Meaning (philosophy of language)

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Meaning is a fundamental term in the philosophy of language and linguistics . The term is also important in computer science , especially in AI research, and in cognitive science .

Approaches to determining the term "meaning"

Under importance is understood

  • knowledge of the common use of a word or phrase within a language community and a given context .
  • what someone understands on the basis of a sign or a linguistic expression.
  • Under reference theory refers to the view that meaning is the object that a word refers to is.
  • In lexical theory of meaning, meaning is expressed by a list of properties that a term encompasses.

Theories of meaning are an integral part of semiotics .

The word meaning is used in various ways in the current German language:

  1. for the definition of a term; Example: "The meaning of 'bachelor' is 'unmarried adult'."
  2. for translation from one character system to another. Example: "The English word 'meaning' means both 'meaning' and 'meaning' in German."
  3. for an implicit sense of a message. Example: A woman says to her husband 'The traffic light is red' and tells him to stop.
  4. for implications . Example: "The promotion meant a significant step in her career."
  5. for the importance of something. Example: "This experience was very important."
  6. for the cause in a causal context. Examples: "Smoke means fire" or "The many mistakes mean that he is under stress".
  7. as an act in the sense of “giving someone something to understand, suggesting, ordering”. Example: "She gave him her consent".
  8. for a presumed matter .

The philosophy of language deals particularly with the first four points. To determine the meaning are decisive

  • Word and sentence structure ( syntax )
  • Content of the expression ( semantics )
  • the context in which an utterance is used ( pragmatics ).

There is no generally accepted explication (explanatory definition of the term). The philosophical conceptions range from the opinion that meaning is a separate object in consciousness (a cognitive entity ), to the view that meaning can only be pragmatically accessed through its use, to the rejection of a more precise determinability.

(1) Meaning as a particular object : the object referred to, the reference object ( Gottlob Frege , Bertrand Russell , Peter Strawson , Saul Kripke and Hilary Putnam ), the idea that a speaker associates with the sign ( John Locke ) or an abstract object, such as the intention ( Rudolf Carnap ).

(2) Meaning as a special use : the use of a sign determined by a rule in a language game ( Ludwig Wittgenstein , Michael Dummett ) or the communicative intention with which the sign is used ( Paul Grice , John Searle or David Lewis ).

(3) Meaning as an indefinable term ( Willard Van Orman Quine ).

The answers give a different perspective on the question of what constitutes the meaning of a sentence

From this perspective, too, the discussion shows increasingly differentiated positions, but ultimately no development in terms of content. In the recent debate, Donald Davidson (among others) takes the position of the truth conditions, Michael Dummett the verificationism and John McDowell the usage view.

Aspects of the term meaning

In the following, various theoretical problems, distinctions, features and relations of the linguistic-philosophical concept of meaning are presented and the technical terms used are explained.

Signs and language

The meaning of linguistic signs depends on what type the signs are. One differentiates:

  • Singular terms (characters with which a very specific object is referred to as such), see marking , proper names .
  • Predicates (signs with which a property is assigned to an object), see concept , predication .

Already in Plato , and then also in the later important works on the philosophy of language by Ockham , John Locke or Leibniz , language was understood as a set or system of signs that mediate between objects and thoughts. In the discussion about the triad of language - thinking - reality (vox - intellectus - res) it is controversial whether language as a set or system of signs has a direct relationship to objects ( iconicity ), i.e. whether signs naturally have their own meaning own, or whether language is set willingly and is only an expression of thoughts ( arbitrariness ). The smallest meaningful unit of a language system is a lexical morpheme , i.e. the root of the word, as in “dreams, trauma, dream”, where the morpheme is “dream”. Morphemes can be tied in combinations, as in "Philosopher" the components are a combination of the meanings of friend and wisdom. The meaning of designations is examined in semasiology . This is therefore a branch of semiotics as the general theory of signs. Speech signs with the same meaning are called synonyms (elevator - elevator - elevator).

Sync category

Already in scholasticism there was a distinction between categorematic and syncategorematic terms. A term is categorical if it is directly connected to a meaning. Syncategorematic expressions, on the other hand, have no meaning for themselves, but only as part of a complex expression or in a sentence context such as "all, everyone, something, some, afterwards, also, still, as well as". This also includes junctions (logical connective words such as and / or) and deictic (indicative) expressions (you, here, then).

Denotation and connotation

The distinction between denotation and connotation goes back to John Stuart Mill . In his “System of Logic” he differentiated the main meaning (denotation) of a term, for example “man”, from its secondary meanings (connotations), for example “two-legged, linguistically gifted, etc.”. While denotation is the general term used to designate all individuals belonging to the scope of the term, connotations are all the attributes that are suitable for determining the basic term. Connotations can change in context, so they are not necessarily connected to the designated object.

The terms denotation and connotation are only applicable to general terms which, as predicates and references to properties, determine classes of objects. Proper names used to designate individuals are singular terms that are used exclusively to determine concrete singular objects.

Intension and Extension

The distinction between conceptual content ( intension ) and scope ( extension ) goes back to Rudolf Carnap . The meaning of a term in terms of intention results from the properties intended with the term. Which characteristics are associated with the concept of a bridge ? The extension designates all objects to which the characteristics of the term, here bridge, apply.

Metalanguage and object language

When talking about the meaning of a term, a distinction must be made between the perspective from which a term is used. The word "Duisburg" is the name of a city. The statement “Duisburg is in the Ruhr area” is a statement about the object that is referred to by the name. The statement "Duisburg has two syllables" is a statement about the word Duisburg, regardless of which object is connected with it. The word Duisburg has a different meaning depending on the context. When it designates the object itself (the city), it is used in object language. But if only the concept or a sentence is the subject of a statement, the statement is made on the level of the metalanguage . A metalanguage can be thought of as a second language, for example English, in which the object language is examined. This distinction, which is relevant for a language analysis, is also based on book titles such as “The meaning of meaning”. It is important for the semantic concept of truth of Alfred Tarski .

Syntax, semantics and pragmatics

The distinction between syntax , semantics and pragmatics , which goes back to the theory of signs by Charles W. Morris , is important for linguistics . According to this, syntax is the relation between linguistic signs within an expression. Semantics indicate the meaning of linguistic expressions as a relationship to the objects referred to, and pragmatics is that part of the meaning of an expression that results from the relations given in the respective context. In the sentence: "Give me the key" it is not clear whether it is a door key or a tool. The actual meaning only emerges from the context.

Speaker and interpreter

In the theory of meaning, a distinction is made between the linguistic meaning and the so-called speaker meaning , which results from what the speaker means, what he wants to convey with a statement, and the meaning that the recipient of the linguistic expression attaches to it on the basis of his interpretation . Successful communication requires that an intended meaning is also understood. Theories of meaning are therefore often understood as theories of understanding.

Natural and unnatural meaning

Since the publication of the essay "Meaning" (1957) by the English philosopher Paul Grice , it has been customary to differentiate between natural and unnatural meanings. It should be noted that the English "meaning" in German can be translated alternatively with "mean" or "mine". Grice illustrates the difference with the following examples:

  1. These spots mean measles.
  2. This three ringing of the bell (on the bus) means that the bus is full.

In the first case there is a causal, scientifically explainable connection between the sign and its meaning. In the second case, the sign gets its meaning based on human intentions: the bus driver intends to ring the bell to indicate that the bus is full. We can also say: by ringing the doorbell, the bus driver meant that the bus was full. But we can't say the stains meant it was measles.

Overview and delimitation

In particular, “meaning” is a technical term in the philosophy of language as it emerged as an independent philosophical discipline at the beginning of the 20th century. Language has been one of its subjects since the origins of philosophy. With Plato there is the consideration of whether the meaning of words has a natural origin or whether it is based only on convention. This problem is discussed in a similar way in the discourse of the 20th and 21st centuries. In the Stoa a distinction was made between designation, meaning and reference. John Locke investigated the connection between sign and meaning and related idea, sign and object. John Stuart Mill distinguished between denotation and connotation and coined the term singular terms.

Above all, Gottlob Frege opened up a new way of looking at language. Since the thought is a linguistic expression, he considered it necessary to first clarify the view of the language in order to then be able to develop an adjusted scientific language. It is fundamental to distinguish between the meaning of an expression (in Frege: meaning) and the objects to which an expression relates (in Frege: meaning). A widespread opinion among language philosophers is that meaning only arises in the context of sentences. It is controversial whether terms have an independent meaning. Bertrand Russell introduced the subject of labeling and asked about the meaning of proper names. Ludwig Wittgenstein developed an image theory between language and reality , which he understood as the basis of an ideal scientific language. Building on this, Rudolf Carnap specified the theoretical terms and worked on a concept of ideal language. In his late philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein made the objection that the meaning of utterances results from their use, which follows rules and is dependent on language games . He founded the philosophy of normal language . Peter Strawson pointed out that statements contain implicit assumptions ( presuppositions ). The theory of speech acts is sometimes associated with the theory of use of language , which was conceived by John L. Austin and further developed by John Searle . To this was added by Jurgen Habermas own variant developed that he his theory of communicative action took account.

A fundamentally different approach can be found in Charles S. Peirce , who explained the question of meaning in his pragmatic maxim and integrated it into a semiotics . His understanding of meaning can be seen as a precursor to the view that the meaning of a term lies in its use. On the basis of Peirce, Charles W. Morris developed a behaviorist concept according to which the explanation of meaning must be limited to the purely observable. The behaviorism linked Willard Van Orman Quine with a basic skepticism . He doubted that meaning could be explained at all. As a holistic system, language can only be viewed as a whole.

Special consideration of the situation of speech utterances ( pragmatics ) can be found in Paul Grice , who examined the connection between meaning and meaning with regard to the meaning of the speaker , as well as in David Lewis , who further developed the topic of conventions within speaking communities. Taking into account the ongoing discussion, Donald Davidson and Michael Dummett reverted to the concepts of developing theories of meaning, with Davidson taking a realistic position with the criterion of truth as the determinant of importance, while Dummett advocated an anti-realistic position with the criterion of Verifiability started. On the other hand, John McDowell , following Wittgenstein, again took the position that meaning is determined by use within a speaking community and that the concept of meaning cannot be reduced to a theory of meaning.

Saul A. Kripke developed an alternative view with the thesis that names are rigid designators (i.e. unchangeable designations of singular terms). He considered a renewed distinction between the terms a priori (as relating to the epistemic level) and necessary (as relating to the ontological or metaphysical level) to be useful. David Kaplan added to the discussion about the consideration of indexical expressions. With the concept of the linguistic division of labor, Hilary Putnam drew attention to the fact that the individual does not normally have the full scope of the meaning of terms, but that meaning depends on the entire language community and on external circumstances. In response to this externalism , for example, Robert Stalnaker developed semantic concepts that take into account both external and internal aspects of meaning. Robert Brandom takes a completely different point of view in his inferential semantics, in that he sees language as a process of inference and considers the idea of ​​reference to be secondary.

As a critical position to the predominantly analytically oriented philosophy of language, a more literary perspective developed in France. As a representative of postmodernism , Jean-François Lyotard oriented himself on Ludwig Wittgenstein's language games . The concept of deconstruction by Jacques Derrida points to hidden implications and context-dependent shifts in meaning .

This article is limited to the field of philosophy of language. Meaning plays next in other philosophical questions a fundamental role, as in the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl , at Ernst Cassirer in the philosophy of symbolic forms , in Noam Chomsky's generative grammar or in the interpretation theories of aesthetics . In hermeneutics , meaning is essential as a counter-concept to understanding . Jacques Lacan also saw the unconscious as linguistically structured, whereby, following Ferdinand de Saussure, he understood meaning not as a reference, but as the difference between linguistic signs. Finally, Michel Foucault also grasped meaning in the tradition of post-structuralism from the perspective of historical processes of change using the example of power and sexuality.

A completely different line - also not dealt with any further - developed in the philosophy of mind , in which meaning is equated with mental states that find their expression in linguistic signs. These include the work of Jerry Fodor , who, like his teacher Chomsky, assumes innate language skills and deals with questions of correct representation, Fred Dretske's information-theoretical approach to explaining processes of learning, or the “ two-dimensional semantics developed by David Chalmers or Robert Stalnaker ".

Significance in the history of philosophy

A fundamental question for Plato

Philosophical considerations have existed since the beginning of philosophy. In his dialogue with Kratylos , Plato dealt with the question of how the meaning of a linguistic expression comes about. Kratylos claims in this dialogue that every thing naturally has a correct name. As an opponent, Hermogenes takes the view that a term becomes correct when its meaning is established through an agreement. Kratylos argues that sentences, and therefore words, can be true or false. The correct meaning can be recognized by the truth of a statement. Hermogenes, on the other hand, argues that one can invent a language in which it is possible to make true statements.

Socrates , who is called on by the two as arbiter, finally points out that one must already know reality in order to judge whether a statement is correct or whether a term has been used with the correct meaning. Accordingly, concepts are only names of what is known. Language in and of itself is then irrelevant. What speaks against Hermogenes is that the conventions are not arbitrary, but that the names of things often have a symbolic equivalent. The objection to kratylos is that some names are not very suitable as symbols for things. The question of how the inventor knew that he used them to describe the natural properties of a thing also remains open. Plato sought the way out of this dilemma by seeing instead of names the essence of things (eidos) as fundamental for knowledge.

The problem addressed by Plato can be found almost unchanged in the linguistic discussion of the 20th century. So far no solution has been found in the direction of Kratylos or Hermogenes' opinion. Ferdinand de Saussure argued that linguistic signs are based on conventions within a language community. Linguistically, this is the assumption of arbitrariness . This contrasts with the thesis of the iconicity of signs, which can be traced back to the philosopher Charles S. Peirce and the triadic semiotics he developed . The icon is a perceptual sign with a pictorial character. The signifying (Saussure: signifiant) often shows similarities to the designated (Saussure: signifié). What is designated becomes perceptible through a sign. A classic example is the imitation of animal sounds in language such as a dog barking (woof woof) or the mooing of a cow (see also onomatopoeia ). Iconic similarities can also be found in word and sentence structures ( morphology and syntax ). Another type of iconicity is found in metaphor . Against the background of these examples, Plato's open attitude to the dilemma presented corresponds to the, albeit more differentiated, perspective of modern linguistics.

Aristotle's theory of signs

In his work De interpretatione , Aristotle took a conventionalist view, according to which linguistic expressions refer to ideas or concepts and do not refer directly to objects. The name is a "sound that conventionally means something without including a time and without any part of it having a meaning for itself" ( De Interpretatione. 16a). A word only gets a meaning in a sentence, about which one can say whether it is true or false:

“But just as thoughts soon appear in the soul without being true or false, sometimes in such a way that they are necessarily one of the two, so it also happens in speech. Because falsehood and truth are linked to the connection and separation of ideas. The nouns and verbs by themselves only resemble thoughts without connection and separation, such as B. the word human or know, if nothing else is added: There is still no error and truth here. For this we have a clue z. B. in the word tragelaphos (buck deer): it means something, but nothing true or false, as long as one does not add that the thing is or is not, absolutely or at a certain time. "( De Interpretatione. 16a)

Sextus Empiricus

Already in the Stoa , according to a representation of the Sextus Empiricus, there was a distinction between what is designated, what is meaning and what is related.

“The followers of the Stoa say that the following three things belong together: what is meant, what is supposed to mean, and the thing. That which has the function of meaning is supposed to be the (linguistic) sound itself, e.g. B. "Dion". The meaning is the thing itself which is made intelligible by the meaning and which we understand because it exists in our minds, but which the barbarians [strangers] do not understand, although they also hear the spoken sound. The thing itself is that which exists outside (our consciousness), e.g. B. Dion himself. Two of the given givens are said to be of a corporeal nature, namely the sound and the thing, and one incorporeal, namely what is meant, the lecton [what is said], which also has the property of truth and falsehood. "

Introduction and meaning in John Locke

For John Locke , meaning was the idea that a speaker associates with a sign. He distinguished between actual meaning, which relates to one's own ideas based on experience, from improper meaning, which relates to ideas that are not immediately known to humans. In particular, the improper meaning arises from convention between several speakers.

“Since words are arbitrary signs, they cannot be attributed as such to anything unknown to anyone. That would stamp them as symbols for nothing, as sounds without meaning. No one can turn his words into signs of properties of things or of ideas in the mind of another that cannot be found in his own. Until one has one's own ideas, one cannot assume that they correspond to someone else's ideas. You cannot use symbols for them either; for these would be signs for something unknown, that is actually signs for nothing. If, on the other hand, one imagines the ideas of others on the basis of one's own ideas, if one agrees to give them the same names that they get from others, then this is still carried out on one's own ideas, that is, on ideas that one has owns, but not in those that one does not own. "

Kant's Analysis of Concepts and Judgments

When determining meaning, Kant started from the logic of a concept. Empirical concepts arise through a thought process that Kant subdivided into comparison, reflection and abstraction. The content of a term (the intension) is thereby using by the assembly of various features of the assets generated by the imagination. The distinction between concept and intuition is fundamental for Kant. “If you can't separate the concept from images; one will never be able to think in a pure and error-free way. ”The content of the concepts cannot be obtained without experience. “Thoughts without content are empty, views without concepts are blind.” Concepts are initially abstract. They receive their relation to reality as a predicate of possible judgments in that they are related to objects of perception (the extensions). "Therefore one also requires to make a separate concept sensible, that is, to present the object corresponding to it in the perception, because without this the concept (as one says) would remain meaningless, i.e. without meaning." (KrV B 299) This correspondence is made according to a scheme . This is a "process of the imagination to provide a concept with its image." (KrV B 179-180, see also KdU § 49) The concept of the dog is initially empty. It's a structural concept. By applying the features of the term to an object, one can determine if one is seeing a dog. The schema gives the term its meaning in the judgment.

In addition to the empirical concepts, the pure intellectual concepts, which are limited to mere thinking, form a second group of concepts. On the one hand, these are the categories that are decisive for the constructive cognitive process (of quantity, quality, relation and modality) and on the other hand, the pure ideas of immortality, freedom and infinity. Understanding concepts get their meaning through the “mere rule of reflection” (KdU § 59) on existing views, that is, indirectly. One problem with the Kantian idea of ​​how meaning arises is that he falls back on the concepts of reason, imagination, and schema without directly considering the influence of language.

Philosophy of Language in the 20th Century

While the philosophy of language only dealt with the concept of meaning implicitly until the 19th century, i.e. the concept itself only played a role in the context of broader considerations of language, it became an express object of study in philosophy at the turn of the 20th century. The starting point for these considerations is generally the philosophical work of Gottlob Frege on language, in which all the fundamental topics of the following (analytical) philosophy of language are raised.

Meaning and truth as a criterion of meaning

Foundation laid by Gottlob Frege

Due to the dynamic development in his subjects mathematics and logic (such as in non-Euclidean geometry , set theory , algebra or predicate logic ), Gottlob Frege was confronted with a multitude of new, unsystematic and unclear terms. A core of his considerations was therefore the development of a scientific language with which mathematical and logical theories can be formulated clearly. In addition to his fundamental achievements in logic, Frege is considered to be the founder of the modern philosophy of language, who initiated the “ linguistic turn ”. His essay On Sense and Meaning (1892) occupies a prominent position.

Frege had already formulated three principles in The Basics of Arithmetic that are important for his understanding:

I. “It is the psychological and the logical to sharply separate the subjective from the objective”;
II. “The meaning of the words must be asked in the context of the sentence, not in their isolation”;
III. "The difference between concept and object must be kept in mind."

For a clear scientific language, terms must have a meaning that is independent of subjective ideas. When it comes to the meaning of a term, the context in which it is used is decisive. The distinction between concept and object is aimed at describing objects by names (singular terms), while concepts denote the properties of objects. According to Frege, concepts can be understood as functions. For example, for x in the function f (x); x = "is mother of Sandra" use different names. Depending on whether Ingrid, Sabine or Marianne is actually the mother's name, the truth value is “true” or “false”.

In the book “On Sense and Meaning”, Frege first examined the question of the identity of expressions:

  • "Is a bachelor" is (trivially) identical to "is a bachelor" (a = a)
  • "Is a bachelor" is (in terms of content) identical to "is an unmarried man" (a = b)
Semantic triangle according to Gottlob Frege

Frege's riddle : Frege wondered how it can be that two statements have an identical meaning, but that one identity is empty of content, while the other contains an informative distinction. a = a is analytical according to Kant. a = b is knowledge-expanding ( synthetic ) and cannot be justified a priori. Frege's solution is that while two terms can have the same meaning but different meanings. Frege determined the meaning of a term as the subject of the statement. In later language philosophy, the term reference or reference was usually used for this. For Frege, on the other hand, meaning was the content of the message, i.e. what is generally understood as meaning in later linguistic usage. "The meaning of a proper name is grasped by anyone who knows the language or the whole of terms well enough to which it belongs [...]." One therefore occasionally finds the spellings Sinn Frege , also known as Intension , as well as the meaning Frege , in works on the philosophy of language . also extension .

“It is now obvious to think of what I would like to call the meaning of the sign, in which the way of being given, is connected with a sign (name, combination of words, characters) in addition to what is designated, what the meaning of the sign may mean . "

Frege explained his distinction with the famous example of morning star and evening star. The meaning of both names is the planet Venus . However, the meaning of both names is different. The morning star (Phosphoros) is the star that shines most strongly in the morning sky. The evening star (Hesperus), on the other hand, is the star that is the first to be clearly seen in the evening sky. The fact that both have an identical meaning (extension) is an additional finding that can only be determined through empirical observation. The meaning of a proper name is what it means. The object can be something concrete as well as something abstract like a number, a geometric figure or a class of individuals. Fictional things like Odysseus or Momo have no meaning. However, according to Frege, statements about such names make perfect sense. It is essential for the sense that statements with meaning are understood by other participants in a speaking community. Sense is intersubjective, so it has the character of the objective. Ideas, on the other hand, are on the purely psychological, subjective level. Ideas contain colors that can only be grasped in a vague manner by differentiating between “dog” and “mutt” or “walking”, “striding”, “strolling” and “wandering”.

“The meaning of a proper name is the object itself which we denote by it; the idea that we have is entirely subjective .; in between lies the meaning, which is no longer subjective like the idea, but also not the object itself. "
Sense and meaning according to Gottlob Frege

The meaning and sense of individual expressions depend on the context of the sentence, in accordance with the context principle. According to Frege, a whole sentence as such expresses a thought. As the meaning of the sentence, the thought is valid intersubjectively. In order to recognize the identity of Sinn Frege and the meaning Frege of a proper name or a term, Frege suggested replacing the names used in a sentence with other names with the same meaning. If the meaning of the sentence remains unchanged, the names exchanged are identical (principle of substitution). The predicate of a sentence is not a name, but a concept word that stands for a concept. The predicate is also subject to the principle of substitution.

A sentence is made up of names and terms and various rules according to which it is arranged. According to Frege, the logic of a sentence does not correspond to the grammatical form of subject and predicate. Rather, a sentence is to be understood as a function. In this function, proper names and terms are to be understood as variables. The sentence "Lutz loves Ingrid" is divided according to traditional logic into the subject "Lutz" and the predicate "loves Ingrid". According to Frege, the elements of the sentence consist of "X loves Y". The names Lutz and Ingrid are interchangeable and could also be replaced by Christoph and Janina. The order of the sentence is also relevant to the sense. The reverse “Ingrid loves Lutz” makes a different sense (compositionality principle , also Frege principle ). Such a sentence makes sense if it has a truth value. The thought is the condition for whether a statement is true or false. Empty names with no reference like Odysseus cannot be truthful.

The effect of the context principle and the compositionality principle is illustrated by the following example:

"Klaus saw the man on the mountain with the telescope."

Without knowing the context, it is not possible to tell from this sentence who is on the mountain and who is in possession of the telescope. It is possible that Klaus saw a man who was on the mountain with a telescope. It is possible, but not necessary, that Klaus was also on the mountain. But it is also possible that Klaus saw a man on the mountain through a telescope. After all, it could be that Klaus was on the mountain and saw the man through the telescope. However, the interpretation that Klaus was on the mountain and saw a man with a telescope is excluded. This sense only results from the changed sentence position:

"Klaus saw the man with the telescope on the mountain."

Otherwise, the second sentence also requires knowledge of the context for proper understanding. It is completely different with the variants:

"Klaus saw the man on the mountain with the telescope."
"Klaus saw the man with the telescope on the mountain."
"Klaus saw the man on the mountain with the telescope."

The ability to interpret the sentence composition, the command of the language, gives the respective statements their meaning.

In his analysis of sentences, Frege distinguished between subjective and objective truth values. The statement “Meike believes that Ingrid loves Lutz” can also be true when Ingrid does not love Lutz. The subjective truth value is decisive for the meaning of a statement. The objective truth is implicitly asserted in every statement. The statement "The candle is burning" is identical to the statement, "It is true that the candle is burning". Every assertoric (assertive) sentence contains a proposition (statement content) and an assertion element. Whether the candle actually burns is a matter of fact. The knowledge of the truth is independent of the truth claimed. The view that the thought (a proposition) is the yardstick for the truth of a statement can also be expressed with the sentence: "The intension determines the extension."

Marked by Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell , who was in close written contact with Frege, commented on Frege's view of meaning in the two essays "On Denoting" and "Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description". He viewed the broad version of Frege's understanding of names as a linguistic expression for designating objects as problematic. Frege summarized here both proper names and expressions that reflect the subject, such as “the Olympic champion over 100 m from 1960”. One of Russell's questions was what the meaning of a proper name is. What is the point of "Aristotle"? If the answer is “a disciple of Plato and the teacher of Alexander”, then after Russell one must ask: what is the meaning of “a disciple of Plato”? and so comes into infinite recourse in determining the meaning of a proper name . For Frege, however, it would have been enough if the meaning of an expression was understood. To understand the meaning of a name, it is not necessary to know all of its senses (intensions).

Russell pointed out that the only way to understand the meaning of a statement is to know all of the elements of a statement. Acquaintance is initially based on experience. If one has perceived something sensually, one understands the meaning of its description. Knowledge through description does not involve acquaintance with objects, but with terms that are characterized by the description. The meaning of indirect knowledge can only be understood if the labeling corresponds to the known description. If the agreement is given, then a statement is recognized as true.

Russell also distinguished between proper names and labels . Labels designate an object by specifying an (essential) property of the object. Aristotle is the proper name associated with labels such as "the pupil of Plato", the " stagirit " or "the teacher of Alexander the great".

Another problem that Russell raised in comparison to Frege was that of the "negative existence sentences", for example " Pegasus does not exist". According to Frege, Pegasus has no meaning Frege (extension) and is therefore not capable of truth. According to general understanding, the sentence with the negative is true. Russell now assumed that labels basically have no meaning (Sinn Frege ). He viewed proper names as abbreviations for labels. This means that proper names can be exchanged for labels without changing the truth value of an utterance ("salva veritate", i.e. truth-preserving). One could just as easily say "a winged horse does not exist".

Labels that have no reference to an object are, according to Russell, not pointless, but wrong. He discussed this using his well-known example:

"The current King of France is bald."

This sentence has a meaning (is true), especially when

(1) there is a king of France (condition of existence)
(2) there is exactly one king of France (unique condition)
(3) every current king of France is bald (predication)

If any of the three components of the meaning (condition of existence, uniqueness or predication) is wrong, then the entire sentence is wrong.

One of the fundamental questions Russell raised is whether labels are synonymous with proper names . Russell himself answered it positively, so considered the interchangeability of markings as a valid criterion for the identity of importance.

Image theory with Ludwig Wittgenstein (I)

The view of importance represented by Ludwig Wittgenstein in the Tractatus logico-philosophicus (TLP) can only be understood with consideration of the work of Frege and Russell. Added to this is Wittgenstein's ontological assumption that there is a reality and that language is a (functional) representation of reality. Like Frege, Wittgenstein was concerned with a meaningful scientific language. For Wittgenstein, meaningful statements were only those sentences in which the conditions are specified, on the basis of which one can check whether the respective sentence is true or false. Statements that do not relate to reality cannot be checked. For Wittgenstein, this also included the propositions of philosophy. You are nonsensical. Statements in logic are tautological and therefore meaningless (meaningless).

Only one sentence can make sense. Words do not have a meaning of their own. Words are used to describe things or facts . Or seen the other way around: “The name means the object. The object is its meaning. ”(TLP 3.203) However, the meaning only arises in the context of a sentence:“ Only the sentence has a meaning; The name only has meaning in the context of the sentence. ”(TLP 3.3) According to Wittgenstein's early view, true sentences have the same structure as the facts presented due to the“ mapping function ”. True sentences are logical images of reality. In contrast to Frege, Wittgenstein took a strictly nominalist position.

Rudolf Carnap's concept of an ideal language

Rudolf Carnap pushed the concept of ideal language the furthest. Based on Frege and Wittgenstein, he also advocated an image theory. The basis of the experience are "elementary experiences". These are used to form the terms used to describe the world scientifically. Carnap connected the concept of intension with the concept of logical equivalence . He determined the intension of names as an individual concept, their extension as an object. He defined the intension of predicates with which properties are described as a term with the extension of the class of objects that fall under the predicate. For the intension of sentences he introduced the term proposition. Like Frege, he determined the propositional extension as a truth value. Statements are only meaningful if they can be checked empirically ( criterion of meaning ). According to Carnap, propositions of philosophy deal with pseudo-problems if they do not meet the criterion of meaning (true through observation), i.e. do not deal with empirical objects or facts.

Carnap was primarily concerned with constructing a scientific language in the form of a calculus . He was looking for a way to give meaning to pure symbols that are initially uninterpreted. He called the linguistic expression that denotes something designator , the designated entity designatum. Carnap further distinguished between the semantics for empirical statements and the semantics for purely logical expressions, which he called L-semantics. The distinction between non-logical (descriptive) and logical predicators is based on the criterion of “analyticity”, that is, according to whether the utterances are analytical or synthetic. In his opinion, a complete description of the world can be achieved by forming the possible predicates for a state and determining whether the statements are true or false. Carnap's formal approach was rejected by both his student Quine and Wittgenstein with different arguments. Nevertheless, due to the analytical structure of the question, his work is considered important for the philosophy of language and for linguistics.

The objection of the presuppositions of Peter F. Strawson

Peter F. Strawson broke away from the idea of ​​ideal language and, in his essay "On Referring" (1950), coined the term presupposition to identify meanings contained in utterances that are not directly stated. Presuppositions are implicit assumptions that are made in a statement without the speaker mentioning them. Presuppositions stand for the reality of a statement in normal language. This is true in Russell's example of the bald present King of France for the assumption of the existence of the King of France. A sentence as such has a meaning. According to Strawson, the question of reference and truth only arises when the sentence is used as a statement. In 1830 or 1860 the statement would have been truthful, but not at the time of the Russell essay (1905), since there was no King of France at that time. The meaning of a statement therefore depends on the historical situation in which it is used. Only then does a sentence receive its reference. The truth of the presupposition applies regardless of the truth of the presupposition. This is shown by the negation of the statement:

"It is not true that the current King of France is bald."

The sentence can mean that there is no current King of France, or that he is not bald. If there is no current King of France, the Strawson (and Frege) sentence is not wrong, it makes no sense. The truth of the sentence relates to the case of use, that is, it is determined by the use and not by the sentence itself. Formally, Strawson's thesis reads: A proposition P logically presupposes a proposition Q if and only if there is no possible world w in which P is true or false, but Q is not true.

Meaning and usage

Meaning and semiotics in Charles S. Peirce

Charles S. Peirce formulated his epistemological considerations as a “ pragmatic maxim ” in the essay “On the Clarity of Our Thoughts” in 1878 :

“Think about which effects, which could conceivably have practical relevance, we ascribe to the object of our concept in our imagination. Then our concept of these effects is the whole of our concept of the object. "(CP 5.402)

According to Peirce, the meaning of a thought lies in the behavior it generates. Behavior is not to be understood as actual behavior, but as a disposition to a possible action. For Peirce, the meaning of an utterance is oriented towards the future, since it serves to consolidate a conviction through self-control and to generate a behavioral habit.

"For the pragmatist, it is the form in which a proposition for human behavior is applicable, not under these or that particular circumstances, nor when using this or that particular construction, but the form that is as direct as possible to self-control in every situation and can be used for any purpose. "(CP 5.427)

In addition to the distinction between type and token , Peirce worked out the importance of indexical expressions for the analysis of meaning: “No proposition can be expressed without the use of indices” (CP 4.544). Terms are not fixed, but can change in the course of experience when new practical effects are discovered. Peirce's practical example was the concept of electricity, which had changed significantly from Benjamin Franklin to his day.

“Symbols grow. They arise through development from other signs, especially from icons or from mixed signs that have the nature of icons and symbols in common. We only think in signs. These mental signs have a common nature; the symbolic parts of them are called concepts. When someone creates a new symbol, it does so through thoughts that include concepts. New symbols can only grow from symbols. 'Omne symbolum de symbolo' [Each symbol by a symbol]. A symbol, once created, spreads among the people. Its importance grows in use and experience. Such words as 'strength, law, prosperity, marriage' have very different meanings for us compared to those created by our barbaric ancestors. ”(CP 2.302)

Peirce already pointed out that the meaning depends on the social context. The full meaning of a term remains closed to the individual researcher due to his limitation to the finite. Progress in knowledge, and thus an approach to the truth, is an infinite process. Peirce did not view the question of meaning in terms of language philosophy, but rather integrated it into a comprehensive concept of semiotics and the continuum. For him, all thinking was thinking in signs, which is constantly developing in a continuous stream of consciousness. The meaning of a sign lies in the general possibilities of its application.

His conception of meaning deviates from the (later) theories of meaning in that he does not look for a criterion of truth as a yardstick, but focuses on beliefs. It is based on the idea that man is not interested in the truth itself, but is satisfied when he comes to a conviction that removes his doubts about a judgment. If a person comes to a safe instruction for action out of conviction, he makes this a habit and bases his actions on it until he again has doubts about the correctness of his conviction. The successful completion of the action is then the (preliminary) verification criterion of conviction. The question of objective truth is not affected. Meaning only makes sense if it is directed towards practical action.

“The rational meaning of every sentence is in the future. How so? The meaning of a sentence is itself a sentence. In fact, it is none other than the sentence itself that it is the meaning of: it is a translation of it. But which of the myriad forms into which a sentence can be translated is the one that needs to be named its meaning? For the pragmatist it is the form in which the sentence becomes applicable to human behavior ”(CP 5.427).

Use of language and rules by Ludwig Wittgenstein (II)

In his " Philosophical Investigations " (PU) Wittgenstein distanced himself in particular from his image theory represented in the "Tractatus" . Objects in the world are not given to man independently of language. In addition, speaking is dependent on social conditions. Man determines the rules of language. However, the rules are not fixed. The language is a flexible instrument that is adapted to the respective circumstances. The attempt to formally determine the meaning must fail.

“The questions“ What is length? ”“ What is meaning? ”“ What is the number one? ”Etc. cause us a mental cramp. [...] (We are dealing with one of the great sources of philosophical confusion: a noun makes us search for a thing that corresponds to it.) "

Theoretical constructions of an ideal language must fail. Meaning cannot be determined by definitions, but one must explain the use of terms:

“The meaning of a word is what explains the explanation of the meaning.” That is, if you want to understand the use of the word “meaning”, see what is called an “explanation” of the meaning. (PU § 560)

The explanation is necessary because linguistic expressions have no fixed use. The meaning can vary depending on the language game and the circumstances.

"The word 'language game' is intended to emphasize that speaking the language is part of an activity or a way of life." (PU § 23)

Wittgenstein included commands, descriptions, reports, theater games, making jokes, telling stories, pleading, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying to the various language games. With the multitude of examples, Wittgenstein pointed out that language is mainly used in contexts that give it its meaning.

“For a large class of cases in which the word“ meaning ”is used - even if not for all cases of its use - this word can be explained as follows: The meaning of a word is its use in language. [...] And the meaning of a name is sometimes explained by pointing to its bearer. "(PU § 43)

Even more than with the “Tractatus”, the “Philosophical Investigations” have led to a new approach in philosophy and are considered the starting point for the philosophy of normal language .

The Concept of Speech Acts by John L. Austin

In his “William James Lectures” at Harvard (1955), John L. Austin criticized the fact that classical theory of meaning only examined propositions that can be judged using the criteria of true and false. He pointed out that in practice most utterances would then be meaningless because they could not be decided by true or false. The reason is that until then the action dimension of language was not taken into account. In this context he developed his theory of speech acts .

"Once we have made it clear to ourselves that we do not have to examine the sentence but the utterance in a speech situation, then we can no longer overlook the fact that an action is carried out by whoever makes a statement."

Austin called the execution of a linguistic act “performative” (command, promise, judge), while the pure meaning of a sentence (“locution”) was a “locutionary act”; For example, "He needs a scalpel" means that a doctor needs a scalpel for the next activity during the operation. Then there is the meaning associated with the purpose of the utterance. In the example, the request to give the doctor a scalpel. Austin described this indirect meaning of the utterance as "illocution", the corresponding utterance an "illocutionary act". If the sentence causes a scalpel to be handed to the doctor, the purpose of the action is fulfilled. Austin called this executive aspect as the effect of the utterance "perlukotionary act". A perlukotionary act is not necessarily part of a statement.

Austin used a variety of examples to show that speech acts also contain illocutionary roles. He differentiated between verdictive (e.g. assess), exercitive (e.g. command), commissive (e.g. promise), conductive (e.g. excuse, thank) and expository speech acts (e.g. claim). Perlukotionär effects can be laughter (after a joke), fear (after a threat) or disappointment (after the rejection of a marriage proposal). The decisive yardstick for the meaning is no longer just the truth, as in the case of a sentence, but the success of a speech act. However, this depends on the respective circumstances. In order for the "yes" to have its meaning at the wedding, the bride, groom and a registry office are required. Austin analyzed possible mistakes that lead to the failure of a speech act. Among other things, this includes the ability to express oneself in a language.

“The more precisely you can express yourself in a language, the clearer it is what is being said - the meaning of the utterance; the more explicitly one can express oneself in our sense, the clearer the role of the utterance emerges - 'what it is to be understood as' ”.

Speech acts and intentions with John Searle

John Searle developed the speech act theory of John L. Austin further. Searle distinguished three aspects of a speech act, the "act of expression", the "propositional act" and the "illocutionary act". All three are simultaneous elements of a speech act. The meaning of a speech act is contained in its propositional content. The propositional act can take on different illocutionary roles depending on the situation and context, that is, it can be meant, for example, as a request, question or statement. The sentences “Sandra is doing homework.” And “Is Sandra doing homework?” Have the same propositional content for Searle, but a different intention and thus a different illocutionary role. Searle thus distinguished between the purely lexical, rule-based meaning of the proposition and the context-dependent, intentional meaning of the illocutionary act. The proposition itself is composed of reference, predication and syntactic structure. In relation to the reference, the measure of meaning is the criterion of true and false.

Searle's theory of meaning is based on the concept of rule and the intentional aspect of linguistic action. Rules have the function of ensuring the success of a speech act. There are constitutive rules (conventions) that make the basis of language possible at all. These can be compared with the formal rules of a game, for example a game of chess. On the other hand, there are regulative rules that determine the way in which language is used, such as forms of politeness (greetings, requests) or in which contexts expletives are accepted.

“The regularities of language are to be explained by rules in the same way as the regularities in a football game are to be explained by the football rules; Without the concept of rules, an explanation of such regularities seems impossible. "

The tactic adopted to play defensively would correspond to the regulatory rules. Furthermore, the meaning of speech acts is based on conventions such as promising, granting authorizations or assuming obligations.

“Our hypothesis that speaking a language means performing acts in accordance with constitutive rules is therefore linked to the hypothesis that the fact that someone has performed a certain speech act - e.g. B. has made a promise - constitutes an institutional fact ”.

Searle considered the question of intentionality based on Grice (see below): “The sentence that a speaker S meant something with X is synonymous with the sentence that SX expressed the intention of producing a certain effect in the listener H by this S 'intention recognizes “The recognition of the meaning, in this case the intention of the speaker, is based, according to Searle, on the knowledge of the rules and conventions by the speaker. Without this the listener has no access to the propositional content and the illocutionary role of an utterance.

Furthermore, Searle made a contribution to the theory of labels . The function of the meaning of a name is to determine an object. However, an object cannot only be identified by a single label. Rather, different identifications apply to a name and thus to an object. Searle speaks of a bundle of labels. It is quite possible and even probable that a single name will get its meaning from several speakers, i.e. the bundle of labels will emerge intersubjectively in a language community.

Speech acts as the basis of Habermas' universal pragmatics

Speech acts are an essential component of Jürgen Habermas' theory of communicative action . According to Habermas, people acquire universal deep structures of language through learning processes, which enable them to use linguistic symbols. Expressions are the surface structures that are formed using the rules in the deep structures. The deep structure is a pre-theoretical knowledge in which the communicative competence of a speaker is embodied. The rules are not just grammar, but the basis for the ability to transform thoughts into utterances. This competence is not aimed at the individual, but a generic competence that is universally valid. The theory of communicative competence, called “ universal pragmatics ” by Habermas, explains how possible speech is produced. In universal pragmatics, a theory is developed which rules an utterance must meet in order for it to be recognized intersubjectively. The pragmatics is expressed in the fact that language in communication is action through speech acts. Basically, a speech act serves to communicate. Habermas regards this as a telos of language. For him, language is tied to purposes.

Pure sentences concern experiences and facts and have only one content dimension. But language action always also includes a relationship dimension, an intersubjective relationship. This results in the distinction between a propositional and an illocutionary aspect in a speech act, which Habermas makes based on Austin / Searle. The proportional aspect is focused on the facts. The illocutionary content of an utterance is always associated with a validity claim.

From the point of view of validity, Habermas distinguishes three universal types of speech acts, each based on a different "mode of communication":

  • Konstativa (describe, report, explain, predict) refer to the cognitive level. They serve to represent a situation in the orientation system of the external world. The measure of their validity is truth.
  • Expressives, also representatives (wish, hope, admit) refer to intentions and attitudes. They are an expression of an experience in a subjective world. The measure of their validity is truthfulness.
  • Regulativa (excuse, command, warn, promise) refer to social norms and institutions. They serve to create a state in the common living environment. The measure of their validity is correctness.

Habermas names intelligibility as the overriding claim to validity that all three types of speech acts must satisfy. If a verbal utterance is not understandable, a speech act does not even take place. In order to reach an understanding, a clarification on the language level and its rules is required. In order for speech acts to succeed, the speaker must continue to meet the validity claims associated with the speech act. In the case of constatives, the speaker must therefore be able to provide a rationally comprehensible explanation in case of doubt. Expressiva must be proven by credible subsequent actions. The validity of regulatives results from a justification that is socially recognized.

"The illocutionary power of an acceptable speech act consists in the fact that it can induce a listener to rely on the typical speech-act obligations of a speaker."

Meaning from a behavioristic point of view

Significance as a stimulus-response scheme

Charles W. Morris , a student of George Herbert Mead , made a significant contribution to linguistics from a behaviorist point of view . According to Morris, meaning arises through the use of language signs. Based on Charles S. Peirce, Morris proposed the triadic subdivision of a semiotic sign into “interpretant”, “denotatum” (also designatum) and “significatum” (also “sign vehicle”).

“That which operates as a sign (that is, what has the function of designating something) is called a symbol carrier; the act of indirect note-taking is called the interpretant and is performed by an interpreter; We call the designate that which is indirectly taken notice of. "
“Understanding a language means using only those sign combinations and sign transformations that are not blocked by the customs of the social group concerned, means denoting objects and facts in the same way as the members of this group do, means having the same expectations as the others the use of a certain symbol and express their own state in the same way as the others - briefly understanding a language or using it correctly means following the rules of use (syntactic, semantic and pragmatic) that are common in the given social community. "

Signs in general trigger a behavior that is determined by the knowledge of what is designated. By referring to the object of action (designat), the meaning of a sign as a condition for fulfilling the sign content (significatum) through interpretation (interpretant) becomes a rule-based behavioral disposition of the sign recipient. There is a rule-based stimulus-reaction scheme between signs and behavior .

“Reacting to things through the mediation of signs is […] biologically a new stage in development, in the course of which in the higher animal species the senses of distance took precedence over the senses of contact in behavior control; By seeing, hearing and smelling these animals react to distant parts of the environment by means of certain object properties that function as signs of other properties. "

BF Skinner pursued a similar behavioristic approach in his work “ Verbal Behavior ”, in which he applied the knowledge of behavior analysis gained in experiments on animals and humans to linguistic behavior. Another representative of linguistic behaviorism is Leonard Bloomfield .

The Holism of Willard Van Orman Quine

Willard Van Orman Quine criticized the conventional theories of linguistic meaning in his major work Word and Object ( Word and Object , 1960). He based his considerations on language closely on Skinner's behaviorism. He did not rely on the theoretical philosophy of language, but advocated a naturalistic theory of knowledge . For Quine, philosophy of language made sense only as an empirical science. As a student of Carnap, he strove for empiricism without dogmas. He considered the basic assumptions of logical empiricism about the possibility of analytical statements (analyticity) and the equality of meaning of names and labels (synonymity) to be dogmatic . Quine formulated his fundamental rejection of the distinction between analytical and synthetic sentences in his much-cited essay on the " Two Dogmas of Empiricism " (1951). Quine concluded:

"That such a demarcation should even be carried out is an unempirical dogma of the empiricists, a metaphysical article of faith."

Instead, Quine called for an exploration of reality based solely on observations using the hypothetical - deductive method. Accordingly, an examination of language is a question of observing stimuli and the reactions triggered by them. Quine formulated his objections to a theory of meaning using the example of a linguist who wants to investigate an indigenous language that is completely foreign to him. According to his behavioristic approach, meaning arises as "stimulus meaning" by influencing sensory receptors.

"The stimulus meaning of a sentence for a particular person sums up their dispositions to either agree or reject the sentence in response to a current stimulus." (Word and Object, 72)

Stimulus meaning arises from "occasional sentences". If the linguist while observing the indigenous language always perceives the utterance "Gavagei" when a rabbit appears, he still does not know whether it refers to the rabbit itself or, for example, a deity that the locals think of when they see a rabbit see. Or maybe Gavagei only refers to certain parts of a rabbit. Quine's conclusion was that any translation is indefinite and that any reference ultimately remains unsearchable.

For Quine, any form of a structured theory of meaning is an impermissible reductionism . He characterized language as a “network of empirical sentences” which “appear as a collective before the tribunal of sensual experience.” Terms as components of sentence systems cannot simply be exchanged without changing the meaning. Quine also transferred this holistic (holistic) basic conception based on Duhem to the theory of science (see Duhem-Quine thesis ), in which he denied the possibility of verifying individual protocol sentences ( Carnap) or the falsifiability of basic sentences ( Popper ).

Meaning and intentionality

Meaning and opinion with Paul Grice

Herbert Paul Grice examined pragmatic aspects of meaning in particular . The distinction between natural and unnatural meaning goes back to him. Natural meaning refers to facts, unnatural meaning refers to a speaker's intentions. That a sign has an unnatural meaning means that something is meant by it. There is a conceptual reference to a fact. A sign is given a speaker meaning through its use , which results as follows:

(1) A speaker S performs an act of utterance with the intention that
(2) a listener H then shows the reaction R,
(3) H recognizes that S is expecting the reaction R,
(4) On the basis of this knowledge, H shows the reaction R.

Such is the meaning of the statement "This is a beautiful bunch of" depending on which term meaning the word Strauss (bouquet, ostrich, a fight or a person named Strauss) that utterance meaning associated with it (this specific bouquet is nice) and finally what the speaker means with the statement as speaker meaning (in the flower shop: this bouquet is suitable as a gift for a planned visit, so I would like to buy it). The speaker meaning is related to a purpose. The meaning of expression and meaning of utterance are conventional and at the same time depend on the respective context.

The elements of the meaning of an utterance that result not from the semantics of a sentence, but from the respective framework conditions or from the purposes of the utterance, Grice called implicature . The meaning in a communication is achieved through the communication principle, according to which everyone involved is interested in the success of the communication and therefore basically follows or should follow the following conversation maxims (which Grice formed based on Kant's categories) in order to promote the success of the communication :

  • Quality category: do not say anything wrong or not sufficiently verifiable.
  • Quantity category: be as informative as required, but no more.
  • Category of relation: formulate in such a way that the utterance is relevant.
  • Modality category: formulate precisely, clearly, understandably and avoid ambiguities, obscurities, vagueness and disorder.

The objection was raised against Grice's theory of meaning that its subject was not the question of meaning, but of successful communication taking into account psychological factors. Externalists such as Hilary Putnam (see below) criticize the fact that intentions do not establish a reference to the external world, but rather presuppose such a reference. Intentions are therefore not suitable for explaining meaning. In particular, however, Grice's explanation of meaning remains limited to the speaker's intentions and does not include the factor of understanding.

Convention and Intentionality in David Lewis

An important contribution by David Lewis relates to the relationship between convention and intentionality. He sees language as a function between phonetic signs and meanings. Linguistic meaning is factual information about the world that is measured against a truth value. Through its use, language also has a social component, since it mediates between the speaker's opinion and the listener's understanding. Conventions in this regard lead to law-like regularities in the behavior of those involved in the language process. Communication is determined by interests and linguistic meaning therefore always contains an intentional aspect. Conventions mean that “coordination games” take place between speaker and listener, which are often determined by goals that are coordinated with one another. The participants in the communication usually strive for a coordinative balance. This equilibrium is achieved when expectations are matched. While Grice focused primarily on the explanation of meaning through the reduction to the speaker's opinion, Lewis also takes into account the listener's understanding, which he describes as the replication of what is meant. The coordination takes place through mutual agreement on regularities, which thus become conventions within a community. Conventions are pragmatic and changeable.

Lewis determines the rules for the validity of (linguistic) conventions as follows:

A rule R, whether for an action or a belief, is a convention in a community G if and only if the following six conditions apply within G:
1. Everyone agrees with R (everyone obeys the rule)
2. Everyone believes that the others agree with R too
3. Believing that others agree with R is a good reason to agree with R yourself.
4. There is a general preference for general agreement with R
5. R is not the only general rule that numbers 3 and 4 can be met
6. Conditions No. 1 through 5. are well known and everyone knows they are well known.

The convention to drive on the right in traffic can be used as an example. Adherence to this convention is in the interests of everyone involved and is only ensured if all of the above Conditions are met. The alternative course of action is to drive the convention on the left. Through the use of conventions, language becomes a rational instrument with which people can assert their interests in the context of communication.

Donald Davidson, for example, criticizes this provision of a convention for not providing clarity as to why a certain word should be used in accordance with the rules.

Renewed focus on meaning and truth

After the concept of the development of an ideal language had been supplanted by Wittgenstein and the philosophy of normal language, Donald Davidson and Michael Dummett returned to the original approaches of Frege and Carnap; however, taking into account the discussion in the meantime and in relation to a normal language. Both Frege's principles of compositionality and context can be found again. Likewise, both reject the intentionality of meaning in principle. The meaning is therefore fully publicly recognizable. Despite the common ground, Davidson and Dummett developed very different theories of meaning.

Donald Davidson's theory of interpretation

Davidson, a student of Quine, believed that the meaning of utterances cannot be determined by using individual terms. But he thought it possible to develop a holistic theory of the meaning for a natural language. Just as language with a finite number of words enables an infinite number of sentences to be formed, according to Davidson a theory of meaning has to get along with a limited number of axioms in order to explain the structure of a language.

His idea was this, the semantic theory of truth of Alfred Tarski to transmit to the question of meaning. If “X” is the name of any sentence in an object language and “p” is its metalinguistic translation, then according to Tarski:

The statement X: “The snow is white” is true if and only if p is true, i.e. H. the snow is white.

A statement is true if it corresponds to an existing state of affairs. Tarski's definition concerns true statements in a formal language, not truth itself. For natural languages, this solution can only have an approximate character. While Tarski was based on the fact that the term “true” is to be determined semantically with this definition, Davidson turned the perspective, as it were, on its head. The meaning of an utterance arises from the fact that it can be checked whether it is true. An interpreter can only understand a sentence if he knows the truth criterion of the statement. Therefore Davidson replaces "means that" with "is true if and only if". Various objections have been raised to Davidson's approach. One of them comes from Ian Hacking with the example of a non-interpretive sentence:

“The snow is white” is true if and only if the grass is green.

The equivalence statement “then and only if” applies biconditionally (i.e. under two conditions) in propositional logic : it is valid if both parts of the statement are valid individually or both are invalid at the same time. Accordingly, the semantic concept of truth is not suitable for hacking as the basis of a theory of meaning. Davidson objected that the validity remains if one introduces the condition that it must be possible to replace the corresponding terms with indexical expressions ("The snow is white" is true if and if and only if "this" is white). This condition prevents the violation of the linguistic context.

Another problem is that of translation. The transfer of the semantic concept of truth to the theory of meaning is not guaranteed if metalanguage and object language are expressed in different natural languages. So the translation of “meaning” is both “mine” and “meaning”. The translation is not clear. Based on this consideration, Davidson later called his theory of meaning interpretation theory.

The question now is under what conditions an interpreter considers a statement to be true. Davidson concluded that not only must a sentence be semantically correct, but also correspond to the facts for an interpreter to understand the meaning. The meaning of an utterance is only accepted when there is a conviction that it represents what is really the case. Similar to Quine, Davidson assumed that there was a web of coherent beliefs. For a functioning of language Davidson also postulates that a speaker means what he utters ( principle of benevolent interpretation / principle of charity); because truth and meaning are mutually dependent. To avoid a circle, one has to take one of the two terms for granted. This is done through the "principle of benevolent interpretation". On this basis, utterances of the speaker are interpreted, i.e. classified into the existing system of words (names, predicates, syncategoremas) and rules, so that the listener understands the utterance. In Davidson's work, the theory of meaning is transformed into a theory of understanding and thus approaches epistemological questions.

A serious objection to Davidson is also directed against the fact that the basic epistemological conception on which he based his theory of interpretation was not made clear. Using the term "triangulation", Davidson referred to the semantic triangle in which the speaker, listener and object face each other in a relationship and admitted that he had implicitly assumed an epistemological externalism . The objects are then given externally and meaning results from an intersubjective communication process. Davidson thus indirectly took a realistic position.

Davidson rejected the idea that convention is a fundamental condition of language. A convention that links the intention of using the word in a specific meaning with this specific meaning of the words does not explain anything, but depends on the concept of the specific meaning (circle). Without knowing what meaning means, one cannot talk about conventional meaning. The extent of the overlap of ideolects (the linguistic range of the individual linguistic ability) took Davidson as contingent (not necessarily determined). He called his theory of interpretation based on Quine's “radical translation” a theory of “radical interpretation”. This means that the interpreter has nothing else to do with what he can observe. Davidson also used the example of the linguist studying a language completely unknown to him. In order to understand the meaning of an utterance, one needs to know the ideolect of a speaker, but not the sociolect (the extent of the linguistic ability of a language community). For Davidson it was quite conceivable that an interpreter does not (completely) know the ideolect, but still understands the meaning of a speaker utterance. From his point of view, that is all that matters when you ask about the conditions of the possibility of language. “We have to give up the idea that there is a clearly defined common structure that the language users adopt and then apply to individual cases.” Rather, the participants develop a joint transition theory based on their existing understanding of the language is sufficient for an understanding. Only the respective overlap is required for successful communication.

Michael Dummett's anti-realism

Michael Dummett's basic philosophical thesis is that one cannot grasp language through thoughts, but that the "clarification" of language is a prerequisite for the "clarification" of thoughts. Dummett appeared as a critic of Davidson on the question of the correct theory of meaning and developed an anti-realistic position based on Frege. The main objections are:

  • Davidson's theory of meaning only states how an utterance relates to an extension (i.e. a reference). It does not explain how meaning arises. Dummett calls such a theory a “humble” theory of meaning.
  • Davidson's theory of meaning is based on a realistic point of view. According to Dummett, however, a theory of meaning must be based on an anti-realistic point of view. It follows that it is not the truth but the verification that is the yardstick for understanding.
  • Contrary to Davidson's view, it is not the ideolect (the extent of an individual's ability to speak) but the general usage of the language that is the primary requirement for the functioning of language. The concept of radical interpretation is only a constructed borderline case. The meaning of interpretation does not correspond to that of understanding. A listener has to interpret precisely when he has not exactly understood something.

Dummett also emphasizes that the terms meaning and truth are interdependent and can only be explained together. If you know the content of an utterance, you don't yet know whether a statement is also true:

“The earth is moving” is true if and only if the earth is moving.

In order for the above statement to be recognized as true, part of the statement by Davidson must already be assumed to be known. According to Dummett, this does not explain how language works. Only when one can explain, independently of the language, how the meaning of terms arises, is one consequently obtained a "full-fledged" theory of meaning. This concept has four components:

  1. a semantic theory of reference
  2. a theory of meaning
  3. a theory of force
  4. a theory of coloring

You can understand these four theoretical elements as a pyramid. In semantic theory, the “value” of an utterance is determined. The "value" is the characteristic of an expression from which it can be determined whether a sentence is judged to be true or false. The theory of meaning defines what a speaker needs to know about language in order to give meaning to an utterance. The theories of power and color determine secondary aspects, which result in particular from the fact that the meaning is determined in a natural language. The theory of force relates to the mode of the sentence: statement, description, question, command, etc. This distinction corresponds roughly to the differentiation of propositional content and illocutionary role in Searle. Finally, by coloring, Dummett referred to the subjective evaluation contained in a sentence. The color indicates the difference between talking about a dog and a mutt (Frege's example). The coloring does not affect the truth or falseness of an utterance. Rather, linguistic nuances are taken into account as they are e.g. B. exist between walking, hiking and strolling.

For Dummett, pragmatics is part of a theory of meaning. Semantic determinations alone cannot explain meaning. Ultimately, knowledge of language usage shows how it is possible to understand language utterances. Hence, according to Dummett, a theory of meaning is a theory of understanding.

“And here I would like to repeat a thesis that I have put forward elsewhere: that a theory of meaning is a theory of understanding. That is, what a theory of meaning has to explain is what someone knows when he understands the language in question; H. if he knows the meanings of the expressions and sentences in this language. "

Mastering a language is based on an implicit knowledge of the rules of language usage (know-how). The explicit rules that are necessary for the construction of an ideal language (knowing that) are only partially known for natural languages. One can describe the activity of swimming, but one really only learns how to swim through the activity itself. In Dummett's point of view, knowledge of language is, however, even more complex than knowledge of an activity such as swimming, cycling or cooking. Linguistic knowledge must manifest itself in the practical activity of speaking.

“But where we are concerned with representing a practical ability in terms of propositional knowledge - and especially where this practical ability is the command of a language - it is up to us, if our representation is to have explanatory power, not just to state what someone is must know in order to have this ability, but also what it means for him to have this knowledge, d. H. what we understand as constitutive for an expression of knowledge of the relevant propositions; if we fail to do this, no connection is made between the theoretical presentation and the practical ability it is supposed to represent. "

In the specialist literature it has become common practice to refer to this requirement of Dummett for a theory of meaning as a "manifestation requirement". Knowledge of language must fully manifest. The meaning of an utterance must therefore be able to be demonstrated in a practical execution. In contrast, Davidson's theory of meaning only fulfills semantic requirements.

For Dummett, conventions constitute a social practice. If one rejects this role of convention, one also rejects that language in this sense is a practice. "If we use words from the English language, we must be responsible for their socially acceptable use, under penalty of unsuccessful communication." Whether an utterance is correct or incorrect depends on the use of the language community. Only the common language enables intersubjectivity.

John McDowell's reference back to Wittgenstein

On his part, John McDowell is a weighty critic of the concepts of Dummett and Davidson when it comes to his role as a follower of Wittgenstein. He is particularly against Dummett's view that one can develop a “substantial” theory of meaning and against the anti-realistic concept of truth. For McDowell, the function of language as a means of communication is just as secondary as its function as a carrier of thoughts. McDowell argues that language primarily has the function of being a repository for accumulated knowledge about reasons. The world is opened up through rational practices. Humans have always been involved in an environment of language activity and have a basic understanding of what makes a statement a true statement. The meaning of a statement becomes evident when the speaker knows what the statement refers to, i.e. knows the referent of the statement (the extension). So far there is agreement with Dummett. Up to this point in the argument, Dummett shares the same view of importance as Davidson:

“The earth is moving” is true if and only if the earth is moving.

What the sentence means in terms of content can only be determined through experience. In addition, you can only understand the sentence if you already have a pre-existing understanding of the understanding, i.e. you know that you have to reconcile the relationship between the speaker and the statement. In contrast to Dummett, McDowell takes the view that an epistemological investigation is necessary to explain the content of meaning (the intention). His conclusion is thus similar to Davidson's.

On the other hand, on the question of conventions as the basis of meaning, McDowell, with reference to Wittgenstein, clearly opposes Davidson. Meaning for McDowell is determined by common practice. A speaker is always a participant in a language community. It is not the mental state that is decisive for the meaning, but whether an utterance is understood in a practice. Even the listener must be able to understand an utterance without interpretation. McDowell is referring to Wittgenstein here:

[…] “In this way we show that there is a conception of a rule that is not an interpretation , but rather expresses itself, from case to case of application, in what we 'follow the rule' and what we 'follow it counteracting '. [...] "(PU § 201)
“That is why 'following the rule' is a practice. And believing to follow the rule is not: follow the rule. And that is why one cannot follow the rule 'privately', because otherwise believing to follow the rule would be the same as following the rule. "(PU § 202)

Without common practice, a word has no meaning (see “ private language ”). There is no measure of whether a statement is correct. According to McDowell (contrary to Dummett), however, one cannot deduce from this that a positive theory of meaning can be established. The concept of meaning cannot be reduced. Any reconstruction of the term presupposes an understanding of meaning. Like Wittgenstein (“I follow the rule blindly ” (PU § 219)), McDowell rejects the influence of intentions on meaning. An utterance can be correct in practice, even if the speaker is mistaken about it.

McDowell, with reference to Wittgenstein and Richard Rorty, takes the position that a closed philosophical theory is not possible and that philosophy has a therapeutic task to clear up confusions in the question. This also applies to the question of meaning.

Externalistic theories of meaning

Rigid designators at Saul A. Kripke

In his book "Naming and Necessity" ( Naming and Necessity developed) Saul Kripke in deviation from the theory of identification of Frege and Russell a causal theory of proper names . For Kripke, names are not synonymous with a designation (Frege, Russell) or a bundle of designations (Searle), but rigid designators . It can be thought of as the label attached to an object. Such a name with a fixed relationship to an object is created by a "baptism".

“Let's say someone is born, a baby; its parents call it by a specific name. They talk about it with their friends. Other people meet with him. Through various kinds of speech, the name is spread from link to link, like a chain. A speaker at the far end of this chain who has heard about Richard Feynman in the marketplace or somewhere else, for example , could refer to Richard Feynman, although he cannot remember whom he first heard about Feynman from [...]. A certain chain of communication, which ultimately reaches back to the man himself, reaches the speaker. He then refers to Feynman, although he cannot identify him through descriptions that are the only ones that apply to him. "

Kripke continues to criticize the equation of a priori, analytical and necessary, which is often found in philosophy. A statement is a priori if it is independent of any experience. In contrast to Kant's view, a priori is not absolute, but only applies to the knowing subject. An a priori statement does not necessarily apply. Kripke illustrates this using the example of the ancient meter . The term “one meter” denotes the length of a certain rod S at time t 0 . That this is the case is a contingent determination. On the other hand, the fact is known a priori because it was determined by definition. Necessity does not depend on the persons involved. The statement “The evening star is the same as the morning star” is necessary, but not a priori, because empirical research is required for this. Kripke describes statements that are both a priori and necessary as analytical.

This distinction is important for Kripke in order to better analyze the concept of meaning. A property necessarily belongs to an object if it belongs to it in all possible worlds . Labels are not necessarily associated with an object. “The author of metaphysics ” is a quality of Aristotle that does not necessarily belong to him. The person of Aristotle is historically conceivable, even if he had not written the scriptures.

Designations of objects by means of markings are not rigid. Names, on the other hand, are firmly connected with the object. Aristotle would have been the same person even if he hadn't been Alexander's teacher. The relation of a name to an object arises through the act of naming. However, no one alive today was present at the baptism of Aristotle. The name was passed down through a chain of users of the name. The rigid nature of names is shown by the fact that names have to be learned and that they are retained when a text is translated into another language. Rigid designators always meet the condition of identity, that is, an object can always be identified with them. The reference does not depend on what meaning a person associates with a name, but on what others - the language community - have determined. Kripke speaks of a causal chain that is not interrupted by the fact that everyone tries to get the reference to the designated object. Kripke's view is therefore also called the “causal theory of naming” (reference).

David Kaplan's study of indexicality

David Kaplan made an extensive study of indexical expressions in 1989 . Indexical designators are words whose extension is linked to the context of an utterance, such as "I", "he", "this", "here" or "now". Kaplan calls names and words like “I” or “today” pure indexicals, while he calls words like “this” or “there” demonstratives. The meaning of demonstratives is not only recognized based on the context; an additional act is required, for example a pointing gesture, to establish the reference. Another fundamental distinction between Kaplan is that of the utterance level, in which an utterance is viewed purely semantically, and the evaluation level, in which the reference is determined by the context. The distinction roughly corresponds to the relationship between object and metalanguage. In the example sentence “I am here now” the reference is given directly without one already knowing the intension. Contrary to the thesis of Frege, which is also represented by Dummett, not the meaning placed in such a case, Frege the importance Frege fixed, but only after the determination of the reference (who is "I", when is "now" where "here “) Gives the meaning (meaning Frege ). At the utterance level, the reference is not yet fixed, so that indexical expressions first need the evaluation level in order to consider the meaning for all possible worlds as fixed. Pure indexicals like "I" are rigid designators, which, however, unlike Kripke, have a meaning for Kaplan at least on the level of use.

Kaplan also refers to the context of an expression that gives it its meaning as its character. According to Kaplan, the character of an expression is determined by conventions and the rules of linguistic usage. The character of an expression and its intention determine its extension. While water always denotes water, regardless of the context, the indexicals have a variable character. By specifying its character, one determines the cognitive role of a word. Sentences like “I am here now” only receive a truth value on the evaluation level in which the context is determined. So they don't necessarily have a meaning. But since they are true in every context, they are valid a priori.

Hilary Putnam's thesis of the linguistic division of labor

An important contribution made by Hilary Putnam to the philosophy of language is the thesis that “meaning just ain't in the head” (“meanings are not in the head”). Knowing the meaning of an expression is not based (only) on propositional attitudes. Putnam made this clear with the "thought experiment of a twin earth". He assumes that a person on earth sees a liquid and calls it "water", and a twin who is like him down to the last detail also sees a liquid on another planet and also calls it "water". If the liquid on the other planet is not H 2 O, but rather XYZ, then the two mean something different by "water", although water has the same function for both. This perspective includes Kripke's thesis of rigid designators, which Putnam also applies to natural terms such as water, tiger or gold. If the Earthling knew that the liquid on the dwarf is not H 2 O but XYZ, it would not call it water. XYZ is a different extension to the water of the earth and would therefore have a different meaning.

Putnam also advocates the “universal linguistic division of labor”. Many members of a language community are familiar with the term gold. However, only some of them are able to distinguish gold from fool's gold on the basis of chemical knowledge.

“Every linguistic community has the kind of linguistic division of labor just described, that is, they use at least some expressions for which the following applies: The criteria linked to these expressions only know a subset of the set of all speakers who have mastered this expression and their use by other speakers is based on a specific cooperation between them and the speakers from the respective subsets. "

An exact determination of the extension of an expression is therefore often only possible for a group of speakers who specialize in it.

Thus the thesis put forward by logical empiricism (especially Rudolf Carnap ), based on Gottlob Frege , that the intention of an expression determines its extension , is not applicable according to Putnam. At the same time, Putnam rejects the conception, which he himself previously defended as functionalism , that meaning corresponds to a mental state. For Putnam (according to his more recent thesis of internal realism), meaning is to be assessed externally, i.e. also determined by material and social environmental influences. The utterances and also the thoughts of a subject arise not only due to internal processes, but also as a function of external objects, facts or events. The language community determines the extension, but it also depends on the environment.

Another component of Putnam's philosophy of language is that of the stereotype . According to this, the normal speaker only knows the usual language usage of an expression to a limited extent, which is sufficient for successful communication. The term tiger is usually associated with a large cat with yellow fur and black stripes that lives in the jungle. Most people are not aware that it is the largest cat species and that there are nine subspecies. The shortening of the meaning to a stereotype applies to a variety of terms, whether acid rain, business cycle or the Himalayas. Individual language skills play a subordinate role in a language community. However, the externalist explanation of meaning fails to demonstrate the relationship in which mental states have an influence on meaning. The argument of Jerry Fodor , a student of Putnam, is that there is no functional difference in the perception of H 2 O on Earth and XYZ on the Zwerde.

Robert Stalnaker's two-dimensional perspective

Even Robert Stalnaker criticized Putnam. An externalistic explanation of meaning, according to which meanings “do not exist in the head”, would lead to the fact that humans cannot control their thoughts. In addition, it is not clear how external relations can have a causal effect on mental states. One can observe that a mouse flees from a cat. Without assuming a mental connection, one cannot explain why the mouse flees. Only the conviction that it is better to flee at the sight of a cat can explain the behavior of the mouse.

The Pythagorean theorem is then present both “in the head” and in public. Stalnaker then developed a concept that takes into account both internal and external factors of importance. On the one hand, utterances have a propositional content, on the other hand, on the level of convictions, they can be associated with a different mental state in different people. For example, the statement “You are a weirdo” in the case of the speaker is linked to something different than what the person is saying, who may consider the suggestion just made to be imaginative. A third party could mistakenly refer to the statement and be angry about the unjustified abuse. The proposition is assigned different meanings on the evaluation level due to different presuppositions. One can speak here of a set of context that results in different intensions in different possible worlds.

The result is a two-dimensional semantics in which a truth value must be assigned to both the propositions and the intentions. The theory of meaning is transferred here into a description of beliefs and thought processes and thus the subject of the philosophy of mind .

Robert Brandom's inferential semantics

Robert Brandom sees himself more on the side of the pragmatists within the language-philosophical tradition. H. on the side of those theorists who consider social practice as the starting point for their analysis, not the formal structure of languages ​​( grammar , syntax ). He sees language as the primary form of expression of the human mind. It takes precedence over the idea of ​​mental states or the orientation towards purposes. The meaning of an expression results from the (logical) relationships that it has to other linguistic utterances. Language is a justification and justification social activity. This takes place in speech acts, i.e. actions. The linguistic basic act or the elementary speech act is the assertion. Every act of assertion contains the following basic normative assumptions:

(a) a commitment: As a consequence of one utterance, you have to accept certain other utterances. With the statement that Essen is west of Berlin, one accepts the statement that Berlin is east of Essen (principally deductive connection).
(b) an entitlement: With a statement one authorizes someone else to react to it in a certain way. From the statement: “This piece of furniture is a table” it follows that there are also other types of furniture (principally inductive relationship).
(c) a precluded entitlement: a person may no longer react in a certain way due to a statement. “This rose is red” excludes that the rose is yellow (exclusionary relationship).

According to Brandom, the meaning of an utterance always has a normative aspect, its validity requires justification. The discursive practice is a game of give and take of reasons. Individual utterances are irrelevant to Brandom. Their meaning is only revealed in relation to further statements.

“Terms are essentially structured inferentially. Understanding them in practice means knowing the correctness of the inferences and incompatibilities in which they are involved. A classification deserves to be mentioned conceptually because of its inferential role. "

The ongoing inferential results of speech acts are recorded by each participant in a speech situation as if by a “deontic account manager”. With this metaphor of “account management”, which is central to his theory, Brandom means that every participant in a conversation continuously remembers what he and all other participants commit themselves to through their ongoing assertions, and what they try to determine or authorize other participants by attributing them . Each participant has his own "account", but compares this with those of the other participants during the ongoing conversation. This makes it possible to eliminate or explicitly maintain differences.

Inferential (inferential) semantics are required to represent these relationships. According to Brandom, the validity and truth of utterances are only secondarily dependent on references to extra-linguistic reality (representations). Primarily they result from an internal linguistic network of assertive references to previous assertions, through which a temporally extended, consistent context of meaning arises. This internal linguistic reference is methodically made in the two basic forms of anaphor and substitution. Both possibilities are fundamental for linguistic expressivity. In particular, the generation of new semantic content is not possible without these two forms of connection to assertions that have already been made. The substitution, i.e. H. The replacement of previous expressions by other expressions (e.g. "the person over there" by "the person over there") enables a continuous development of the content of what is being talked about in the stringing together of speech acts, because every replacement also has a variation (e.g. . B. an extension or change) of the salary. The anaphor, especially so-called anaphoric chains, on the other hand, enable the participants in linguistic interaction not only to construct very extensive contexts of meaning, but also in particular using so-called indexical expressions (personal pronouns such as "I", "we all" etc. and speaker-dependent location and time references such as " here ”,“ now ”,“ there left ”,“ recently ”) to preserve that difference in meaning between different speakers, which is fundamental for the understanding of speaker-relative meaning.

In order to give utterances a meaning, rules are less followed, but linguistic situational knowledge of already existing utterances is used.

"You don't know anything about the inferential role of a salary without at least knowing something about other contents that can be inferred from it or from which it can be inferred."

Postmodern and deconstruction

Starting with structuralism , a movement arose in France in the 1960s that turned against the formalizations and schematisations of language analysis. With reference to Martin Heidegger, the relationship between being and language often came into focus. The concepts developed are discussed under the terms post-structuralism , postmodernism and deconstruction . With a simultaneous strong reception in literary studies, architecture or art, these approaches have also given essential impulses for the philosophy of language and critically questioned the concept of meaning.

Postmodern thinking at Lyotard

Jean-François Lyotard emphasized that language as a sign only relates to other signs. The non-linguistic reality as a singularity is only imperfectly represented by language as a sign. The signs of language themselves form the limit of what can be expressed. What lies beyond the border remains distant and vague. What is important in the discourse is not only what is said, but also what is not expressed, which arises from silence or gaps in language ability. If two opinions meet, a conflict arises like in court. The plaintiff and the defendant each present their view of things in a way that does not reflect the other's perspective. Unlike in court, where an always limited decision is made, the difference of opinion (Le différand) cannot be resolved. The whole cannot be represented from the point of view of the One. The individual moves in a variety of contexts and insoluble conflicts.

Lyotard quotes Wittgenstein: “Our language can be seen as an old town: a corner of alleys and squares, old and new houses with extensions from different times; and this is surrounded by a new crowd of new suburbs with straight and regular streets and monotonous houses. "

For Lyotard, the appropriate concept of dealing with language is Wittgenstein's view of language games . No longer the great narratives of Christianity, the Enlightenment or the progress of science, but also not Marxism, are decisive in postmodernism, but - also promoted by the modern media - narrative, decentralized knowledge. In contrast to Wittgenstein, Lyotard formed classes of language games and, following Searle, differentiated between denotative and performative language games. In addition, he pointed out that language games have different meanings in different institutions :

“Does the experimental game of language (poetry) have its place at the university? Can you tell stories in the Council of Ministers? Make claims in a barracks? "

Derrida's concept of deconstruction

For Jacques Derrida there is no fixed unity of word and meaning. Meaning is inevitably linked to language. However, it does not arise through the identity of the signified and the signified as in the theories of representation or through a stable difference between two signs as in structuralism. For Derrida, every signifier is a successor to another signifier in a sign process that is never completed. Therefore one cannot completely fix the meaning of a text. A text can still be expanded. It is therefore always an aborted process and therefore always vague . There is no such thing as a static systematic nature of language. Meaning and truth therefore never appear final.

In order to take this insight into account, Derrida developed the concept of deconstruction (a combination of words from construction and destruction), with which he mainly used philosophical texts (including Plato, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Peirce, Husserl, Heidegger, Austin, Levinas) investigated meanings that cannot be understood in the normal way. In particular, he wanted to show that texts cannot be fully understood phenomenologically and hermeneutically . The aim is to expose layers that the author of a text was not aware of. Prerequisites and implications should be made recognizable, which are hidden in a conforming interpretation . Like Heidegger, Derrida wanted to question the notion of “being as presence”. His project was a critique of the “ metaphysics of presence”.

In " Grammatology " Derrida reversed the usual view of the relationship between writing and language and declared writing the leading paradigm . “We will try to show that there is no linguistic sign that preceded writing.” Meaning is constituted separately from the spoken language and thus independent of the logos and the subject . There is an insurmountable difference between language and writing, which gives writing just as much a primary function as speech. The sound (the phoneme ) and the character (the grapheme ) stand side by side. Formative for the font are:

  • Absence: The recipient of the text is not present when writing, as is usually the case when the author is not present when reading. When reading, the author's context, experience, and intention may be completely lost. The signs of writing become independent: "It is part of the sign to be absolutely legible, even if the moment of its production is irretrievably lost."
  • Iterability: Font as code must be repeatable, otherwise it is not a font. However, every repetition also includes an otherness, an iteration. The text as such is like a type, whereas the concrete reading situation is comparable to a token .
  • Change of context: Due to the permanence of the characters, they always find themselves in new contexts, so that they are subject to a continuous change in meaning.
  • Spatialization: The spatial and temporal distance between writer and recipient leads to a "differänz" (differance), a shift in meaning that includes a deviation from the author's intention.

The instruments that Derrida - without systematic structure - used for deconstruction are terms such as “Différance” (instead of: différence) as a shift and characterization of otherness, “trace” as an indication of the indissolubility of (infinite) temporal references, the display of the Absent in the presence, "dissemination" as a force to decompose the opposition of dichotomous pairs of terms (body / mind, subject / object, nature / culture, language / writing, essence / appearance) or "supplement" as the relationship between the superordinate order of two terms, such as the writing since Plato (see: Phaedrus ) is considered to be derived from speech. These instruments serve to destroy the European "phonocentrism" which creates a "logo-centered" concept of reason. Because the meaning of a text cannot be finalized up to and including decomposition over time. A meta viewpoint, which is always linguistic itself, is always circular. Each repetition in reading has a different context and thus constantly creates a new meaning.


Philosophy Bibliography : Meaning - Additional references on the topic


  • Johannes Bergerhausen, Siri Poarangan: decodeunicode: The characters of the world Hermann Schmidt, Mainz, 2011, ISBN 978-3874398138 .
  • Christoph Demmerling / Thomas Blume: Basic Problems of the Analytical Philosophy of Language. Schöningh / UTB, Paderborn 1998, ISBN 3-8252-2052-4 .
  • Sybille Krämer : language, speech act, communication. Language theoretical positions of the 20th century. Suhrkamp, ​​3rd edition Frankfurt 2006, ISBN 978-3-518-29121-4 . (contains depictions of postmodernism and deconstruction)
  • Peter Prechtl: Philosophy of Language. Metzler, 1998, ISBN 3-476-01644-7 .
  • Helmut Rehbock: Meaning. In: Helmut Glück , Michael Rödel (Hrsg.): Metzler Lexikon Sprache. Metzler Verlag, Stuttgart 2016, ISBN 978-3-476-02641-5 , pp. 87-89. ( Overview )
  • Ernst Tugendhat : Lectures as an introduction to the philosophy of language analysis. Suhrkamp, ​​6th edition Frankfurt 1994, ISBN 3-518-27645-X . (For advanced)

Primary literature

Web links

Primary texts

Secondary literature

Individual evidence

  1. for example in the Summa Logica by Wilhelm von Ockham
  2. German "Intendieren, Meinen, Signen" in Meggle 1979
  3. ^ "Adversos Mathematicos" VIII, 1, quoted from Franz von Kutschera, Sprachphilosophie, 2nd edition, Munich 1975, 45
  4. John Locke: Experiment on the Human Mind. Third book, 2.2.
  5. Thomas Sent: Man is black or the black man. Kant's doctrine of judgment and concepts in dispute, in: Hans Werner Ingensiep, Heike Baranzke, Anne Eusterschulte: Kant Reader, Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2004, 55-77, here 69, with reference to: Gottlob Jasche: Immanuel Kant's logic. A handbook for lectures (short: Jasche logic), academy edition AA IX, 1-150, 91
  6. Immanuel Kant: Lecture on Metaphysics, Transcript Volck, AA XXVIII 369
  7. Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason AA III, 75– B 75
  8. Stephan Otto: The repetition and the pictures: To the philosophy of memory consciousness, Meiner, Hamburg 2009, 84
  9. Ludwig Jäger: The writing consciousness. Transcriptivity and hypotyposis in Kant's “Allusions to language”, in: Elisabeth Birk, Jan Georg Schneider (Ed.): Philosophy of Scripture, de Gruyter, Berlin 2009, 97-122, 110
  10. Ludwig Jäger: The writing consciousness. Transcriptivity and hypotyposis in Kant's “Allusions to Language”, in: Elisabeth Birk, Jan Georg Schneider (Ed.): Philosophy of Scripture, de Gruyter, Berlin 2009, 97-122, 99
  11. Cf. for the following presentation, for example, Prechtl, Philosophy of Language, or Demmerling / Blume, Basic Problems of Analytical Philosophy of Language and Stefan Alexander Hohenadel, Internalist Theories of Meaning
  12. Gottlob Frege: The basics of arithmetic. Breslau 1884, reprint Stuttgart 1987, 23; there without Roman numerals in a paragraph
  13. a b Frege, On Meaning and Meaning, 41
  14. Strictly speaking, the meaning of a predicate is the term and not the scope of the term. But extension denotes the scope of the term. See Keller ,zeichenentheorie, 48
  15. Frege, On Sense and Meaning, 44
  16. See knowledge through acquaintance and knowledge through description, in The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, Munich 1976, 66–82, here 73.
  17. How To Make Our Ideas Clear ("Popular Science Monthly" 12/1878, 286 - 302 = CP 5.388 - 410)
  18. ^ Wittgenstein, Das Blaue Buch, 15, quoted from Blume / Demmerling, 109
  19. Posthumously published in 1962 as Austin: "How to do things with words", German: On the theory of speech acts.
  20. Austin: On The Theory of Speech Acts, 158.
  21. Austin: On the Theory of Speech Acts, 93.
  22. ^ Searle: Speech Acts, 83
  23. ^ Searle: Speech Acts, 88
  24. ^ Searle: Speech Files, 68
  25. Habermas, Was ist Universalpragmatik ?, in: Preliminary studies and supplements to the theory of communicative action, Frankfurt a. M. 1984, 432
  26. Cf. Foundations of the Theory of Signs (1938) (German: Basics of Sign Theory, Frankfurt 1972, 20ff.)
  27. ^ Morris: Fundamentals of Sign Theory, 93
  28. ^ Morris: Fundamentals of Sign Theory, 60
  29. ^ Morris: Fundamentals of Character Theory, 55
  30. Quine: Zwei Dogmas des Empirismus, in: Von einer logischen Standpunkt, Frankfurt 1979, 42
  31. Quine: Two Dogmas of Empiricism, 45
  32. ^ Hilary Putnam: reason, truth and history , Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1990, 67/68
  33. ^ David Lewis: Convention, Cambridge / MA 1969
  34. ^ See Lewis, Conventions, 71
  35. Davidson: Communication and Convention, in: Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, Oxford 1984, 265–280, here 276.
  36. cf. in addition to the literature listed Doris Gerber: Meaning as a bridge between truth and understanding, Mentis, Paderborn 2005, Christoph Demmerling: Sinn, Meaning, Understanding, Mentis, Paderborn 2002, and Leif Frenzel: Modest theory of meaning ( Memento of the original from January 1, 2007 in Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 162 kB) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  37. ^ Alfred Tarski: The semantic conception of truth and the foundations of semantics, in: Gunnar Skribbek (ed.): Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1977, 140–188, here 143
  38. Sybille Krämer: Language, Speech Act, Communication, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2001, p. 180, with reference to Karsten Stüben: Donald Davidsons Theory of Linguistic Understanding, Athenaeum, Frankfurt 1993, 48
  39. Donald Davidson: Truth and Meaning, in: Truth and Interpretation, Suhrkamp, ​​2nd ed. Frankfurt 1994, 47-48
  40. ^ Ian Hacking: Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy ?, Cambridge / Mass. 1976, 140–141, quoted from Christoph Demmerling: Meaning, Meaning, Understanding, mentis, Paderborn 2002, 29
  41. Thomas Blume / Christoph Demmerling: Grundprobleme der analytischen Sprachphilosophie, Schöningh, Paderborn 1998, 205, with reference to Donald Davidson: Truth and Meaning, in: Truth and Interpretation, Suhrkamp, ​​2nd ed. Frankfurt 1994, 52
  42. ^ Albrecht Wellmer : Philosophy of Language, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2004, 158
  43. See Davidson: Externalized Epistemology, in: subjektiv, intersubjektiv, objective, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2004, 321–338
  44. Davidson: A Pretty Disorder of Epitaphs , in: The Truth of Interpretation. Contributions to Donald Davidson's Philosophy , ed. by Eva Picardi and Joachim Schulte, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1990, 203–228, here 227, quoted from Sybille Krämer: Language, Speech Act, Communication. Positions on language theory in the 20th century , Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2006
  45. Jump up ↑ Dummett, Truth, 97
  46. Dummett, Truth, 129
  47. Dummett. The Social Character of Meaning, in: Truth and other Enigmas, Cambridge / MA 1978, 420-430, here 429; quoted in Glüer, 26
  48. See also Kathrin Glüer: Language and Rules, Academy, Berlin 1999.
  49. Kripke, Name and Necessity, 107
  50. David Kaplan: Demonstratives, in: Almog, J., Perry, J., Wettstein, H. (Ed.): Themes from Kaplan, Oxford 1989, 481-563
  51. Jump up ↑ Putnam, The Meaning of Meaning, 39
  52. Cf. Hohenadel: Internalist Theories of Meaning, 109–112
  53. Brandom: Expressive Vernunft, p. 256
  54. Brandom: Expressive Vernunft, p. 152
  55. Brandom: Expressive Vernunft, p. 272 ​​ff.
  56. Brandom: Expressive Vernunft, p. 443 ff.
  57. Brandom: Expressive Vernunft, p. 153
  58. PU § 18 = Lyotard, Das Postmoderne Wissen, Passagen, Vienna 1994, 119
  59. ^ Lyotard, Das Postmoderne Wissen, 61, note 2
  60. ^ Derrida, Grammatologie, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp 1974, 29
  61. ^ Cf. Derrida, signature event context, in: Limited Inc., Vienna 2001, printed in Peter Engelmann: Jacques Derrida. Selected texts, Stuttgart 2004, 68–109