Topic: meaning by use

topics > philosophy > Group: meaning and truth

natural language

dictionary for natural language
language and life as a game
meaning by social context
meaning of words
meaning vs. reference
natural language as action or problem solving
natural language as communication
object-oriented prototypes
people better than computers
pidgin and creole languages
private language argument for skepticism about meaning
task communication
what is truth


Ordinary language philosophy identifies the meaning of a word with its use in the language. You understand a word if you know how to use it. The chief proponents are Wittgenstein and Ziff.

The meaning of a word is like a game. There are not fixed rules, nor a fixed set of properties. Instead change and situation and diversity are primary.

Note the contrast with identifying meaning with a proposition or with the entire language. Here, meaning is in the words themselves. One may have a picture or a decomposition, but both are just hints to how the word is used.

This is a skeptical solution to meaning because it denies an absolute meaning to words. It avoids being a shallow solution by identifying meaning with life itself. (cbb 5/94)

Subtopic: language as efficient communication up

Quote: concepts are language; the purpose of language is efficacy in communication and prediction; this is the ultimate duty of language, science, and philosophy [»quinWV_1950]

Subtopic: meaning by use up

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]
Quote: you understand an expression when you know how to use it, although it may conjure up a picture [»wittL_1939]
Quote: what is important is not meaning as something in the mind, but whether something has a use; "'Wolf' is a wolf" seldom has a use [»wittL_1939]
Quote: language has a dynamic structure like a game, a set of tools defined by use [»blaiDC6_1992]
Quote: consider the reality corresponding to a sentence; this means either that the sentence is true or that the sentence has a meaning; e.g., "There's nothing red in this room" vs. "red" [»wittL_1939]
Quote: an object's uses are a central part of a person's conception of an object; e.g., a box contains things [»millGA7_1990]
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: we tend to think about meaning abstractly, in isolation from its uses, but meaning depends on context and use; causes skepticism [»pitkHF_1972]
Quote: our concepts are assembled out of their uses; many different kinds of uses and many language games; heterogeneous [»pitkHF_1972]
Quote: common concepts may be treated in different ways by different domains; e.g., different currencies [»ahmeR12_1991]
Quote: the meaning of a plex depends on its use, i.e., the algorithms applied to its components [»rossDT5_1964]

Subtopic: word meaning by use up

Quote: rules about language are often inconsistent because words are used as tools, not labels [»pitkHF_1972]
Quote: words are always changing; words are not fundamental, immutable atoms of our speech [»johnS_1747, OK]
Quote: if you want to understand a word, you have to know its use
Quote: words must be sought where they are used; many quotations merely prove the existence of words [»johnS_1755, OK]
Quote: Wittgenstein--meaning of a word is its use in the language
Quote: ordinary-language philosophy sees the meaning of a word in where it is used and what other words may replace it [»pitkHF_1972]
Quote: only in the stream of thought and life do words have meaning; we verbalize the meaning after the fact [»wittL_1967]
Quote: words such as "two" and "and", and rules such as "2+2=4" have many uses but not much of a meaning [»wittL_1939]

Subtopic: truth as use up

Quote: the meaning of a word depends on truth-conditions (i.e., how it is used); not on the mental images it may arouse; Frege rejected psychologism [»dummM_1967]

Subtopic: sense vs. reference up

Quote: can define a circle by drawing a circle or by drawing tangents, i.e., by pointing or description [»ziffP_1960]

Subtopic: value by use up

Quote: the value of a work must be estimated by its use; a dictionary must be useful to all

Subtopic: meaning as semantic regularity, family resemblance up

Quote: meaning is essentially a matter of semantic regularities [»ziffP_1960]
Quote: meaning is the relatively fixed element running through a word's uses; it is also shaped and learned through use [»pitkHF_1972]
Quote: define categories by family resemblance instead of criterial features
Quote: sets of conditions are correlated with the elements of E that have meaning in English; such state regularities are simply a fact [»ziffP_1960]
Quote: determine if an element has a meaning by its distributive set and contrastive set in the corpus [»ziffP_1960]
Quote: virtually all nondeviant utterances of E satisfy state regularities or projections to a standard case; confirmable in actual world [»ziffP_1960]
Quote: want to know what a word means in a language; includes all possible, natural utterances

Subtopic: prototypical member up

Quote: prototypical members of a category share the most attributes with other members of the category and the fewest attributes from other categories; experiments with natural and artificial categories [»roscE_1975]

Subtopic: meaning as an articulate representation of reality up

Note: consider testing someone about meaning (recognizing an F, knowing what an F is); meaning is an articulate representation of reality [»putnH_1973, OK]
Quote: let E be the set of all possible, natural utterances; extends the set H of known utterances and H* of actual utterances [»ziffP_1960]
Quote: words but not utterances generally have meaning in English; because a word, but not an utterance, has a distributive set in E [»ziffP_1960]

Subtopic: meaning by context up

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]
Quote: while substitutivity is central to grammar, it depends on the context; the context changes the form; what is left invariant? [»quinWV8_1951]

Subtopic: language games up

Quote: Wittgenstein--ordinary words like game have no common properties; instead games share a family resemblance [»sowaJF_1984]
Quote: the things called 'games' form a family, and their similarities are family resemblances [»wittL_1958a]
Quote: a word is not everywhere bounded by rules; what if a game was everywhere bounded by rules? [»wittL_1958a]
Quote: what there is does not in general depend on one's use of language, but what one says there is does
Quote: the Liar's paradox is just a language game that behaves differently than others [»wittL_1939]
Quote: language has a dynamic structure like a game, a set of tools defined by use [»blaiDC6_1992]

Subtopic: jargon up

Quote: commerce corrupts the language through frequent contact with strangers; eventually becomes a mingled dialect, a jargon [»johnS_1755, OK]

Subtopic: phoneme up

Quote: the meaning of a phoneme depends on synonymy, i.e., the sameness of meaning
Quote: sounds are different phonemes if substitution changes the meaning [»quinWV8_1951]

Subtopic: meaning is magical up

Quote: to understand speech must extricate thought from signs or words which often agree not with it [»chomN_1965]
Quote: nothing in English provides for "There is an x which is a man"; no way to identify "a man" or even "being a pair of trousers" [»wittL_1939]
Quote: what is time? I know as long as no one asks me to explain it [»theoCI3_1991]
Quote: while a picture of a word seems to fix the sense unambiguously, the actual use is muddled; not suitable for generalization [»pitkHF_1972]
Quote: Wittgenstein realized language formed pictures of reality through a schematic drawing of an accident; a fact or word corresponds to reality [»pitkHF_1972]
Quote: for most words a picture represents the meaning of the word, e.g., "chair"; for others, pictures are misleading, e.g., "particle" [»wittL_1939]
Quote: we can not completely represent the nature of any thing by our words; Hertz 1857-94 [»pitkHF_1972]

Subtopic: meaning is not composite up

Quote: the correct answer to "Is the visual image of this tree composite?" is "That depends on the meaning of 'composite'"; i.e., reject the question [»wittL_1958a]
Quote: compare "Bring me the broom" with "Bring me the broomstick and its brush"; the decomposition is nonsensical [»wittL_1958a]

Subtopic: meaning is more than use up

Quote: the class of grammatical sequences must be predetermined, but can't simply list all of the morphemes as done with phonemes [»quinWV8_1951]
Quote: the use of a word depends on more than its meaning; also phonetic, syntactic, morphology and etymology [»ziffP_1960]
Quote: a child learns a natural language by discovering a deep and abstract theory [»chomN_1965]
Quote: ordinary language philosophy is right to doubt the adequacy of any criterion, but wrong to question the study of ontological presuppositions

Related Topics up

Group: natural language   (16 topics, 539 quotes)

Topic: consciousness (58 items)
Topic: context (8 items)
Topic: dictionary for natural language (41 items)
Topic: language and life as a game (30 items)
Topic: meaning by social context (33 items)
Topic: meaning of words (21 items)
Topic: meaning vs. reference (49 items)
Topic: natural language as action or problem solving (29 items)
Topic: natural language as communication (34 items)
Topic: object-oriented prototypes (39 items)
Topic: people better than computers (35 items)
Topic: pidgin and creole languages (31 items)
Topic: private language argument for skepticism about meaning (34 items)
Topic: task communication (49 items)
Topic: what is truth
(67 items)

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