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It all depends on what you mean.

 
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 08:53 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:

Yes but you always choose very simple statements like this, and then believe it can be extrapolated to all propositions. There are philosophical ideas which might be put into very few words that have many shades of meaning. You are always trying to fix meaning in such a way that you always know what you mean, and everyone that talks to you does likewise. But the nature of philosophical discourse is such that we will often be considering ideas, the meaning of which is not simple, fixed and clear-cut.

Now I am quite sympathetic to what I think is behind your question. I do agree that people use the tactic of re-definition to evade many difficulties and play all kinds of word games. But nevertheless it is one of those kinds of tendencies which I don't think it will be possible to really get rid of. It is an unavoidable difficulty that a range of meanings will pertain to particular terms, especially in areas like philosophy, so perhaps the best approach is to regard it as an opportunity to argue for particular usages and lead by example.


I don't think that we always know what we mean when we say so-and-so. Sentences may have a number of different meaning, and when I use a sentence, I may not realize that. So when someone asks me, "when you said S. did you mean, S1, or S2, or S3?" I may very well reply, "I didn't realize that what I said had so many meanings. I don't really know which of those I meant". We are often not sure of what we mean, and more important, it might turn out that what we meant was indeterminate. Or even that we did not mean anything much at all (there are some posters -or were some posters- like that). Nevertheless, what you and I happen to mean by so-and-so, is one thing. But what so-and-so means, is a different thing. It is not up to me (nor Humpty-Dumpty) what "there's glory for you" means. And I cannot pay words extra to mean what I want them to mean. They simply won't do it. Words have integrity.
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 04:23 pm
@kennethamy,
Well, all that is true, but it is the case that some writers have been sufficiently perspicacious to elicit new meanings from words, or even devising words which were required to capture some meaning that had hitherto not been articulated. Eckhardt and Nietzsche were both credited with doing this for the German language (although I will have to take someone's word for that, as I don't read German.)
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 04:37 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:

Well, all that is true, but it is the case that some writers have been sufficiently perspicacious to elicit new meanings from words, or even devising words which were required to capture some meaning that had hitherto not been articulated. Eckhardt and Nietzsche were both credited with doing this for the German language (although I will have to take someone's word for that, as I don't read German.)


What does it mean to "elicit new meanings from words"? That is a difficult notion for me to make sense of. Are there supposed to be meanings hidden in terms that some wise man (a philosopher) discovers? What would make you think such a thing? You make it sound as if philosophers were like scientists, and who, like scientists examine some substance, and discover things about that substance no one had ever suspected the substance had. Like the atomic numbers of the elements that constitute it. Is that the sort of picture you have in mind? But have you any good reason for thinking that is a correct picture of language, or that philosophers either do, or can do such a thing? As Wittgenstein writes, "The picture holds us captive". Or, as he points out, "Nothing is hidden". The notion that the analysis of language is like the analysis of some chemical substance might be useful for some purposes, but not if it leads us into temptation.
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 05:36 pm
@kennethamy,
But of course this must happen. Language constantly evolves and meanings constantly change. The word 'nice' used to mean 'silly' and 'terrific' used to mean 'dreadful'. Other examples abound. Besides as our view of the world changes - and heaven knows it has never changed so much or so quickly as it has in the last generation - then we have to constantly re-define words and invent new ones to deal with new inventions and new concepts.

It is also the surely the case that philosophers, in particular, have considerably influenced the meaning of words, by discovering nuances or applications of the word that had not been noticed before. I am sure I can find some examples somewhere.....
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 05:49 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:

But of course this must happen. Language constantly evolves and meanings constantly change. The word 'nice' used to mean 'silly' and 'terrific' used to mean 'dreadful'. Other examples abound. Besides as our view of the world changes - and heaven knows it has never changed so much or so quickly as it has in the last generation - then we have to constantly re-define words and invent new ones to deal with new inventions and new concepts.

It is also the surely the case that philosophers, in particular, have considerably influenced the meaning of words, by discovering nuances or applications of the word that had not been noticed before. I am sure I can find some examples somewhere.....


Sorry, but what must happen? That words change meaning through time is, of course, true. But what has that to do with there being hidden meanings that only Nietzsche can "elicit"? I don't understand what you can mean by that. Have those occult meaning always been there, awaiting discover by Nietzsche. And what is his method of discovery? You really have to be clearer. And yes, not only philosophers, but writers, orators, and just ordinary people influence change in meaning. Else, how would the meanings change? But that is a far cry from the notion that someone or other discovers occult meanings in the term as a laboratory technician may discover occult blood.
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 06:10 pm
@kennethamy,
I didn't use the term 'occult'. I was simply saying that philosophers will bring out meanings in words that have often never been noticed or downplayed. I will try and think of some examples.
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 06:28 pm
@kennethamy,
No, ontogeny doesn't, and of course the answer depends on what the words mean.

I made a 'joke' here once about ontology and ontogeny, and watched it fall on deaf ears.
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 06:28 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:

I didn't use the term 'occult'. I was simply saying that philosophers will bring out meanings in words that have often never been noticed or downplayed. I will try and think of some examples.


if they bring them out, then it follows that they were there all along, but they were passed up. That makes them occult. But, anyway, what's in a word? The point is whether when Nietzsche (or some other genius, like Heidegger who is renown for his discovery of occult meaning) uncovers a meaning no one had ever thought of, whether it is really a discovery or whether it is something invented by the philosopher? And, how do we tell? Indeed, how does the philosopher tell? Yes, I think you need to offer an example of what you have in mind so we can have a fixed target. As I pointed out before, it is well-known by lexicographers that untrained people when asked what they believe is the meaning of an ordinary term like "understand" will tend to come up with the most outlandish theories about what the term "really" means. In the case of "understand" they will twist and turn to discover some connection with standing under something or other, when the ordinary meaning of the term has absolutely nothing whatever to do with such a thing. Which is why lexicographers say that informants are not theorists.
0 Replies
 
ACB
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 07:05 pm
@kennethamy,
'Water' has always meant H2O, but that meaning was only revealed when the chemical composition of water was discovered. Until then, it was hidden.

Or, to take an example from philosophy:
"If I am unmarried man, I am necessarily a bachelor" does not mean what most people think it does. It takes a philosopher to point out the modal fallacy and explain the true meaning of the word "necessarily" and the correct way to use it.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 07:55 pm
@ACB,
ACB wrote:

'Water' has always meant H2O, but that meaning was only revealed when the chemical composition of water was discovered. Until then, it was hidden.

Or, to take an example from philosophy:
"If I am unmarried man, I am necessarily a bachelor" does not mean what most people think it does. It takes a philosopher to point out the modal fallacy and explain the true meaning of the word "necessarily" and the correct way to use it.


"Water" is the name of a natural kind. It isn't that "water" always meant H2O. Rather, it is that water always was H2O. And the meaning of "water" is catching up with our knowledge.

I really don't know that most people think, "If I am unmarried man, I am necessarily a bachelor" means. Most people do not make the distinction you make, since they have no occasion to make it. Anyway, it has nothing to do with the "true meaning of 'necessarily'" it has to do with the scope of "necessarily". (Just as the differnce between, "She sat next to the old men an women" and "she sat next to the old men, and women" has nothing to do with the meaning (true or false" of the word, "old", but everything to do with the scope of the word, "old" in each sentence.
0 Replies
 
 

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