• Pattern-chaser
    462
    If meaning only existed in our heads and not outside of our heads, then how does the meaning in words get from the writer or speaker's head to the listeners' heads?Harry Hindu

    This is misdirective trivia. Sound exists outside of our heads. Written words exist outside of our heads. You are surely aware that sound and words can carry language, which can transport meaning from one human to another. But meaning only has meaning to a human. Spoken or written words are not in themselves meaningful. The meaning emerges when a human understands those words, within their minds.

    N.B. I do not intend to refer to trivial meaning, as in "the meaning of a word is described in a dictionary", but something more abstract and human, like "the meaning of life".
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    739
    Hello.

    Very true. My experience is that people often focus so much on deductive reasoning - logical inferences - that they forget about inductive reasoning - definitions and principles. Definition of terms is possibly the hardest and yet most critical part of an argument.

    Now there are two types of definitions. (1) The author's meaning, and (2) the real definition of things, also called essence or nature of things in themselves. (1) is easy enough to produce and the readers just need to adjust to the terms as intended by the author for that specific discussion. (2) is much harder, and answers the question "what is x", as meant by everyone in the common language. In this case, the Socratic Dialogue is a good method, which is testing a hypothesis definition against particular examples used in the common language. It is a lot of work, but once obtained, it does not need to be found again, and makes the rest of the discussion much easier.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    Tree-rings have no intrinsic meaning. Meaning is assigned arbitrarily to them by humans. Even using tree rings to determine the age of a tree is a human thing: we kill the tree to see how old it was. The rings simply reflect the way the tree grew. They have no intrinsic meaning, and they were not put there for the use of humans.

    Better, surely, not to assign meaning or use, but simply to observe and enjoy?
    Pattern-chaser

    The sentiment is right.

    Meaning is always assigned by people.

    But it's not arbitrary. We use tree rings to fathom age; we don't use some other characteristic - taste, for example.

    And one can take a bore of a tree to determine its age without killing it.

    The rings are the way the tree grew.

    And finally, we have no choice but to assign meaning. The world is always, already, interpreted.

    So at the root, i don't think we disagree too much.

    The relevance of all this for the thread is that the act of setting out definitions (meaning, use) is part of philosophical enquiry; hence it dose not make sense to set out definitions before the discussion begins, unless perhaps the aim is to critique those definitions.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    It's the kind of meaning I was referring to. I'd say that we can't sensibly start going into a philosophical discussion without those being clear. Whether the defining is part of the philosophical discussion or preceeds it, I don't really care, as long as it happens.Tomseltje

    Yeah, well, I suppose in a sense this thread seeks a definition of "definition".

    In that context, my poiint is that a set of synonyms does not set out what we might call the meaning of some term.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    Yes, but the meaning is in your head (mind) and mine. It has no existence in the scientific space-time universe (outside of our heads), and it has no association with the trees (outside of our heads).Pattern-chaser

    Take care not to fall into the idealist hole of thinking that words are not part of the world. We do talk about trees, and we do things to trees with our words. Some of them we decide to cut down; some of them we decide to plant; some of them we place in reserves; and so on.

    And notice that it is we, not I. The meaning is not in my head, nor in yours. It's very much shared.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    The causal relationship is objective in the sense that there is only one correct interpretation of tree rings.Harry Hindu

    Seriously?
  • Banno
    3.4k
    The meaning is what the writer intended to convey.Harry Hindu

    Meaning/Information is the relationship between cause and effect.Harry Hindu

    Doesn't this imply that what the writer intended to convey is the relationship between cause and effect?
  • Banno
    3.4k
    (2) the real definition of things, also called essence or nature of things in themselves.Samuel Lacrampe

    The notion of essence is quite problematic. The notion that it is certain identifiable properties that can be used to individuate some individual apart from others has been quite thoroughly critiqued.

    For me, it's more trouble than it is worth.
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    This is misdirective trivia. Sound exists outside of our heads. Written words exist outside of our heads. You are surely aware that sound and words can carry language, which can transport meaning from one human to another. But meaning only has meaning to a human. Spoken or written words are not in themselves meaningful. The meaning emerges when a human understands those words, within their minds.

    N.B. I do not intend to refer to trivial meaning, as in "the meaning of a word is described in a dictionary", but something more abstract and human, like "the meaning of life".
    Pattern-chaser
    Wrong again. Vibrating air molecules exist outside of our heads. Our brains interpret those vibrations as sounds, which only exist in our heads.

    In effect, the sounds you hear are the effect, while the vibrations are part of the cause. The vibrations were caused by a person speaking, which was in turn caused by some idea in their head and their intent to convey that idea. I don't see how this is so difficult to see as a causal process - where the effect (sounds in your head) mean what caused them - the idea in someone else's head.

    This is a philosophy forum where we convey our ideas and our own positions and expect others to read our words and understand what we meant. It's strange to see you behave as if you don't understand what I'm saying, yet go about doing exactly what I'm saying - using cause and effect to relay a message to readers.

    The meaning does not emerge from understanding. Understanding is the state of actually interpreting the meaning correctly. There is the possibility of you misinterpreting the meaning of words. This can only be explained by putting meaning outside of your head that you attempt to get at by representing the meaning (the causal relationship between hearing sounds and what caused them) in your head. Have you ever misinterpreted the meaning of sounds? How can you do that if meaning is only in your head?
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    Seriously?Banno
    Yes. Do you have point to make?

    The meaning is what the writer intended to convey. — Harry Hindu


    Meaning/Information is the relationship between cause and effect. — Harry Hindu


    Doesn't this imply that what the writer intended to convey is the relationship between cause and effect?
    Banno
    No. Meaning is the relationship between the effect of seeing words on a screen and what caused those words to be on the screen. What caused the words in your posts, Banno? How is it that I can read your posts? Am I suppose impose my own meaning on your words, or am I suppose to get at what you intended to convey when you typed those words?
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    739
    , hello.

    That it is troublesome and challenging, I have no doubt. But that essences exist is easy to prove. Virtually everyone can correctly identify a 'duck' among a pile of 'rocks', or understand that whatever the concept of 'knowledge' is, it is closer to the concept of 'understanding' than it is to the concept of a 'cow'. This would not be the case if beings did not have distinct essences, natures, or identities.

    Now it is not necessary to find the perfect definition of concrete things like 'duck' or 'rock' in order to have a coherent discussion about these, but it is better to find it for abstract concepts like 'knowledge' and 'understanding' to avoid ambiguity, and it is necessary to find it if we wish to obtain necessary truths on these beings.

    Example: Is free will necessary for 'Christian Love'? Yes, because the essence of 'Christian Love' is "willing the good" to the object loved; and there is no will without free will. Therefore if Christian Love exists, then free will necessarily exists.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    So now we have :

    The meaning is what the writer intended to convey. — Harry Hindu

    Meaning/Information is the relationship between cause and effect. — Harry Hindu

    and

    Meaning is the relationship between the effect of seeing words on a screen and what caused those words to be on the screen. — Harry Hindu
  • Banno
    3.4k
    But that essences exist is easy to prove. Virtually everyone can correctly identify a 'duck' among a pile of 'rocks', or understand that whatever the concept of 'knowledge' is, it is closer to the concept of 'understanding' than it is to the concept of a 'cow'. This would not be the case if beings did not have distinct essences, natures, or identities.Samuel Lacrampe

    Another transcendental argument.

    Are you proposing that when one learns the difference between a duck and a rock that one is learning duck-essence as opposed to rock-essence?

    I can usually tell a duck from a rock, but I have no idea what a duck-essence might be, nor a rock-essence.

    Relating this to the OP, are you suggesting that providing a definition, a set of synonyms, is what is involved in setting out an essence?

    Now it is not necessary to find the perfect definition of concrete things like 'duck' or 'rock' in order to have a coherent discussion about these, but it is better to find it for abstract concepts like 'knowledge' and 'understanding' to avoid ambiguity,Samuel Lacrampe

    So you can't provide a definition of duck or rock, and yet you want to use definitions for freedom and understanding? If you cannot set out an essence of duck why should we think you can set out an essence of freedom?

    And remember, all this odd exegesis is to be compared with looking to the use to which we put the words "duck" and "freedom" - a thing we plainly can do.
  • Pattern-chaser
    462
    In effect, the sounds you hear are the effect, while the vibrations are part of the cause. The vibrations were caused by a person speaking, which was in turn caused by some idea in their head and their intent to convey that idea. I don't see how this is so difficult to see as a causal process - where the effect (sounds in your head) mean what caused them - the idea in someone else's head.Harry Hindu

    Put into your terms, the cause is (as you say) an idea in someone else's head, and the effect is an idea in yours. The spoken words are merely transport.
  • Banno
    3.4k
    This thread started with a picture of how words work that involved the meaning of a word or term as being given by another set of words. It's a misleading picture.

    In its place one might look to how words are actually used.
  • Pattern-chaser
    462
    Tree-rings have no intrinsic meaning. Meaning is assigned arbitrarily to them by humans. Even using tree rings to determine the age of a tree is a human thing: we kill the tree to see how old it was. The rings simply reflect the way the tree grew. They have no intrinsic meaning, and they were not put there for the use of humans. Better, surely, not to assign meaning or use, but simply to observe and enjoy? — Pattern-chaser

    The sentiment is right.

    Meaning is always assigned by people.

    But it's not arbitrary.
    Banno

    Not even if you're a tree? :wink:
  • Pattern-chaser
    462
    ↪Pattern-chaser
    What?
    Banno

    Assignment of meaning (to tree rings) by humans is pretty arbitrary from a tree's point of view. :grin:

    The use to which we put tree rings - measuring the age of a tree - isn't arbitrary, from our point of view. But that implies the point, the one that you make, and I agree with:

    Meaning is always assigned by people.Banno

    But the meaning of tree rings is far more problematical (than their use), in my mind.
  • Akanthinos
    1k
    Assignment of meaning (to tree rings) by humans is pretty arbitrary from a tree's point of view.Pattern-chaser

    Is not tree not a temporal being?
  • apokrisis
    4.3k
    I can usually tell a duck from a rock, but I have no idea what a duck-essence might be, nor a rock-essence.Banno

    Performative contradiction?

    The distinction between essential versus accidental properties has been characterized in various ways, but it is currently most commonly understood in modal terms: an essential property of an object is a property that it must have, while an accidental property of an object is one that it happens to have but that it could lack.

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/essential-accidental/

    So we know what is essential when we know what is not accidental.

    And language use in turn relies on us using words in ways that emphasise the essential. When we employ a term like "duck" or "rock", we don't want folk to get hung up on their various possible inessential or accidental interpretations.

    So if I say "duck", you can already take it for granted that something essential is being asserted. And being sufficiently like-minded ensures you understand what that is well enough.
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    Okay, so it appears that you're paying attention. Excellent. If you're still having trouble connecting those dots, you might want to try answering those questions I've posed to you in the past several posts.



    This thread started with a picture of how words work that involved the meaning of a word or term as being given by another set of words. It's a misleading picture.Banno
    ...until I came along and showed that the meaning of a word doesn't necessarily have to refer to another set of words, but refers to other visuals, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings, and those are the actual things that those words refer to. Words are just other visuals and scribbles, whose creation and use were specifically designed to refer to our other sensory impressions in order to communicate the non-verbal contents of our minds. Until humans learn to use telepathy we have to use words to communicate.

    In its place one might look to how words are actually used.Banno
    Used: as in used to refer to the non-verbal contents of our minds.
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    Put into your terms, the cause is (as you say) an idea in someone else's head, and the effect is an idea in yours. The spoken words are merely transport.Pattern-chaser
    Yes. Cause and effect. I think you might be getting it.
  • Samuel Lacrampe
    739
    Are you proposing that when one learns the difference between a duck and a rock that one is learning duck-essence as opposed to rock-essence? I can usually tell a duck from a rock, but I have no idea what a duck-essence might be, nor a rock-essence.Banno
    You don't find the essences from this, but you find that if we know that a rock is evidently not a duck, then a rock is missing some essential properties that makes a duck a duck, and vice versa. And this implies that these beings have essential properties.

    Relating this to the OP, are you suggesting that providing a definition, a set of synonyms, is what is involved in setting out an essence?Banno
    Not synonyms, but essential properties; that is, properties such that, if they were lost, then the being would lose its identity. E.g., the essential properties of a triangle are "flat surface" + "3 sides". Lose one of these, and the being is no longer a triangle.

    So you can't provide a definition of duck or rock, and yet you want to use definitions for freedom and understanding?Banno
    Who said we can't define a duck or a rock? I said it is not necessary, because the terms are rather unambiguous. Although we would have to if we wanted to find necessary truths about these beings.

    If you cannot set out an essence of duck why should we think you can set out an essence of freedom?Banno
    Why not? Socratic Method: come up with a hypothesis definition of 'freedom'; test it against examples in the common language that use the term; repeat until it cannot be falsified; Bob's your uncle.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    Socratic Method: come up with a hypothesis definition of 'freedom'; test it against examples in the common language that use the term; repeat until it cannot be falsified; Bob's your uncle.Samuel Lacrampe

    So this leads to what I consider to be the most interesting question raised by your approach. What's wrong with all the people who disagree about the meaning of a word? Take a look at the torturous 61 page discussion on the meaning of the word 'Belief'. What do you think has happened here? Is it that despite the Socratic method being around for more than 2000years, no-one (except you) has thought to apply it to the meanings of words, or is it that they have but the process simply takes more than 2000 years to resolve (in which case I don't have much hope for the technique helping much on this forum), or is it, just possibly, that it doesn't work?
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    Put into your terms, the cause is (as you say) an idea in someone else's head, and the effect is an idea in yours. The spoken words are merely transport. — Pattern-chaser

    Yes. Cause and effect. I think you might be getting it.
    Harry Hindu

    So how do you differentiate brain effects to decide which one is the 'meaning'? If you say the word 'tree' to me all sorts of things happen in my brain, audial signalling, random noise filtering, associations, conciousness flickering. I might be reminded of my coat which I left hanging on that tree over there, or my first garden with the big oak tree in it. If you said 'tree' very loudly to me when I was sleeping, I would actually be woken up by the word and all the chain of conciousness would be started by it. Which one of these 'effects' is the meaning?
  • Banno
    3.4k
    as in used to refer to the non-verbal contents of our minds.Harry Hindu

    no; used as in what we do with it.
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    So how do you differentiate brain effects to decide which one is the 'meaning'? If you say the word 'tree' to me all sorts of things happen in my brain, audial signalling, random noise filtering, associations, conciousness flickering. I might be reminded of my coat which I left hanging on that tree over there, or my first garden with the big oak tree in it. If you said 'tree' very loudly to me when I was sleeping, I would actually be woken up by the word and all the chain of conciousness would be started by it. Which one of these 'effects' is the meaning?Pseudonym

    I think you're confusing hearing or seeing the word, "tree" spoken or written and thinking about categories of trees.

    As I have said, meaning is the relationship between cause and effect. Effects carry meaning about their causes. This means that spoken or written words that you hear or see mean what the speaker or writer intended to convey - which is some idea in their head. Yelling "tree" when you are asleep means whatever I intended when I yelled it. You will wake up and wonder why I said "tree" very loudly. In other words, you will try to get at the meaning of my use of the word - my idea that I intended to convey. It could be that I was just being rude, and that would be the meaning of the word you heard. Thinking about all those other non-verbal things that "tree" can refer to would simply be you trying to get at what it was that I meant, not what you mean when you say the word, "tree". In order to get at what someone means when they speak or write we often roll over in our minds all the possible meanings that the word could refer to. Our goal is to always get at speaker/writer's intent, not to impose our own meaning on someone else's words, or else we never actually communicate.

    Thinking of the word "tree" without anyone having spoken or written it is exactly what speakers and writers do BEFORE using the word. Before using words, you have to think of what it is you want to say, and it doesn't always come in the form of other words, rather it comes in non-verbal sensory impressions that we translate to words in order to communicate those ideas to another person. Think about the tree in your garden. Is your tree made of words, or bark and leaves? Isn't the bark and leaves and the size and shape of the tree, all non-verbal sensory impressions that you convert in to verbal symbols in order to communicate the properties of the tree in your garden? So when, you say "tree" and you intend for it to refer to the one in your garden, would it be okay for me to project my own meaning on your words, and could we still call the interaction between us "communicating"?
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    no; used as in what we do with it.Banno
    Exactly. What you do with words is use them to refer to (communicate) the non-verbal contents of your mind.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    You seem to be missing out an entire, crucially important stage and that's what I'm trying to ask you about (and I think that's what Banno's trying to get at too).

    Your process seems to go like this;

    1. You have a sensation/thought in your mind which you convert to a sign (word) which somehow represents that sensation/thought.
    2. You say that word or write it and I hear it or read it.
    3. I then try to convert that word into a sensation or thought hopefully close to the one you had.

    This seems to me to encapsulate entirely what you're saying about communication, and I don't think anyone's disagreeing with you. But none of that is what the philosophical discussion of meaning is about. Philosophical discussions of meaning are about how you know what words are good ones to use to represent your sensation/thought. You don't just pick some random word, so how do you know which one to pick? That is the meaning of the word, its the reason you chose it to represent the sensation/thought you wanted to communicate. Why choose 'tree'? Because it somehow is already the sound that is most likely to get the same image into my mind that you have in yours (that of a tree). So if meaning is whatever you intend, then what is that thing which is clearly a property of the word 'tree' which led you to choose it to do that job?
  • Pattern-chaser
    462
    What you do with words is use them to refer to (communicate) the non-verbal contents of your mind.Harry Hindu

    So we use words to "refer to (communicate)" the non-words in our minds? :chin:

    Put into your terms, the cause is (as you say) an idea in someone else's head, and the effect is an idea in yours. The spoken words are merely transport. — Pattern-chaser

    Yes. Cause and effect. I think you might be getting it.
    Harry Hindu

    Perhaps. But I think you're not. I commented because you claimed the words were the effect. Now you agree that they aren't (?), so I'm not sure what your argument or point is. Let's see if we can drill to the core of this sub-topic.

    You appear to assert that meaning is the relationship between cause and effect.
    • Have I understood your position correctly?
    • Is this offered as a definition of meaning, or an illustrative example of what meaning is?
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