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Beyond Pure ReasonFerdinand de Saussure's Philosophy of Language and Its Early Romantic Antecedents$
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Boris Gasparov

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780231157803

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231157803.001.0001

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Antinomies of the Sign

Antinomies of the Sign

(p.63) Three Antinomies of the Sign
Beyond Pure Reason

Boris Gasparov

Columbia University Press

This chapter examines Saussure's conceptions of signs and language. Signs are the fundamental units of language, its inalienable property. Saussure realized that for the sign as a linguistic phenomenon, its substantial physical shape and content are irrelevant. Speakers accept the signs of their language as they are, without asking for any logical or empirical justification of their dual configurations. Saussure's principle of arbitrariness reveals itself as the principle of freedom—a linguistic manifestation of the metaphysical principle of free will that people exercise in their capacity as speakers. The fundamental freedom of language, grounded in arbitrariness, shows itself in the unlimited diversity of forms different languages. No logical or empirical restrictions exist that could determine the playground of values that is language or set limits to its transformations. For Saussure, the structural diversity of languages is more than an empirically known fact—it is, rather, “primordial reality,” reflecting the very essence of language.

Keywords:   Ferdinand de Saussure, linguistics, language, signs, Course in General Linguistics, freedom, free will

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