Language, the Key to Everything

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.