Word Meaning (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Does life have a meaning or is it stupid even to ask? is a professor of philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. .. stress-reduction is the aim of ending suffering through metaphysical revelation. truth could meet our definition: to know the meaning of life is to be reconciled to all that is. In philosophy, the term "means to an end" refers to any action (the means) carried out for the are "ends in themselves". It has been inferred that all actions are means to other ends—this is relevant when considering the meaning of life. "philosophy" itself is a most general term, the meaning and scope of which have what is particular to it, i.e., its proper end" (Met. io64b 23). Hence "it is true to.
Whatever that meaning might be, our role in the computer program is not it. To discover that we are cogs in some cosmic machine is not to discover the meaning of life. It leaves our existential maladies untouched. Seeing no other way to interpret the question, many philosophers conclude that the question is confused. If they go on to talk about meaning in life, they have in mind the meaning of individual lives, the question of whether this life or that life is meaningful for the person who is living it.
But the meaning of life is not an individual possession. If life has meaning, it has a meaning that applies to us all. Does this idea make sense? I think it does. We ask it when we confront mortality and loss, the pervasiveness of suffering and injustice, the facts of life from which we recoil and which we cannot accept.
Life seems profoundly flawed. Is there meaning to it all? On the interpretation that this context suggests, the meaning of life would be a truth about us and about the world that makes sense of the worst. It would be something we could know about life, the Universe and everything, that should reconcile us to mortality and loss, suffering and injustice.
Knowledge of this truth would make it irrational not to affirm life as it is, not to accept things as they are. It would show that despair, or angst, is a mistake. The idea that life has meaning is the idea that there is a truth of this extraordinary kind.
Whether or not there is, the suggestion is not nonsense. It is a hope that animates the great religions. Whatever else they do, religions offer metaphysical pictures whose acceptance is meant to bestow salvation, to reconcile us to the seeming faults of life. Or if they do not supply the truth, if they do not claim to convey the meaning of life, they offer the conviction that there is one, however hard to grasp or articulate it might be.
Means to an end - Wikipedia
The meaning of life might be theistic, involving God or gods, or it might be non-theistic, as in one form of Buddhism. However, we will engage in foundational considerations whenever necessary to clarify how a given theoretical framework addresses issues in the domain of a semantic theory.
Historical Background The study of word meaning acquired the status of a mature academic enterprise in the 19th century, with the birth of historical-philological semantics Section 2. Yet, matters related to word meaning had been the subject of much debate in earlier times. Word meaning constituted a prominent topic of inquiry in three classical traditions: The task of speculative etymology is to break down the surface features of word forms and recover the descriptive often phonoiconic rationale that motivated their genesis.
More in MalkielFumaroliand Del Bello The primary aim of the rhetorical tradition was the study of figures of speech. Some of these affect structural variables such as the linear order of the words occurring in a sentence e. Although originated for stylistic and literary purposes, the identification of regular patterns in the figurative use of words initiated by classical rhetoric provided a first organized framework to investigate the semantic flexibility of words, and stimulated an interest in our ability to use lexical expressions beyond the boundaries of their literal meaning.
More in KennedyHerrickand Toye Finally, lexicography and the practice of writing dictionaries played an important role in systematizing the descriptive data on which later inquiry would rely to illuminate the relationship between words and their meaning. But lexicography certainly had an impact on the development of modern theories of word meaning.
The practice of separating dictionary entries via lemmatization and defining them through a combination of semantically simpler elements provided a stylistic and methodological paradigm for much subsequent research on lexical phenomena, such as decompositional theories of word meaning.
In particular, it absorbed from speculative etymology an interest in the conceptual decomposition of word meaning, it acquired from rhetoric a toolkit for the classification of lexical phenomena, and it assimilated from lexicography and textual philology a basis of descriptive data for lexical analysis Geeraerts On the methodological side, the key features of the approach to word meaning introduced by historical-philological semantics can be summarized as follows. First, it had a diachronic and contextualist orientation: Second, it considered word meaning a psychological phenomenon: Interestingly, while the rhetorical tradition had looked at tropes as devices whose investigation was motivated by stylistic concerns, historical-philological semantics regarded the psychological mechanisms underlying the production and the comprehension of figures of speech as part of the ordinary life of languages, and as engines of the evolution of all aspects of lexical systems Nerlich The contribution made by historical-philological semantics to the study of lexical phenomena had a long-lasting influence.
This feature of historical-philological semantics makes it a forerunner of the stress on context-sensitivity encouraged by many subsequent approaches to word meaning in philosophy Section 3 and linguistics Section 4.
Second, the psychological conception of word meaning fostered by historical philological-semantics added to the agenda of linguistic research the question of how word meaning relates to cognition at large Geeraerts If word meaning is essentially a psychological phenomenon, how can we characterize it?
What is the dividing line separating the aspects of our mental life that are relevant to the knowledge of lexical meaning from those that are not? As we shall see, this question will constitute a central concern for cognitive theories of word meaning Section 5.Kant & Categorical Imperatives: Crash Course Philosophy #35
Philosophy of Language In this section we shall review some semantic and metasemantic theories in analytic philosophy that bear on how lexical meaning should be conceived and described. We shall follow a roughly chronological order. However, such negative views form an equally integral part of the philosophical debate on word meaning. Indeed, his theory of sense and reference for names and predicates may be counted as the inaugural contribution to lexical semantics within the analytic tradition see the entry on Gottlob Frege.
However, Tarski made no attempt nor felt any need to represent semantic differences among expressions belonging to the same logical type e. See the entry on Alfred Tarski. Carnap later suggested that intensions could be regarded as the content of lexical semantic competence: However, such general conditions were not spelled out by Carnap To remedy what he agreed was an unsatisfactory feature of his system, Carnap introduced meaning postulates, i. Meaning postulates can be seen either as restrictions on possible worlds or as relativizing analyticity to possible worlds.
Carnap regarded the two options as equivalent; nowadays, the former is usually preferred.
In the late s and early s, Montague and other philosophers and linguists Kaplan, Kamp, Partee, and D. Montague semantics can be represented as aiming to capture the inferential structure of a natural language: In Montague semantics, such inferences are taken care of by supplementing the theory with suitable Carnapian meaning postulates. Yet, some followers of Montague regarded such additions as spurious: The description of the meaning of non-logical words requires considerable world knowledge: Hence, we should not expect a semantic theory to furnish an account of how any two expressions belonging to the same syntactic category differ in meaning Thomason From such a viewpoint, Montague semantics would not differ significantly from Tarskian semantics in its account of lexical meaning.
For those who believe that meaning postulates can exhaust lexical meaning, the issue arises of how to choose them, i. However, we seem to share intuitions of analyticity, i. Such intuitions are taken to reflect objective semantic properties of the language, that the semanticist should describe rather than impose at will.
Hence, it was widely believed that lexical meaning could not be adequately described by meaning postulates. Fodor and Lepore argued that this left semantics with two options: Neither alternative looked promising. Holism incurred in objections connected with the acquisition and the understanding of language: And how could individual sentences be understood if the information required to understand them exceeded the capacity of human working memory?
For an influential criticism of several varieties of holism, see Dummett ; for a review, Pagin Fodor countered this objection by reinterpreting allegedly semantic relations as metaphysically necessary connections among extensions of words. The difficulties of atomism and holism opened the way to vindications of molecularism e.
Make ends meet
While mainstream formal semantics went with Carnap and Montague, supplementing the Tarskian apparatus with the possible worlds machinery and defining meanings as intensions, Davidsonput forth an alternative suggestion. Tarski had shown how to provide a definition of the truth predicate for a formal language L: By contrast, Davidson suggested that if one took the notion of truth for granted, then T-biconditionals could be read as collectively constituting a theory of meaning for L, i.
Unfortunately, few of such extensions were ever spelled out by Davidson or his followers. Construed as theorems of a semantic theory, T-biconditionals were often accused of being uninformative Putnam ; Dummett This is particularly striking in the case of lexical axioms such as the following: To prove their point, they appeal to non-homophonic versions of lexical axioms, i.
Such would be, e. Therefore, if V3 is substantive, so is V1. But this is beside the point. But what is relevant here is informative power: However, he did not specify the format in which word senses should be expressed in a semantic theory, except for words that could be defined e.
But of course, not all words are of this kind. For other words, the theory should specify what it is for a speaker to know them, though we are not told how exactly this should be done. Lacking such descriptions, possible worlds semantics is not really a theory of meaning but a theory of logical form or logical validity.
In a similar vein, Partee argued that Montague semantics, like every compositional or structural semantics, does not uniquely fix the intensional interpretation of words. The addition of meaning postulates does rule out some interpretations e.