UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Meaning, nature and communication Leinbaugh, Thomas Mark


One of the central endeavors in contemporary philosophy has been to arrive at some clear understanding of the nature of communication. This concern has been motivated, in part, by the use made of facts about general features of language in traditional philosophical arguments, to conclusions about the ultimate structures of reality. In my thesis I have attempted to advance a certain precise view of communication. I begin by distinguishing between the process of communication and the corresponding concept. I assume that a useful strategy for orienting oneself with respect to the ontological question concerning the nature of the process, is to delineate, in a formal manner, those conditions (in some sense internalized) which explain how we are able to identify and agree upon a wide range of cases as involving or not communication. For it seems plausible to suppose that how we in this fundamental way conceptualize some process has something to do with its true nature; if only because the concept we form must provide an accurate means for dealing with that aspect of reality which it discriminates. In essence, communication consists of some speaker's meaning something by some utterance, and his audience's subsequent understanding. Since to understand someone is just to know what he meant, I suggest that the crucial concept to be clarified is that of meaning--in particular, the concept of someone's meaning something by his utterance. Following the precedent of H. P. Grice, I call this the "nonnatural" sense of meaning. Two closely connected concepts, both marked by the use of the verb "mean", are those of "intentional meaning" (where we speak of someone's meaning to accomplish something by something he does) and "natural meaning" (where we speak of [the fact of the existence of] some event or state of affairs meaning that some other event or state of affairs is [was or will be] the case). Both of these more general concepts have been argued for in the literature as providing suitable bases for an analysis of the concept of nonnatural meaning. My procedure involves utilizing successful features from each type of analysis in order to improve upon the other, until some fairly unified result is obtained. This result is captured by the condition that nonnatural meaning must involve an intent on the part of the speaker to provide his audience with knowledge of a very special intention on his (the speaker's) part. One apparent advantage of the naturalistic over the intentionalist analysis of nonnatural meaning is that it seems to lend support to a scientific approach to the process of communication. However, I argue that even on the opposing, mentalistic outlook on the process—which takes man to also inhabit a realm apart from the reach of natural necessity—it is a conceptual fact that certain factual presuppositions must be satisfied in any world before certain higher-level concepts can have application in that world. In the special case of communication, it is necessary (in this a priori sense) that a certain regularity exist between certain utterances and dispositional states in the speaker before the notion of non-natural meaning (and hence of communication) can have any applicability. And this regularity is likely to be of sufficient frequency to justify a scientific, as well as an artificially simplified, approach to communication (and hence to language), as the field-linguist adopts in his work. In this way I have tried to show how it can be that certain intensional concepts which are most intimately bound up with the concept of language (e.g., the concepts of non-natural meaning and intending), are logically dependent upon —-those more extensional concepts with which science is most comfortable (e.g., the concepts of evidence and behavior); and this is possible without requiring the postulation of some analytic (or transformational) connection existing between these two levels of concepts, as most recent meaning-theorists have suggested.

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