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The Meaning of Meaning - Essay Example

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The traditional study of natural language leaves much to be desired in the philosophical realm. While they have discovered certain universal features which appear to be species-specific, and have some idea about the structure of language…
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The Meaning of Meaning The traditional study of natural language leaves much to be desired in the philosophical realm. While they have discovered certain universal features which appear to be species-specific, and have some idea about the structure of language, it remains to be seen as to whether any of this is actually naturistic of language, or more associated with actual cognitive learning approaches and syntax. The question raised most often by philosophy is what about the meaning of words; where does it originate. It’s not that meanings don’t exist per se, but rather that they take a different form than what we usually intend when we say meaning. Word meanings are more inaccurate than sentence meanings. For this reason we often have to gain the meaning of words through their contextual surroundings. Previous philosophers have postulated that sentence meanings should be addressed first in attempting to discover the meaning of words; however, if the word has different connotations between societies, then no amount of studying the meaning of a sentence will bring one closer to the real meaning of a term. Traditional philosophers postulated that there are two applications of words; one in the actual term, and the other in its significance or sense. The actual term has been thought of as the extension of a descriptive concept; the actuality of everything belonging to that one descriptive set and whatever is true for that set. The significance or sense of a term involves whatever is intentioned by that term. Words cannot be defined concretely as there are always variances of significance despite the terms used. For this reason, the dictionary also has many different connotations describing one word and its usage. The extension form of a term is fairly precise; however the intension form can often be vague conceptually. The problem is that traditional philosophers treat the intensions of words as mental entities. Modern philosophers postulate that because meanings are held uniformly across groups of people, they are in actuality abstract entities dependent upon psychological cognitive events applied individualistically in order to derive accurate intentionality of a term. By this, it has been theorized that two identical terms cannot differ to intension with the same extension. They postulate that intension is considered a criterion for recognition of belonging to the extension set. Therefore, the theory of meaning is based on two assumptions: 1) that defining a term is based on the psychological state of a person, and 2) that the intension of a term signifies its extension. Putnam argues that this bases the meaning of words on inaccurate theory. For one thing, traditional philosophers held that psychological states were individualistic; that no two people could be in the same psychological state simultaneously. These psychological states were limited by and unique to the individual. In this mode of thinking, there are no global circumstances of awareness. This philosophy restricts the psychological nature to fit preconceived and idealistic reconstructions of the world and knowledge; that beliefs and knowledge are individualistic across time and cultures. Yet, in reality, there are two approaches to determining psychological state. In the broad sense, it is a globally applicable condition which many individuals may share at any given moment. People can possibly grasp intentionality of a term regardless of its extension. The concept of a word has a widely held common understanding. However, the point of contention arises with the belief that the intension determines the extension. In traditional theory, meanings are thought to be platonic entities as opposed to mental entities; understanding the difference between them is considered an example of the methodological solipsism viewpoint, where what one determines to be true is the only truth. Taking the global view of psychological state, it’s a case of using mental particulars to define and identify concepts, as opposed to using mental entities. The traditional view holds that if two people have differing concepts of a term, then they must be in different psychological states as the psychological state of the communicator determines the intension and extension of that term. Putnam argues that if this were true, one must consider which is affected by the psychological state; the intentionality or the extension of the term. She postulates that only sometimes does the psychological state of the communicator have a bearing on the extension of a term. Different speakers of the same language sometimes have different intensions for the same term. This accounts for confusion between similar linguistic communities. While speakers across a large area may be in the same psychological state and have identical terms for expressing the extension of those terms, the conceptual intentionality isn’t always identical. Therefore, the extension of a term isn’t dependent upon psychological state or its intension. Putnam goes on to explain a plausible theory which holds more credibility and may have more to do with the socio-linguistic connotations of a term; the social or commonly held beliefs about a term as used by a group of L1 speakers. These terms evolve over time, involving culture adaptations to vary the intention while retaining the extension of the term. This would also account for blended languages that include slang terms, and adopt terms from other languages to express interpreted intensions, which may vary from the actual intentionality of the L1 term. Bibliography Putnam, H. How Not to Talk About Meaning. R. Cohen, M. Wartofsky, eds., Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol.2 ( New York: Humanities Press, 1965) Read More
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