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9. The Meaning of Meaning[edit | edit source]

Desirability of improving on the linguistic practice of philosophers. -- The framing of a list of definitions as in Chapter VII, 185. Sixteen main definitions elicited, 186. Discussion of these seriatim. Meaning as an intrinsic property of words (I) and as an unanalysable relation (II) dismissed. Consideration of dictionary meaning (III) postponed. Connotation (IV) and Denotation as logical artifacts; Johnson, Russell, Mill, 187. Essences (V) as connotations hypostatized, 188. Meaning as projected activity (VI) a metaphor, Schiller. Meaning as intention (VII) analysed; Joseph, Gardiner, 191. Complications due to misdirection, 194. Affective-volitional aspects, 195. Meaning as place in a system (VIII), 196. A vague usage. This sometimes narrowed down to meaning as practical consequences (IX), 197. William James and the pragmatists. Or to meaning as what is implied (X). Meaning as emotional accompaniments (XI), 198. Urban, 199.

The doctrine of Natural Signs (XII). -- Examples, 199. The psycho-analyst's 'meaning' as 'cause of.' Meaning as psychological context (XIII A) in the contextual theory of reference. Further explanations of this theory, 201. Instances and objections. Necessity of checking the evidence of introspection, 201. The inconclusiveness of immediate conviction, 202. Why we must rely on symbols in abstract thinking, 203. Meaning as referent (XIII B) in the contextual theory of reference. Correspondence theory of truth unnecessary. Speaker and listener again, 2Q5. Delimitation of contexts the problem for the theory of communication. Meaning as what the speaker ought to be referring to (XIV); Good Use, 206. Dictionaries as marking overlaps between references of symbols, 207. Complications in meaning due to symbol situations (XV and XVI), 208.


When, however, the problem is scientifically approached, we find that no less than sixteen groups of definitions may be profitably distinguished in a field where the most rigid accuracy is desirable.

In other cases ambiguity may be fatal to the particular topic in which it occurs, but here such ambiguity even renders it doubtful what discussion itself is. For some view of 'meaning' is presupposed by every opinion upon anything, and an actual change of view on this point will for a consistent thinker involve change in all his views.

The definitions of Meaning may be dealt with under three headings. The first comprises Phantoms linguistically generated; the second groups and distinguishes Occasional and erratic usages; the third covers Sign and Symbol situations generally. One interesting effect of such an exposition is that it forces us for the time being to abandon the term 'meaning' itself, and to substitute either other terms, such as 'intention,' 'value,' 'referent,' 'emotion ' for which it is being used as a synonym, or the expanded symbol which, contrary to expectation, emerges after a little trouble.

A careful study of these expansions leaves little room for doubt that what philosophers and metaphysicians have long regarded as an abstruse and ultimate notion, falling entirely within their peculiar domain and that of such descriptive psychologists as had agreed to adopt a similar terminology, has been the subject of detailed study and analysis by various special sciences for over half a century. During the last few years advances of biology, and the physiological investigation of memory and heredity have placed the 'meaning' of signs in general beyond doubt, and it is here shown that thought and language are to be treated in the same manner.