

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 39 (1):38-50 (2008)
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Abstract

This paper examines Charles Darwin’s idea that language-use and humanity’s unique cognitive abilities reinforced each other’s evolutionary emergence—an idea Darwin sketched in his early notebooks, set forth in his Descent of man , and qualified in Descent’s second edition. Darwin understood this coevolution process in essentially Lockean terms, based on John Locke’s hints about the way language shapes thinking itself. Ironically, the linguist Friedrich Max Müller attacked Darwin’s human descent theory by invoking a similar thesis, the German romantic notion of an identity between language and thought. Although Darwin avoided outright contradiction, when he came to defend himself against Müller’s attacks, he undercut some of his own argumentation in favor of the coevolution idea. That is, he found it difficult to counter Müller’s argument while also making a case for coevolution. Darwin’s efforts in this area were further complicated by British and American writers who held a naturalistic view of speech origins yet still taught that language had been invented by fully evolved homo sapiens, thus denying coevolution

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