Topic: meaning by social context

topics > philosophy > Group: meaning and truth

language and life as a game
limitations of formalism
mathematical proof as a social process
meaning by language as a whole
meaning by use
meaning vs. reference
models of reality
natural language as communication
people better than computers
private language argument for skepticism about meaning
problem of other minds
scientific paradigms and research programs
sense perception


There is a social aspect to meaning. What we understand but what is said depends on what was meant, on what others say. It is in this game of life that words acquire meaning.

At the simplest level this is saying that meaning is that which is shared by a community. Meaning is exactly that which different speakers have in common. More accurately, meaning is determined socially and by the actual nature of particular things. Both speaker and hearer lack perfect knowledge of either source. Yet, in order to communicate, they can proceed as best they can.

The idea of social context can be carried to an extreme. Then meaning becomes the context itself. The main proponents are Heidegger and his followers. A related approach is hermeneutics in which the meaning of a text depends on its interpretation. (cbb 5/94)

Subtopic: meaning based on human facts up

Quote: meaning in language is based on human, institutional facts, not brute facts of nature; only in the stream of life do words have meaning [»blaiDC6_1992]
Quote: to tell if a speaker mis-spoke, need to infer some of the speaker's meaning prior to the utterance; implies, decoding theories are incomplete [»blaiDC6_1992]
Quote: individualistic approaches to the mental may treat mental events as infallible seeing; neglects social features of the mind [»burgT_1979]
Quote: since Hegel, there is an inarticulate division between private, mental states and the role of social institutions [»burgT_1979]
Quote: we think organization is the answer to intelligence from unintelligent components; but intelligence has third-person criteria that makes the question incoherent [»searJR_1992]
Quote: speech act theory--language and thought is ultimately based on social interaction [»winoT_1986]

Subtopic: meaning is what is shared between speakers up

Quote: the connotation of an element is the set of similarities noted by hearers of the language about its semantic regularities in the language [»ziffP_1960]
Note: meaning is what different speakers have in common [»martAP_1990, OK]
Quote: regard as real those sense perceptions which are common to different individuals and hence impersonal; e.g., rigid bodies [»einsA_1956, OK]
Quote: the sense of a sign is shared by others; the sense lies in between, not subjective as is the image, but not the object either [»fregG_1892]
Quote: the 'game' of attributing concepts to conforming individuals would lose its point outside of the community [»kripSA_1982]
Quote: the meaning of something is between speakers and hearers; neither what was meant nor what was connoted
Quote: being a chair or a nice day for a picnic is an observer-relative feature
Quote: though no two people perceive reality the same, views overlap enough to allow cooperative work [»kentW_1978]
Quote: much of what we say is based on what others told us; e.g., our belief that Napoleon was the Emperor of France [»winoT_1986]
Quote: meaning cannot be separated from use or the whole complex of inferential, conversational, social, and other purposes to which it is put [»smitBC1_1991]

Subtopic: meaning by context up

Quote: understanding is a great ability to avoid equivocation through context, drift, and occasion; we can find out the true meaning of what is said [»hobbT_1650, OK]

Subtopic: design as social activity up

Quote: program design is a social activity where designs are developed through presentation and discussions; e.g., discuss design and implementation alternatives [»stroB_1991]
Quote: often, the most important design tool is a blackboard; for developing and sharing embryonic concepts

Subtopic: meaning is not in the head -- actual nature up

Quote: meaning is not in the head; consider Twin Earth where only metallurgists know that the names and usages of aluminum and molybdenum were switched [»putnH_1973]
Quote: meaning is not in the head; consider Twin Earth where water is really XYZ yet in 1750 everyone thought they were the same [»putnH_1973]
Quote: there may be many users of the word 'gold' but only metallurgists can recognize gold; i.e., the society determines the meaning of 'gold' [»putnH_1973]
Quote: the extension of a term is determined socially and by the actual nature of particular things; the actual nature is not fully known by the speaker [»putnH_1973]
Note: 'sense' can not both determine reference and the mode of presentation as determined by psychological states [»putnH_1973, OK]
Quote: a real science is about mental contents standing for things; e.g., 'all fire is warming' because 'warming' is a mental content common to every fire [»ockhW_1310]

Subtopic: shared, public world up

Quote: the shared, public world is the only world there is; the self is a selection of interpretations made available by the culture [»dreyHL_1991]
Quote: everyday communication can not be understood as context-free messages sent from one isolated mind to another; needs shared background [»dreyHL_1991]
Quote: language depends on a shared, unformalized background; needed at a breakdown to negotiate a new meaning and speak with commitment [»clanWJ1_1987]
Quote: the terms of a proposition assume a context; e.g., 'every dog is an animal' does not apply to the dog star [»ockhW_1310]

Subtopic: hermeneutics up

Quote: hermeneutics begin as the theory of interpretation of sacred texts; asking why does a text have meaning despite different cultures and language [»winoT_1986]
Quote: a school of hermeneutics takes interpretation as primary; gives meaning to a text, determines our language and ourselves [»winoT_1986]
Quote: the hermeneutic circle--our beliefs can not be made explicit because we are always operating within their framework [»winoT_1986]
Quote: we introduce Maturana's terminology without giving definitions; precise definitions are impossible anyway [»winoT_1986]

Related Topics up

Topic: language and life as a game (30 items)
Topic: limitations of formalism (93 items)
Topic: mathematical proof as a social process (14 items)
Topic: meaning by language as a whole (26 items)
Topic: meaning by use (58 items)
Topic: meaning vs. reference (49 items)
Topic: models of reality (33 items)
Topic: natural language as communication (34 items)
Topic: people better than computers (35 items)
Topic: phenomenology (37 items)
Topic: private language argument for skepticism about meaning (34 items)
Topic: problem of other minds (11 items)
Topic: scientific paradigms and research programs (30 items)
Topic: sense perception (55 items)
Topic: sociology
(11 items)

Updated barberCB 8/04
Copyright © 2002-2008 by C. Bradford Barber. All rights reserved.
Thesa is a trademark of C. Bradford Barber.