The Meaning of Meaning - I The Meaning of"Meaning 1 Hilary...

Info icon This preview shows pages 1–3. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
I The Meaning of "Meaning" 1 Hilary Putnam L ANGUA GE IS TH E FIRST BROAD area of hum an cognitive capacity for which we are beginning to obtain a description which is n ot exaggeratedly oversimplified. Th anks to the work of c ontemp orary transformational linguists.? a very subtle descripti on of at least some human l an guages is in the process of being c on - structed. Some features of the se languages appear to be uni versal . Wh ere such features turn out to be "species-speci fi c" -" no t explicable on some general grounds of functional utility or simplicity that would apply to arbitrary systems that serve the functions of langua ge"-they may shed some light on the structure of mind. While it is extremely difficult to say to what extent the structure so illumi na ted will turn out to be a universal structure of language , as opposed to a universal structure of inn ate ge ne ral le arn ing strategies;' the very fact that thi s discussi on can take place is testimony to the richness and generality of the descriptive material that linguists are beginning to provide, and also testimony to the depth of the analysis, insofar as the features that appear to be candidates f or "species-speci fi c" features of language are in no sense surface or phenomenol ogi- cal features of language, but lie at the level of deep structure. The most serious drawback to all of this analysis , as far as a philosopher is concerned, is that it does not concern the meaning of words. An alysis of the deep structure of linguistic forms gives us an incomparably more powerful description of the syntax of natural languages than we have ever had before. But the dim en- sion of language associated with the word "meaning" is, in spite of the usual spate of heroic if misguided attempt s, as much in th e dark as it ever was. In this e ssay, I w ant to explore why th is should be so. In my opinion, the reason th at so-called semantics isin so much worse cond ition than sy nta ctic the ory is th at the pres cientifi c c oncept on which semantics is based-the prescientific concept of meaning -is itself in much worse shape than the prescientific c oncept ofsyntax. As usual in philosophy, skeptical doubts ab out th e concept do not at all help one in clarifying or improving the situation any more than dogmatic assertions by con ser- vative philosophers that all's really well in thi s best of all possible worlds. The reason th at the prescientific concept of meanin g is in bad shape is not clarified by some general skeptical or n omin alistic argument to the effect that meanings d on 't exist. Indeed, the upsh ot ofour discussi on will be that meaningsd on't exist iriquite the way we tend to think they do. But electrons don't exist in quite the way B ohr th ought th ey did, either . There is all the distance in the world between thi s assertion and th e assert ion that m eanin gs (or ele ctron s) "do n' t exist." 3
Image of page 1

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
4 THE TWIN EARTH CHRONICLES I am going to talk almost entirely about the meaning of words rather than about
Image of page 2
Image of page 3
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

{[ snackBarMessage ]}

What students are saying

  • Left Quote Icon

    As a current student on this bumpy collegiate pathway, I stumbled upon Course Hero, where I can find study resources for nearly all my courses, get online help from tutors 24/7, and even share my old projects, papers, and lecture notes with other students.

    Student Picture

    Kiran Temple University Fox School of Business ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    I cannot even describe how much Course Hero helped me this summer. It’s truly become something I can always rely on and help me. In the end, I was not only able to survive summer classes, but I was able to thrive thanks to Course Hero.

    Student Picture

    Dana University of Pennsylvania ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    The ability to access any university’s resources through Course Hero proved invaluable in my case. I was behind on Tulane coursework and actually used UCLA’s materials to help me move forward and get everything together on time.

    Student Picture

    Jill Tulane University ‘16, Course Hero Intern