Friday, April 29, 2016

Meaning and Definition

Here are some interesting quotes I've collected over the past year or two in regards to meaning and definition. The word meaning originates in the German Language, from the word meinen which is still used today. It is translated as thinking or intention. It almost seems synonymous with 'intentional thinking'. The word 'definition' has its roots in Latin. Both names refer to ideas and have to do with a human's relation to his own thought, or what is happening in via his brain.

From Thought and Language (1986) by Lev Vygotskii

"The meaning of a word represents such a close amalgam of thought and language that it is hard to tell whether it is a phenomenon of speech or a phenomenon of thought. A word without meaning is an empty sound; meaning, therefore is a criterion of “word,” its indispensable component. . ." [note: in other sections he equated "word" with concept. All words first and foremost reference concepts and then, secondarily refer to an object or a concept).

"The adolescent will form and use a concept quite correctly in a concrete situation but will find it strangely difficult to express that concept in words, and the verbal definition will, in most cases, be much narrower than might have been expected from the way he used the concept. The same discrepancy occurs also in adult thinking, even at very advanced levels."

From The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism (1923) by Ogden and Richards

"Firstly, do we define things or words? To decide this point we have only to notice that if we speak about defining words we refer to something very different from what is referred to, meant, by 'defining things.' When we define words we take another set of words which may be used with the same referent as the first, i.e., we substitute a symbol which will be better understood in a given situation. With things, on the other hand, no such substitution is involved. A so-called definition of a horse as opposed to the definition of the word 'horse,' is a statement about it enumerating properties by means of which it may be compared with and distinguished from other things."
. . .
"They [definitions] are relevant to some purpose or situation, and consequently are applicable only over a restricted field or 'universe of discourse.' For some definitions, those of physics, for instance, this universe is very wide."
. . .
"And here we pause at the very pertinent question: "What then from the psychological point of view is this MEANING?" The answer is given without hesitation and in italics-" From the psychological point of view, MEANING is context." To explain: In every perception, or group of sensations and images, "the associated images form as it were a context or 'fringe' which binds together the whole and gives it a definite MEANING," and it is this "fringe of MEANING that makes the sensations not 'mere' sensations but symbols of a physical object."

From Ontology of Language: What is a Concept? by Fattie
"Furthermore, these objects of our environment are also used in associations which explicitly define and provide some intended meaning, like a type of motion. In the above example[the ball fell to the floor.], the word “fell” is a dynamic concept which describes and gives meaning to the relation between 2 objects, specifically, the motion between the ball and the floor. It is impossible to define the word “fell” without associating at least 2 objects. For example, you CANNOT define “fell” by simply referencing the ball by itself without any other relation. You cannot even imagine a lone ball falling in a Universe that is comprised of a single lonely ball. Even the dynamic concepts of energy, mass, time, field or force cannot even be imagined or conceptualized on a lonely object. Not even God Almighty can conceptualize them! Now you should be able to understand exactly why ENERGY, MASS, TIME, FIELD and FORCE do not exist, they never have....and they never will."

"Meaning is what WE explicitly define in the relation within each concept. Concepts don’t magically self-acquire meaning nor are they devoid of meaning, despite what some people will have you believe."

From Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong (1998) by Jerry Fodor

"Chapter 3 remarked that it’s pretty clear that if we can’t define “doorknob”, that can’t be because of some accidental limitation of the available metalinguistic apparatus; such a deficit could always be remedied by switching metalanguages. The claim, in short, was not that we can’t define “doorknob” in English, but that we can’t define it at all. The implied moral is interesting: if “doorknob” can’t be defined, the reason that it can’t is plausibly not methodological but ontological; it has something to do with what kind of property being a doorknob is. [FORM, form, form!!!] If you’re inclined to doubt this, so be it; but I think that you should have your intuitions looked at.
. . .
It’s sometimes said that doorknobs (and the like) have functional essences: what makes a thing a doorknob is what it is (or is intended to be) used for. So maybe the science of doorknobs is psychology? Or sociology? Or anthropology? Once again, believe it if you can. In fact, the intentional aetiology of doorknobs is utterly transparent: they’re intended to be used as doorknobs. I don’t at all doubt that’s what makes them what they are, but that it is gets us nowhere. For, if DOORKNOB plausibly lacks a conceptual analysis, INTENDED TO BE USED AS A DOORKNOB does too, and for the same reasons. And surely, surely that can’t, in either case, be because there’s something secret about doorknobhood that depth psychology is needed to reveal? No doubt, there is a lot that we don’t know about intentions towards doorknobs qua intentions; but I can’t believe there’s much that’s obscure about them qua intentions towards doorknobs.

Look, there is presumably something about doorknobs that makes them doorknobs, and either it’s something complex or it’s something simple. If it’s something complex, then ‘doorknob’ much have a definition, and its definition must be either “real” or “nominal” (or both). If ‘doorknob’ has a nominal definition, then it ought to be possible for a competent linguist or analytical philosopher to figure out what its nominal definition is. If ‘doorknob’ has a real definition, then it ought to be possible for a science of doorknobs to uncover it. But linguists and philosophers have had no luck defining ‘doorknob’ (or, as we’ve seen, anything much else). And there is nothing for a science of doorknobs to find out. The direction this is leading in is that if ‘doorknob’ is undefinable, that must be because being a doorknob is a primitive property. But of course, that’s crazy. If a thing has doorknobhood, it does so entirely in virtue of others of the properties it has. If doorknobs don’t have hidden essences or real definitions, that can’t possibly be because being a doorknob is one of those properties that things have simply because they have them."

[the single primary property he is looking for is form or shape. It is impossible to define an object, all one can do is point to it. The 'word' object references that which has form. Form is in inherent property humans have conceived so as to classify any and all objects as opposed to concepts. Meaning, definition, etc. arises from relations between objects, even if a human is relating an object to his or her self, or form or another form or idea as in the act of naming or symbolizing]

From What is a Scientific Definition? by Fattie

"A definition is simply a description of the conceptual relations between the objects invoked within the specified context of a term. Definitions place limitations on the extent or usage on the terms in question for the purposes of avoiding ambiguities, circularities and contradictions. Only then can the terms have consistent meaning in one’s dissertation. All concepts describe the relations between the objects they invoke; and this is their intrinsic meaning. As such, all concepts are necessarily defined, whether we like it or not."

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