Conclusion: Language and the Ascensus mentis ad deum

  • Eileen C. Sweeney
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


What is striking about the theories of language and uses of linguistic models discussed in this study is that they do not posit or attempt to create a perfect language. The shared conviction of all three authors is that words do not and cannot capture reality, that they do not map onto things in one-to-one and unambiguous ways. This is perhaps why none of these figures nor indeed any medieval thinkers figure in Umberto Eco’s recent book, The Search for the Perfect Language.1 I take it that different models of the perfect language such as the ones Eco explores are attempts to create an absolutely transparent language, to have it deliver, without standing in the way of the signified. With regard to the period stretching from Augustine through the entire span of the Middle Ages prior to Dante and Raymond Lull, Eco mentions only the medieval belief in the fall from the perfect language in the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel and the notion that Adam, possessed of this perfect language, named the creatures of the earth. Eco seems almost puzzled that Augustine, for example, shows no desire to return to or reconstruct this perfect language. In my view that is exactly the point in Augustine and his followers: that no language, be it Latin, Hebrew, or one yet to be engineered, is or could become a perfect language, one which can perfectly and without remainder represent the world.


Construct Argument Worldly Perspective Premature Union Medieval Philosophy Transparent Language 
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  1. 1.
    Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, James Fentress, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1995).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, Arnold I. Davidson, ed., Michael Chase, trans. (Maldon, MA: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 269–71.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Norman Kretzmann, “The Culmination of the Old Logic in Peter Abelard,” in Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, R.L. Benson and G. Constable, eds. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982). “Old logic” refers to that based on the parts of Aristotle’s Organon available before the thirteenth century: Categories, Peri hermeneias, and Prior Analytics.Google Scholar

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© Eileen C. Sweeney 2006

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  • Eileen C. Sweeney

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