PHIL 359 Final: Meaning and Reference

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PHIL359: H. Laycock
Meaning and Reference
The construction of linguistic understanding
Explain and evaluate Grice’s account in ‘Meaning’ of the dierence between between
telling someone something and just ‘letting them know’.
In ‘Meaning’, Grice makes an number of distinctions concerning the way
communication is achieved amongst users of language. The first distinction he makes
is between two senses of meaning: natural and non-natural. Grice expresses natural
meaning as the innate product of certain indicators. !
‘Those spots mean measles’!
This can be logically deconstructed to :!
x meant that p and,!
x means that p entail p!
This type of meaning can be contrasted by the following form:!
x means that p,!
and x meant that p do not entail p!
In making this distinction, Grice wishes to focus on the latter, non-natural, sense of
meaning - also referred to as speaker’s meaning. He introduces a pragmatic dimension
to understanding the state of communicative aairs and expresses non-natural
meaning as abiding conditions of intention, recognition and relevance on particular
occasions. !
In his qualifications of non-natural meaning, Grice compares several accounts of
communicative interactions. From these accounts, Grice concludes that a fundamental
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PHIL359: H. Laycock
aspect of non-natural meaning is that it must be understood in terms of a speaker’s
intentions. This places significance on the intended meaning of a specific speech act.
(a speech act can be thought of as the functional role of a particular utterance. Grice
compares various speech acts to demonstrates their multiple pragmatic usages. In
particular, he focuses on how speech acts are used to convey meaning. ) Grice
describes recognition of a speakers intentions to be a necessary condition for non-
natural meaning but adds that this is not sucient to facilitate communication. This is
because he understands communication as a cooperative exchange (this perspective
in further developed in his paper ‘logic and communications’). Along with speaker’s
intention, eective communication requires the speaker to intend the recognition of his/
her intention. Only once this is all satisfied, can speaker’s meaning be extracted. This
set of conditions is outlined below:!
A speaker must intend to induce a belief (proposition- p) in someone (an audience)
by uttering x. !
A speaker must intend for the audience to recognize his/her intentions.!
A speaker must also intend for this belief to arise from the audience’s recognition of
his/her intentions.!
Grice then draws on several counter-examples to demonstrate distinctions that
consequently follow his proposed theory. One of these distinctions concerns the
dierence between ‘telling someone something’ and just ‘letting them know’. Grice
indicates that it is important to recognize these as two separate accounts from which
understanding is received, even if resulting meaning is the same.!
While, he describes ‘telling’ as a form of ‘letting someone know’, he explains that there
are certain conditions required to validate the act of “telling someone something”.
*However, both these cases have to satisfy a clause of overtness that makes the
speaker’s intention explicit. !
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PHIL359: H. Laycock
Take for example, the case of Jacob and his dog Max. When Max wanders up to Jacob
at certain points of the day, he would exhibit certain types of behaviour indicating his
need. When Max is hungry, he would insistently nudge on the palm of Jacob’s hand or
he would wait by the front door, leash-his-mouth, when he wants to be taken out for a
walk. As Jacob and Max have a type of understanding that develops naturally between
owners and their pets, Jacob recognizes these signs and responds accordingly.
However, Max’s behaviour induced a belief in Jacob without ‘telling’ Jacob any of
these things.!
Understanding this distinction sets the boundaries for what qualifies as non-natural
meaning. Grice points our that there are often cases where a belief can be induced in
an audience without intention. The induced belief would not qualify as non-natural
meaning even if it reflected the intent of the ‘speaker’ in question. !
In his own example, he describes the case of John the Baptist. Harod presents the
head of John the Baptist to Salome. In this act, he intended Salome to believe that
John is dead. In addition, he intended Salome to recognize his intention for her to
believe that John the Baptist is dead. However, Salome needn't have recognized
Harod’s intention to glean the information he had intentioned for her to recognize. This
is the missing speaker factor. Salome did not require any telling of sorts to reach the
proered intent.!
In these two cases, speaker’s intention is not necessary in the communication of
information. This presents the dierence between ‘telling someone something’ and
‘deliberately and openly letting them know’. In the latter case, the emphasis is shifted
to the audience’s point of view. Jacob and Salome can infer beliefs about the
presented circumstances, without accounting for the speaker’s intention. As speaker’s
meaning derives out of the speaker’s intentions, neither case qualifies for the
characterization of non-natural meaning.!
Does one have to know anything (any facts) about an object, in order to refer to it?
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