Sunday, May 10, 2009

12b The Hon. Lady Victoria Welby

"The Meaning of Meaning" (1923), by C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards, is not generally thought of as being in the mainstream of philosopher's discussions, largely because its authors were not professional philosophers and did not intend their book primarily for an audience of philosophers.

Yet the book had a marked effect on the development of semantics. Its blend of pragamtism and behaviorism and the autors' stress on the difference between 'descriptive' and 'emotive' language had widespread philosophical consequence.

Outside philosophy proper, Ogden and Richards' work may be seen as a major contribution to the tradition that considers the study of meaning to have a crucial bearing on human happiness or sanity.

The modern resurgence, if not the origin, of this tradition, is to be found in the writings of Lady Victoria Welby. When we read her article "Sense. Meaning and Interpretation" in Mind (1898) this motivation is evident.

"The drawbacks and even dangers of linguistic ambiguity and obscurity have always been more or less recognized and deplored and most of us have exhorted others and have been ourselves exhorted to be clear and definite in statement and exposition,

and not to wander from the 'plain meaning' or the 'obvious sense' oi the words which we might have occasion to use. For it is undeniable that obscurity or confusion in language,

if it does not betray the same defect in thought, at least tends to create it. The clearest thinking in the world could hardly fail to suffer .

What after all Is the moral basis of speech-life, - of articulate communion ? Significance and lucidity. These are not merely accomplishments, they are ethically valuable.

We owe it to our fellows to assimilate truth an to convey it to them unalloyed by needless rubbish of the senseless the meaningless, the confused and the contradictory. It is or distinct duty to study the causes, to provide against the danger and to realise the true significance of ambiguity...."

For that purpose she developed a theory of meaning, called Significs. We had to make a careful distinction between three aspects of a word: (a) sense or signification (the litereral definition), (b) meaning or intention and (c) significance or ideal worth. Her theory contained elements which would appear in later theories on meaning. For more detai have a look at

Lucidity of language as a moral value and obligation. It was not the main drive behind the major development of semantics in the twentieth century. The most important motivation came from the developing sciences since 1850.

Scientific theory needed a scientific language and ordinary language was too ambiguous and than language of mathematics not applicable in all cases. Indirectly, you could say, is it also a moral obligation of scientific language to be lucide.

Lady Victoria Welby asked "What is Meaning?", how does it work, how is it accomplished. And now, more than a hundred years later, do we have the answer? I have an answer: the answer is NO.

Most of the attempts to deal with the problem of meaning can be grouped into three types of theory., referential, ideational and stimulus-response.

The referential theory is, on the surface, the simplest and it dominates most thinking about meaning. It usually stems from the concentration on the proper name as the typical unit of meaning. Here is the name "John"; there is the man. So there is a relation between a word and something in external world.

One of the classic statements of the ideational theory was given by the 17th century philosopher John Locke: "The use, then, of words is to be sensible marks of ideas: and the ideas they stand for are their proper and immediate signification." The words refer to the results of sensory experiences: the ideas in our mind.

The fact that we have public consensus on what words mean strongly suggest that meaning is a function of publicly observable aspects of the language situation.

It is natural then to look for meaning in regularities of connections between utterances and publicly observable features of the communication situation. So the meaning of a word (the stimulus) might be interpreted as the response of the hearer.

The newer development on the theory of meaning was initiated by Wittgenstein, which crystalized into the slogan: "Don't look for the meaning, look for the use." In the background is a pragmatic view of the nature of language.

We dont try to find some specific meaning, but primarily we look what the speaker does with language to understand the meaning of utterances.

The sense in which a person employs words is a function of what he is doing with them in that employment, what he is using the words to do. John Austin's classification of linguistic behavior in terms of different acts, is a good example of this approach.

Although it may be clear, that none of these different approaches of the problem of meaning have produced an adequate answer, there still is one issue that applies to all theories;

the point which Lady Victoria Welby brought to our attention: it still is a moral value to do our best to avoid ambiguity and obscurity and we should exhort others and ourselves to be clear and definite in statement and exposition.

The Discussion

[13:32] herman Bergson: So much on Lady Victoria Welby..
[13:33] Cailleach Shan: I think it's the responsibility of the speaker to ensure that their true meaning is conveyed
[13:33] itsme Frederix: Are you sure this is a woman Herman - non ambiguity -?
[13:33] Gemma Cleanslate: interesting how much we need to know about language
[13:34] itsme Frederix: just joking, makes sense - but why is it a moral obbligation to be clear?
[13:34] herman Bergson: I think it relates to generally felt basic needs
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: i would think because the meaning the true meaning of anything affects eveyone
[13:35] Cailleach Shan: Is the use of the word 'moral' in that conext relevant to us today
[13:35] itsme Frederix: at least it postulates: another being
[13:36] herman Bergson: I think this idea of maral value is very well interpreted by the analysis the gives....
[13:36] herman Bergson: the meaning of a word consists of three aspects....the third she called significance...
[13:36] Samuel Okelly: i understand "moral" to appeal to a sense of "fairness" i.e., that if when we speak we expect others to understand what is said that we are obliged to be as clear as possible
[13:37] herman Bergson: with it she means that for instance some even has a significance, which is more than just a meaning...
[13:37] herman Bergson: and you could interpret the meaning of truth like that.....
[13:38] herman Bergson: why is lucidity a moral value..because of the significance we give to truth
[13:38] itsme Frederix: does that state that speaking is creating a significance, a thing in itself, a more or less new something
[13:38] herman Bergson: Yes also relates to the Look for the use" appraoch.....
[13:39] herman Bergson: is what was later called , By Charles Morris , about the pragmatic dimension
[13:39] herman Bergson: What effect has the meaning of a word or statement on the listener...
[13:40] herman Bergson: and it related to the ideas of Austin that language is not a collection of meanings, but it is an act
[13:41] herman Bergson: Whenever you say something you not only transfer content, but you also do something....
[13:41] itsme Frederix: so you have to judge two things when speaking, the act and the result it has?
[13:41] herman Bergson: the critics on the referentail, ideational theroes was that they ignored the language act
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes Itsme...that is correct
[13:42] Cailleach Shan: mmmm..I don't see how the 'result' can be the responsibility of the speaker... surely it is the recipients responsibility how they deal with it.
[13:42] itsme Frederix: the result might not be know, but the act is fully done by the actor
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: i think that explains the moral aspect of it
[13:42] Anne Charles: Moral issues aside, to achieve clarity one must tailor one's vocabularity to one's audience. As a technical person you speak with one vocabulary to your fellow techies and with another vocabulary entirelyto management.
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: thanks anne
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:43] herman Bergson: Yes Anne..maybe a reference to the Witgensteinian language games
[13:43] itsme Frederix: Cail maybe thats the reason to be pure in act - thats one thing you have under controll, what is done with it/ the effect is another thing
[13:44] herman Bergson: in a number of theories they use the model of sender - receiver....
[13:45] herman Bergson: what we send is a mystery and how it is interpreted is an even greater mystery....if we want to explain the process.....yet we dont seem to have too much trouble in communicating :-)
[13:45] herman Bergson: But I think there are two levels...
[13:45] hope63 Shepherd: wow.. no trouble in communicating?
[13:46] herman Bergson: The way we communicate here you could call the direct level....we are educated to do so
[13:46] herman Bergson: (I know what you mean Hope)
[13:46] hope63 Shepherd: smile
[13:46] herman Bergson: The other level is what brough Gemma to the statement that we have to know somuch about language
[13:47] herman Bergson: it is the level of alnguage about language....
[13:47] herman Bergson: the metalevel....
[13:47] herman Bergson: when we use language to understand and explain language so to speak
[13:48] herman Bergson: that is...when I talk about meaning.....the words that I use todescribe it ahve a meaning too
[13:48] itsme Frederix: clear, you got data & meta-dat, which is still another kind of data so you can describe it with meta-meta data
[13:48] herman Bergson: of those moments we seem to bite in our own tail again
[13:49] itsme Frederix: Hopefully Herman
[13:49] itsme Frederix: or get lost in language-space
[13:49] herman Bergson: Just take the statement; what is the meaning of meaning/
[13:49] herman Bergson: the first word meaning cant mean the same as the second..
[13:50] herman Bergson: Well....AT least you see that what looks so obvious every day...our language and its meaning......
[13:51] itsme Frederix: mmm these word can ean the same in a different context, I mean the relation between the word and the context can be the same
[13:51] herman Bergson: it still is a mystery how meaning is established, if you are looking for one unifying explanation
[13:52] herman Bergson: yes, Itsme.....that is what Wittgenstein pointed at...and others....the word (and its meaning ) in different contxts
[13:52] itsme Frederix: and the context gives the semantic of the word
[13:52] Cailleach Shan: Each of us brings our enculturated data to the interpretations we give to any language we receive.
[13:52] herman Bergson: Yes...
[13:52] herman Bergson: if you take Japanese for instance.....
[13:53] herman Bergson: a Wetern person will never understand the true has so many dimensions....
[13:53] herman Bergson: words in Japanese DO a lot...
[13:53] herman Bergson: in relation to persons and situations...
[13:54] hope63 Shepherd: you don't have to go to japan for that.. just listen to me talking to my
[13:54] itsme Frederix: But the question is, and the way around - can Japanese understand western words
[13:54] herman Bergson: I guess the same problem....
[13:54] herman Bergson: That is one of the interesting things of international bussiness and negotiations
[13:55] itsme Frederix: so we have something in common at least, lets use that founding of misunderstanding;)
[13:56] herman Bergson: At the present moment in the world..only money (or the absence of it) talks ^_^
[13:56] hope63 Shepherd: or arms..
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:56] herman Bergson: and everybody understands that :-)
[13:56] Ze Novikov: yes
[13:56] Cailleach Shan: lol there is one other universal word Herman... but I would probably get thrown out if I use it!!!!!
[13:56] herman Bergson: yes Hope unfortunately
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: lolol
[13:56] hope63 Shepherd: cal..
[13:56] itsme Frederix: but that is a lack of" nuance"
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: i have to go to rl i am afraid
[13:57] Cailleach Shan: cu Gem
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: se you next week
[13:57] herman Bergson: Bye Gemma
[13:57] Rodney Handrick: bye Gemma
[13:57] Ze Novikov: bb Gemma
[13:57] itsme Frederix: Gemma no fear for rl, it is not that bad - they got sl in it you know
[13:57] hope63 Shepherd: take care what words you will be using in rl gemma:)
[13:58] herman Bergson: What is that word you meant Cailleach?
[13:58] hope63 Shepherd: as usual a nz 4 letter word..
[13:58] Cailleach Shan: -F*ck, the -f*cking -f*ckers's -f*cked!!!!
[13:58] Ze Novikov: lol
[13:58] Rodney Handrick: omg cal...
[13:58] herman Bergson: hmmmm.....
[13:58] Rodney Handrick: lol
[13:58] hope63 Shepherd: well. missed on the
[13:59] CONNIE Eichel: hehe
[13:59] herman Bergson: Is that as international as money?
[13:59] Cailleach Shan: ooopsss.... I think I had better leave on a high!
[13:59] hope63 Shepherd: birds do it bees do it herman lol
[13:59] herman Bergson: lol....
[13:59] Cailleach Shan: Thanks Herman good discussion.
[13:59] herman Bergson: Yes but a lot of cultural bias in it too
[14:00] herman Bergson: My pleasure Cailleach..
[14:00] bergfrau Apfelbaum: I go also directly with: -) beautiful evening you all and until soon here!
[14:00] itsme Frederix: Nice you used the word bias, I remember that an old recording nical trick was to add some bias to get it better
[14:01] bergfrau Apfelbaum: danke herman :-)
[14:01] herman Bergson: Bye Bergy
[14:01] CONNIE Eichel: going too, event time for me, kisses you all :))
[14:01] CONNIE Eichel: lovely, as always, prof :)
[14:01] herman Bergson: Nice to see you again CONNIE....:-)
[14:01] herman Bergson: Bye...:-)
[14:02] herman Bergson: Class Dismissed...^_^
[14:02] Ze Novikov: Must be off to RL see you next week and have a good weekend
Posted by herman_bergson on 2009-01-13 05:40:36

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