Throughout your homepage you have used the term 'mean' or some version of it. Yet, you claim that a basic rule underlying clear, critical, and analytical thinking is "No word or symbol has an inherent meaning." I can only reply that not only do I not know what you mean, but nothing in your homepage means anything to me.
It is appropriate, first, that we be aware of the extent to which we have conditioned responses to words spoken, written, or heard. For example, aside from the psychologically conditioned "meaning" and associated implications upon hearing a the word, "pencil," and associating with it its intended use as a tool for writing, we shall not consider the more complex philosophical issues of meaning attendant upon abstract words and the physical condition of the object referred to such as in this case, if the pencil is handled carelessly, it has the potential for puncturing an eye, or being sharpened along with a host or other possible events inherent in the existence of the pencil. We shall, instead concentrate only on the conditioned conventional meanings attributed to the names of physical objects.
As to your assertion, on the face of it, your response PROVES the rule.
It is important to distinguish what I suspect you have not considered: that there is a difference between "what the words of my home page and the rule mean" and "what I mean by using the words."
If in fact you do not and cannot know what the former "mean," your inability to know proves that the words have no inherent meanings; and if symbols (here, words) do have inherent meanings, as you imply, you would know what they mean. You would, then, claim that my position regarding meaning is wrong whereupon it would be incumbent upon you to verify that your claim is true.
Since speaking of words HAVING meaning is colloquial, that is to say, conventional, use of language, I doubt that the above is sufficient to convince anyone who believes "words (symbols) have meaning."
Consequently, I shall present the evidence for my claim at great, if perhaps unnecessary, length.
Let's review conventional usage, i.e., dictionary reporting of the use of linguistic symbols, past and present, and particularly the terms, 'word,' 'inherent,' and 'meaning.'
FIRST: According to Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary:
WORD: There are so many uses ("meanings") of the term, 'word' (well over 25) that I shall offer only a few: speech [i.e., sound] a short speech, affirmation, news, a group of letters, Logos, [i.e. the word of God] written expression, and too many more to cite here.
INHERENT: to stick to or inhere, existing in someone or something as a natural and inseparable part of something, to be a member, adjunct, or quality of something; to be inherent or innate. Synonyms: inbred, inborn, innate, natural, inseparable, indwelling.
MEANING, n. 1. that which exists in the mind, view, or contemplation as a settled aim or purpose; that which is meant or intended to be done; intent; purpose; aim; object. [Archaic.]
2. that which is intended to be, or in fact is, conveyed, denoted, signified, or understood by acts or language; the sense, signification, or import of words; significance; force.
3. sense; understanding, knowledge. [Obs.]
Synonyms: import, intention, design, intent, purport, sense, signification.
DICTIONARIES DO NOT DEFINE WORDS; THEY RECORD USAGE in the past and in the present; there is little doubt that they will, also, record usage in the future as we add new words and "attach" our new meanings to old ones.
SECOND: We have a tendency to conflate the term 'definition' with usage of symbols.
Relevant to our issue, the "definition" of 'definition' is: an explanation or statement of what a word or phrase means or meant (my italics).
Linguists use special names for different kinds of definitions, which there is no need to cite here.
No definition can rightfully be declared to be "wrong" if one explains clearly how it is being used.
The most one can claim is that it is not socially acceptable.
That is to say, in colloquial usage when one says "that word means," one is referring to conventional usage.
However, even "conventional" usage "means" different things to different people, nations, cultures, and professions.
Moreover, "conventional" usage changes according to the period of time in the history of man's history, who "invents" the words, and usage by individuals or special groups or professions.
In the various nations, cultures, and families throughout the world, from birth, we began hearing sounds to which we could not yet attach "meanings."
As Bertrand Russell was so concerned to point out, learning to use language also involved a process or imitation.
Throughout our nurturing process we were given the "meanings" of those sounds which we later were taught are words.
Before us, our parents were told what meanings to give to those words.
And before them, their parents were told what to mean by the sounds and so on throughout the ancestry of man.
Consider the conventional usage of words throughout the world in Biblical times as compared to today.
Consider the nature of language (the "giving" of "meaning") at the evolutionary stage of animalistic "communication" evolving into gestures giving way to grunts that eventually evolved into WORDS.
Consider how education (in the proper interpretation of that term) causes us to change the "meanings" of words.
Consider the lost languages of extinct cavemen and words now considered obsolete or, like the term, 'abstract,' used with many different "meanings."
As we became independent of those who told us what to mean by those words, some of us began to attach different "meanings" to them and even invented sounds (words) of our own.
Very often new "meanings" evolved from our misuse, ignorance, inventiveness, and a host of other sources.
With the exception of a vast minority of us, we rarely questioned those "meanings."
Many of us are unable to attach any "meaning" to the various languages of the world or to the special jargon of specialized or professional language.
Meaning did not exist before sentient beings came into existence.
There were no words (or meanings) floating around in the universe for some unimaginable period of time after the "Big Bang."
And surely even the NATURE of "meaning" at its inception, has been transformed by evolutionary processes.
Meaning "resides" only in the "mind."
Or, as Einstein declares in his The Meaning of Relativity (2nd edition),
"The only justification for our concepts and systems of concepts is that they serve to represent the complex of our experiences; beyond this they have no legitimacy."
It is we who "attach" meanings or, a la Ogden and Richards, referents to our words and symbols.
© 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella