by dorayme

There are some natural but misleading temptations when thinking about meanings. And since meanings naturally come up a lot in the practice of philosophy, such temptations are best resisted.

The temptation to suppose meaning is simple synonyms.

They think that meaning is something having almost everything to do with dictionaries (real or in the mind) where some phrases are used to substitute for others ("Venus" means "a bright object at 6pm in the western sky") and the view that as people adapt to the changing knowledge of the world they change the meaning of the words they use. There is enough truth in this to sustain a black and white view of the process. But it is seriously misleading and misguided.

There are many words/concepts that are open ended and adding criteria to their operations is not a simple minded "changing of their meaning". They never had such a fixed meaning in the first place! Meaning is intimately connected to the process of finding out more about things referred to in the world. But there is a whole field of business about how language actually is learned in the wild. How words are learned in the confrontation with the world itself (outside the mind if you like!). It is a not a nice clean synonym exchanging affair. It involves real objects and causal relations between those objects and the words themselves. And when trying to understand how criteria (which are obviously *often* connected to meaning) work, it is important to understand the actual interactions that go on in language acquisition. In my example in a recent post in this thread, the boy learning the phrase "The Evening Star" was not learning mere synonymns. The learning involved being in a certain causal relation to an object in the real world (as opposed to something in the mind or whatever). Walter simply has been unable to understand this and if he can', what hope anyone else here. He is the big fan of criterial talk! I will try here to improve what I said before and it may help? Criteria sometimes have an intimate connection with the meaning of words, sometimes it is more plausible to say they have more to do with tests not intimately connected to meaning. There are a whole spectrum of cases. It is not obvious in many cases whether the word "criteria" classifies evidence or meaning. This very latter distinction is not a clear cut one. To see this you have to understand a whole bunch of things about the naming or word acquiring business and apply them together. The word "criteria" is used in a variety of ways, not all of them having something that is so obviously and usefully common to them. The use of the idea of criteria needs to be looked at in groups of cases. here is a dynamic learning situation where we can apply the idea and see how it works. A generally well educated teenager hears his father saying to someone that the brightly shining astronomical object in the sky was known in ancient times as The Evening Star. The word Venus does not come into the situation portrayed. Yes, the boy might have heard the word Venus, the father for sure knows the word and knows it is the the very planet he is pointing to The boy hears it and gets to understand the meaning pretty well. Everyone, including the learner, knows a bit about the world and astronomy but for some reason has never heard about The Morning Star. He has heard about Venus but is ignorant and knows nothing about it except that it is one of the planets. He knows what planets are, what stars are and so on... I am just setting the scene here for a case we can discuss to see how criteria actually work, how they get going, what they entail and what they do not entail. Now, when Venus comes up the next night, our learner might say to his dad: Is that The Morning Star? while pointing. Now, does he know the meaning of the phrase if he is right? What if he is wrong? I would say that in so far as names can have a meaning, he does. And, to be more precise, he knows the meaning to the extent that he understands that it is meant to refer to the planet that was pointed at last night, that brightest thing. He is not sure if the bright thing he is seeing is the same thing or something different. Now as the nights roll on and his mum and dad, more knowledgeable, tell him more and more how to get it right, are we to say the boy gets to know the meaning of the phrase more, or does he simply get to know more about the planet itself, the one being referred to? I say there is no real best answer to this question. The criteria by which he tells whether or not it is The Morning Star is not some fixed definitional information that he acquires. It is simply not the case that there is any contradiction in him asserting that something he sees is it and him being simply wrong. He can simply be wrong because what he actually sees, the thing out there, might not be what his parent and he was seeing the night before. Nor was his criteria something simple minded like a bright light in a certain part of the sky at a certain time. It is simply not this. There is a strong factual element in all this and it is about the identity of the cause of him seeming to see a bright object.