Monday, February 21, 2011

Remark 10

Augustine, meaning

This Remark continues the challenge to Augustine's constricted concept of learning a language - and consequently, of the meaning of its content. W has already planted the seed of the idea that meaning is determined by usage rather than just by simple association of words with objects. Here he explicitly asks what a word signifies and rhetorically answers (in essence) "what else besides usage?" He then elaborates by noting that this suggests that a description of usage should be in the form "The word ... signifies ...", where the second ellipsis presumably is a complete description of the usage.

W then observes that for some purposes, the simple Augustinian association of word and object could constitute an adequate description, eg, when correcting someone who mistakenly thinks the word "slab" refers to a certain stone type when the correct referring word is "block". He then says:

- die Art und Weise dieses 'Bezugs' aber, d. h. der Gebrauch dieser Worte im übrigen, bekannt ist.

the Anscombe translation of which is:

- but the kind of "referring" this is, that is to say, the rest of the use of these words, is already known.

It isn't obvious to me what the intended referent of "these words" is. One possibility is that the referent is the pair of words in the example ("slab" and "block"), but that seems inconsistent with the German since "dieser Worte" suggests connected words (as in a phrase) rather than a set of individual words (as in the last paragraph of this Remark in which the German is "der Wörter"). So, it seems that the referent is the referring phrase itself, ie, "word W signifies object O". Then what is already known would seem to be the complete description of the usage of that phrase, which would include its use as an abbreviated description of word usage. And that would lead you back to the complete description of the use of the word W. Ie, correcting a referring error only helps if the complete usage of the right referring word is already known.

This seems pretty convoluted. Is there a straightforward interpretation that I'm missing?

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