The one thing that gets in the way time and time again of productive discussions in philosophy is misunderstanding. A lot of the misunderstanding that I see is due to different levels of understanding different word meanings. Language can be very confusing with the same words having different meaning, particularly when people don’t utilize them in a way that shows understanding that there are different meanings. So while someone may use a word in a proper sense, they may not necessarily understand that there are different senses of that same word that can have an entirely different meaning and both might be logically correct in the context of the discussion. When that occurs, it is imperative the author differentiate to avoid confusion. On the other hand, there are instances of a word being conveyed that really only has one sense that it must have logically been referred to, otherwise in context the author doesn’t make sense. This burden, rests upon the reader in order to understand. While it can be nice for the author to mention the definition, that can get tedious. This can lead us to a slippery slope of defining every word used.
Philosophy requires in depth thinking and master of language in order to comprehend it due to the nature of philosophy that by nature, attempts to have us arrive to the deepest level of understanding that we can. Those who know the senses of words and have mastered the senses of words will understand that there are rules to play by, rules to communicate effectively and rules to understand information to communicate effectively. I have presented two of those reasons above, I hope the readers take the time to take that to heart so that they do understand. However taking it to heart is not merely enough. Understanding language is a matter of intelligence – in that it can be very difficult if you do not process information quickly. There are over a million words in the English language. Most adults use 20,000 – 35,000 words. Each one of those words typically has multiple senses in of itself. Remember, a word is just a symbol for the larger meaning of it, which definitions only hope to convey the meaning accurately. It can be very difficult to communicate effectively but in Philosophy is extremely important.
Meaning comes from within the conveyors mind, it is a construct of a person’s understanding of not only the concept a word is referring to but also the known definitions that people utilize to communicate. As such, there are problems found in both ways of providing meaning, not necessarily understanding the concept and not understanding the definition. Things can make sense in a person’s mind but don’t to others, usually due to a failure here in these two areas. Aside from that, even if both of these are gotten right, people don’t always think logically. As such, this isn’t a problem of communication if solely this occurs, but a problem of thinking in ones mind.
Words don’t mean things, people do
“Meaning” – as defined by Merriam Webster
what is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated; signification; import:
the three meanings of a word.
the end, purpose, or significance of something:
What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of this intrusion?
the nonlinguistic cultural correlate, reference, or denotation of a linguistic form; expression.
Now sense #1 is used colloquially when referring to “the meaning of words” or “what does that word mean?” But when I state, “Words don’t mean things, people do” I am referring to sense #3. Now this is somewhat ironic in how meaning of words and meaning of people and language can get very confusing and or muddled; words and communication are dynamic, in that there are many ways words can be used metaphorically, aside from all the different senses of a words. I would contest in certain words, it is nothing short of brilliant in able to utilize these certain words “in every sense of the word” and to mean every sense of the word. By stating “words don’t mean things, people do” as in people mean things – I am in a way, can be seen as being ambiguous or dubious in my communication. The receiver of the communication could easily not understand what I am stating – it could be that they don’t know about sense #3, which is often the case when I bring this statement up to say, Joe Schmoe. They might response, “words mean things, I can look up the meaning of words in the dictionary!”. But that would be Joe Schmoe using sense #1 strictly – in a sense that “meaning” is synonymous with having a definition. I don’t like the definition of sense #1 myself, it can create problems for our frame of reference on understanding what meaning I would say, should be. It is more meaningful to utilize meaning in sense #3, I would contend.
There are reasons why that is, a stating “words have definitions” is very straight forward as opposed to “words have meanings”. What does it really mean that “words have meanings”. It’s a rabbit hole in so much as it can mean quite a bit, and quite a bit more than one should be inundated with during communication. There are problems in language, because language is only a means to an end. That mean is conveying symbols (spoken or written) in a manner that hope to express the meaning of the communicator.
“Throughout human history, as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are, or where we are going in this ocean of chaos, it has been the authorities — the political, the religious, the educational authorities — who attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations, informing — forming in our minds — their view of reality. To think for yourself you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable open-mindedness, chaotic, confused vulnerability to inform yourself.” – Leary
This quote ties in that language, definitions, are constructed through and form a supposed ontology of how the world is, but this is done through other humans, popular usage so to speak. But that doesn’t mean it is right even, nor does it mean a words implications are actually real. I will leave it there to let some minds run wild, hopefully.