Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek                      

 M - Meaning


Meaning: What a term, statement, symbol, gesture or sign refers to or represents.

This is a very important notion, and not easy to explain well. Two good explanations in book form are Ogden & Richard's "The meaning of meaning" and Lyons' "Semantics".

One important ambiguity about the term "meaning" should be noticed to start with, since it vitiated quite a lot of analytical philosophy. It is this: By the meaning of a term of statement, such as "elephant", one may refer to either some of the ideas or concepts people may have about elephants, such as mental pictures or criterions by which to recognize elephants, or some real elephant(s). The same goes for statements, like "I saw an elephant in the zoo".

A way of keeping these apart is to write "elephant" for the term, 'elephant' for the idea or concept, and elephant - without quotation marks of any kind - for the thing one calls by the term "elephant" and may remember by the idea 'elephant'.

Unless I say so explicitly, in general I will use the term "meaning" to refer to ideas or concepts one may have, rather than the entities one's ideas or concepts represent in some reality, if only because often one does not know whether there really is something as one means by the term, and because one must be able to understand the meaning of a term or statement before one can sensibly make up one's mind whether one believes it to represent anything real (in the sense of "real" one uses).


See: Reference, Representing


Devitt, Lyons, Leech, Tarski, Tough, Ogden & Richards

 Original: Aug 18, 2004                                                Last edited: 12 December 2011.   Top