ists claim, are any universal standards by rvhich to judge the veracity of any particular representation or conscnrction. For example: The (conventionall assumption is thar mean- ing resides in movemenm-we just need to t07 identify the meaning correctly. But movements have no inhcrent, essential meaning; rather, they can be given multiple meanings by different interpreters (and by the same inter- preter on different occasions), meanings that can vary across situations, (Wood & Kroger, 2Q00,p. 12) Having briefly described the range of realisr and antirealist positions, we would like to clarify our own position here. First, it is important to distinguish berween physical events or objects in the world and the mean- ings of those events or objects. Suppose some- one opens a door in the presence of another person. It is possible to say that this event is real in the sense that a movementoccurred and the door is now open. However, this move- ment can take on almost any meaning, depending on context and interpretation: It could mean that the person who opens the door is declaring an intention to carry out a requested errand or an intention ro leave the relationship; that he or she is just letting in fresh air or implicitly complaining about smoking; that he or she is advenising that the ensuing conversation is to be public rather than "behind closed doors"; and so forth. In a great deal of social life, such interpretations are elastic, as the antirealists propose. The rwo individuals in the room can disagree about what the act means, and either of them can change (or lie about) what he or she says it means. However, we would point out rwo sig- nificant qualifications on this elasdcity. First, there are occasions when cenain meanings of events are nor negoriable. lf the door is a hatch on a deeply submerged submarine, then open- ing it means, among many other things, that unprotected occupants are (really) going to die. Second, for a great deal of what we do in everyday life, there is substantial social con- sensus about meaning. Opening a door ahead of another person who is walking toward it usually means holding the door open for that person, and the other is very likely to go
r08 through the doorway first. The possibility that the act could sometimes be a trap or a ioke does not obviate the higher likelihood that it was an act of courtesy; indeed, that very con- sensus makes the trap or ioke possible. Ve are able to navigate social life because shereis a great deal of consensus about meaning; if this were not so, almost no social action would be possible. Perhaps one of our tasks should be to explore such consensus as a ropic in itself. We can extend the same reasoning to a discursive example: Iflhen a witness takes an oath in a courtroom, this discursive act changes the status of subsequent testimooy. If the witness lies, he or she can then be prose- cuted and imprisoned for perjury, a penalry that does not exist in other senings. Therefore the oath, its meaning, and its consequences are, we could argue,effecrively real although clearly a social consrrucrion.
- Fall '17
- jane smith