2 min read

William Warburton

I guess this post is like a tiny speedrun. It's a small fragment of historical context that might or might not be useful for understanding Derrida.

In Signature Event Context Derrida talks about Condillac's views on the history of writing - seems to be roughly that written communication started with drawing pictures. I don't know who Condillac is but checking Wikipedia he was 'a French philosopher and epistemologist, who studied in such areas as psychology and the philosophy of the mind', so fair enough, sounds like the sort of person Derrida would quote on the history of writing. But Derrida also says that Condillac got this from someone else, Warburton, so who's he?

This turns out to be William Warburton, who is... some random 18th century English bishop? Apparently he lived at Prior Park, that's not relevant at all but is interesting to me because it's the fancy Georgian house that you go past on the Bath Skyline walk, which I've done several times.

It's not obvious from a brief glance at the Wikipedia article why he'd have anything to do with the history of language, but googling 'warburton condillac' turned up this blog post, and... oh, it's in his book The Divine Legation of Moses... which has its own Wikipedia page, should have clicked through but the title didn't sound relevant. This has a weird sidequest to do with Egyptian hieroglyphics and the origin of writing. According to the blog post he says the following:

Men soon found out two ways of communicating their thoughts to one another; the first by SOUNDS, and the second by FIGURES: for there being frequent occasion to have their conceptions either perpetuated, or communicated at a distance, the way of figures or characters was next thought upon, after sounds (which were momentary and confined), to make their conceptions lasting and extensive.

And later:

The first and most natural way of communicating our conceptions by marks or figures, was by tracing out the images of things. To express, for instance, the idea of a man or horse, the informer delineated the form of each of those animals. Thus the first essay towards writing was a mere picture.

I love research in the 18th century.