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(intro music) Hi, I'm Kate Ritchie. I'm an assistant professor of philosophy at the City College of New York. Today, I'm going to talk about meaning and language. In particular, we'll focus on ways to explain how some sounds and marks on a page or computer screen have meaning. For example, what makes the sounds "snow is white" and "mercury" meaningful, while this sound (keys jangling) fails to have meaning? The question we're focusing on is "What gives a word or utterance meaning?" This is a question about what determines meaning. This could be called a foundational meaning question, since we're looking for what serves as the determiners or foundations of an expression or sentence's meaning. In contrast, one might also ask questions about what a particular word or utterance means. Dictionaries classify these bits of information. Questions like "What does 'cat' mean?" or "What does 'gato' mean?" are descriptive meaning questions. When we ask descriptive meaning questions, we're not asking "What gives the word 'cat' meaning?", but what meaning it actually has. Here, we are going to focus on foundational meaning questions. We'll look at two ways to answer foundational meaning questions, questions about what gives a word or utterance meaning. There have been two general sorts of answers to this question: internalist answers and externalist answers. Internalists argue that mental or psychological states determine meaning. These theories are called "internalist," as the psychological states are inside individual persons, maybe inside individual persons' heads. These psychological states are the things internalists say fix meaning. Externalists, on the other hand, argue that something outside of the individual is required to determine meaning. They usually appeal to natural features of the world, or the expertise of others in society. Let's look at the internalist view. The internalists' view was argued for by the philosopher Paul Grice. Grice argued that speaker intentions determine meaning. What are intentions? Intentions are purposes or goals we have in acting. For example, you might turn on your TV with the intention of watching a basketball game. I might walk out of my house with the intention of taking the bus to work. Grice argued that intentions of a specific sort can account for certain sounds and marks on a page or computer screen being meaningful. He developed the theory on which a sentence has a particular meaning given a speaker's or writer's intentions. Let's look at an example. I'm going to say a sentence now. Here it goes: "Grice lived in Oxford." You probably already know what this means. Let's call its meaning, whatever it is, "P." Remember, here we're concerned with foundational meaning questions, rather than descriptive meaning questions, so we can sidestep questions about what the sentence means and instead focus on how it is that it has meaning. According to Grice, my utterance of that sentence means "P" just in case I, the speaker or writer, uttered that sentence intending three things. First, that my audience (that's you) come to believe "P." Second, that my audience recognizes that I want you to come to believe that P, that I had that intention. And third, that you come to believe "P," given your recognition that I wanted you to come to believe "P." So far, this theory tells us what a particular utterance of a sentence means. It tells us what my utterance, the one I made just a minute ago, means based on the intentions I had. Usually, utterances of sentences mean the same thing. If you, later today, say to a friend, "Grice lived in Oxford." It means "P." It means the same thing that my utterance, "Grice lived in Oxford," meant just a moment ago. So we might want an account that tells us what that sentence itself eternally, or given every utterance, means. Grice argued that a sentence's meaning depends on the way speakers and writers use it. If speakers tend to use "Grice lived in Oxford" to mean that a particular person resided in some town in England, then that is what it means. So in this way, certain sounds and marks are meaningful due to intentions. Intentions are goals that are represented psychologically in individuals, so this is an internalist theory. Next, let's look at how an externalist would answer the question "What makes our words or utterances meaningful?" Externalists hold that meaning is determined by what is external to a language user. The philosopher Hilary Putnam famously argued that "meanings just ain't in the head." He argues that meanings are external in an important way. He starts his argument by explaining two conditions many philosophers have accepted. First, knowing the meaning of a term is just being in a psychological state. Internalists take meaning to require speaker intentions, which are psychological. So internalists would accept this condition. The second condition is that the meaning of an expression determines what things the expression applies to. For example, the meaning of this expression, "creature with a kidney," determines a certain group of things that have kidneys. You're one of those things, I'm one of those things, my dog is one of those things, and lots of other creatures, every other creature with a kidney. Any expression with the same meaning as "creature with a kidney" will apply to all those same things. So for example, "renate" means "creature with a kidney," so "renate" and "creature with a kidney" apply to exactly the same things: you, me, my dog, and so on. Putnam accepts this second condition, but argues that the first must be rejected. Meanings, he concludes, are not psychological states. "Meanings just ain't in the head." He argues for the conclusion by appealing to thought experiments. Thought experiments are hypothetical situations that philosophers use to help determine what would make something true and what the conditions for accurately applying a concept are. They help us to look beyond the way our world really is to consider ways the world might have been. The most famous thought experiment for externalism focuses on a scenario involving Earth and another planet we could call "Twin Earth." Putnam asks us to imagine the following situation. Imagine a person named Oscar, living on Earth in 1750. Oscar, like all of us, has come in contact with water. He's had some to drink, he's swum in it, he's admired it flowing in a river, he thinks of it as something like "the colorless, "odorless, tasteless liquid that fills "the lakes and streams and comes out of the faucet." Oscar thinks, and sometimes says, things like "water is wet" and "I would love a cold glass of water." Oscar doesn't think things like "water is H2O," since the chemical structure of water has not yet been discovered. Now, imagine another planet, called "Twin Earth." On Twin Earth, there are duplicates of everything on Earth. There's a duplicate Rome, a duplicate Nile River. There's a duplicate Oscar. We can call him "Twin Oscar." Twin Earth looks just like Earth. However, the stuff that fills the lakes, streams, and taps on Twin Earth is not H2O. Instead, it has a distinct chemical structure, call it "XYZ." On Twin Earth, Twin Oscar has come in contact with XYZ. Twin Oscar would say things that sound like this: "water is wet" and "I would love a cold glass of water." Oscar and Twin Oscar are, according to Putnam, psychological duplicates. Both think of wet liquid substances that fill lakes and streams, they say things that sound identical, they report their feelings in ways that sound identical, yet, Putnam argues, they're different. Oscar says things about water, the H2O stuff, while Twin Oscar has thoughts, and says things, about twin water, the XYZ stuff. Oscar asks for a glass of H2O, while Twin Oscar asks for a glass of XYZ. Since they are psychologically identical but mean different things when they make the same sound, "water," meaning cannot be wholly internal. "Meanings," Putnam argues, "just ain't in the head." Let's look at one more example that's meant to be an argument for externalism. This example is also developed by Putnam. Suppose that I cannot tell the difference between beech trees and elm trees. I think of both as deciduous trees that grow in North America, and I just don't have any more information about them. Given this, it seems that I am in the same psychological state when thinking "beeches are lovely" and "elms are lovely." So, if meaning determines what things an expression applies to, and all meaning is is one's psychological state, then for me, "elm" and "beech" pick out the same thing. I'm in the same psychological state when I think about elms and beeches. But that doesn't seem right. I speak English and I use "elm" and "beech" in the same way as a more informed individual does. It seems when I say "elm," I mean "elm," and I pick out elms, just like an arborist would. And when I say "beech, I mean "beech," and I pick out beech trees. So meanings cannot be psychological states. Meanings cannot be wholly internal. If you're convinced by these examples, we can ask, "What external things are relevant to meaning?" Both examples give evidence that one's natural, physical environment affects meaning. What kinds of things are out there in one's physical environment affects the meanings of one's words and utterances. Others have argued that the external, social environment also affects meaning. According to the externalist, causal and historical connections with our natural and social environment work to determine what our expressions and utterances mean. Let's sum up. We began with the question "What makes our words and sentences meaningful?" We saw that the internalists argue that complex speaker intentions that are part of an individual's psychological state determine meaning. In contrast, externalists argue that some external factors, like one's natural environment, work to determine what our words and sentences mean. These are two ways to answer foundational meaning questions. Subtitles by the Amara.org community