Connotation and Denotation So far we’ve looked at two theories of meaning– the Idea Theory and Verificationism. In both theories there are two aspects to meaning, which we might call connotation and denotation.
Connotation Connotation corresponds more closely with the ordinary English sense of the word ‘meaning’: on the Idea Theory, for instance, the ‘meaning’ or connotation of a word is an idea.
Partly Resembles Dog Sees Dog Mind Idea of a Dog
Connotes Dog Dog Mind Idea of a Dog
Conventional Relation Dog Dog Mind Idea of a Dog
Denotation But there’s another sense in which the word ‘dog’ means dogs (those furry smelly barking things): it applies to dogs and it’s true of dogs (and false of everything else). Denotation involves the relation between words and the world– what words apply to/ are true of.
Conventional Relation Dog Natural Relation (Resemblance) Dog Mind Idea of a Dog
Denotes Dog Dog Mind Idea of a Dog
Relation between the Two The two aspects of meaning are not unrelated. The Idea Theory’s theory of connotation explains why words have the denotations they do. ‘Dog’ is true of dogs because ‘dog’ connotes the idea of a dog, and dogs resemble the idea of a dog.
Verificationism Verificationism has a similar structure: words mean (connote) sets of possible experiences, and are true of the things those experiences verify.
Perfectly correlates with “Dagger” Experiences Dagger Mind Experience of a wound
Connotes “Dagger” Dagger Mind Experience of a wound
Conventional Realation “Dagger” Dagger Mind Experience of a wound
Connotes “Dagger” Natural Relation (Correlation) Dagger Mind Experience of a wound
Denotes “Dagger” Dagger Mind Experience of a wound
Structure of a Theory of Meaning Here’s the structure of the theories we’ve considered so far: • Words are arbitrarily and conventionally associated with connotations. • Connotations plus a certain relation (resemblance, verification) determine denotations. A particular theory says what the connotations are, and what the certain relation is.
“The Definition Theory” According to “the Definition Theory” the connotation of a word is a definition, and the denotation of the word is what the definition is true of.
Is True of Dog Knows Dog Mind Definition of “Dog”
Connotes Dog Dog Mind Definition of “Dog”
Conventional Relation Dog Dog Mind Definition of “Dog”
Conventional Relation Dog Semantic Relation (Is True of) Dog Mind Definition of “Dog”
Denotes Dog Dog Mind Definition of “Dog”
Circularity I say “the Definition Theory” in quote-marks because no one actually believes the theory in any sort of general form. The principal problem with a generalized definition theory is that it’s circular.
Generalized Definition Theory By “a generalized definition theory” I mean a theory according to which every expression has a definition as its meaning, including all the expressions that show up in the definition. So if ‘bachelor’ := unmarried man Then ‘unmarried’ and ‘man’ will also have definitions as their meanings.
Circular Definition The shortest circular definition is when a word is used as its own definition. (E.g. google ‘Recursion’).
Sample Circular Dictionary Ambagious := loghorreic Circumlocutory := prolix Logorrheic := verbose Prolix := ambagious Verbose := circumlocutory
Circularity Here’s the sense in which a generalized definition theory is circular: Let’s say: x defines y := • x is in the definition of y or • x is in the definition of a word that defines y
Circularity For any finite set of definitions containing only words that have definitions in the set: some word w defines w. (For example, “ambagious” defines “ambagious”)
Problem with Circularity The problem with circularity is that it trivializes the claims of the Definition Theory. If I want to know what a word is true of by learning its definition, I have to know what the words that define it are true of.
Problem with Circularity But for some word w, w defines w. So in order to learn what w is true of, I have to already know what w is true of. (To know what “ambagious” is true of I have to know what “ambagious is true of).
Dictionaries and Circularity This is why you can’t learn a foreign language– say Hungarian– merely from a dictionary where Hungarian terms are defined by other Hungarian terms. http://wikiszotar.hu/wiki/magyar_ertelmezo_szotar/
Dictionaries and Circularity When you look up a word all you get are a bunch of words you don’t know. When you look up those words, the same thing happens. And it never ends, because eventually the definitions start sending you in circles.
The Attraction of Definitions There’s something that’s very attractive about the Definition Theory, even if it can’t be generalized. If you ask somebody, “What does ‘defenestrate’ mean?” what they give you is a definition.
The Attraction of Definitions You can find the meanings of words in dictionaries– that is, you can find definitions there. Giving, finding out, and knowing meanings seems to involve definitions.
Particular Definition Theories The way to go then is to adopt a particular definition theory. On such an account, not every word has a definition for its meaning, only some particular subclass of all the words.
Particular Definition Theories The undefined words are the primitive vocabulary. Everything else is defined in terms of the primitive vocabulary, or defined in terms of things that are defined in terms of the primitive vocabulary, or… etc.
Hybrid Theory of Meaning Adopting a particular definition theory requires that you also adopt a separate theory of meaning to explain what the primitive vocabulary means.
Definition of ‘Arthropod’ For example ‘That is an arthropod’ := That is an animal AND it has a jointed body AND it has segmented legs.
Hybrid Theory of Meaning For example, in the Carnap reading ‘x is an arthropod’ had a definition for a meaning. It was defined by logical operations on protocol sentences. Observation sentences had no definitions: their meaning was their verification conditions.
Important Point This means that understanding a word cannot in general be the same thing as knowing its definition. Only understanding non-primitive vocabulary involves knowing definitions, since the primitive vocabulary does not have any definitions.
Virtues of Definitions • Definitions explain how we know facts like all bachelors are unmarried, and why they’re true. • Definitions explain informal validity by reducing it to formal validity. • Definitions provide a model of non-primitive word understanding. • Definitions explain how it is we can acquire new concepts: we construct them out of old ones.
Explanatory Virtues of Definitions If you found out that all people with large ears were rich and that only people with large ears were rich, that would be interesting, and would call out for investigation. However, it’s not interesting that all and only bachelors are unmarried men, and we don’t need an investigation to determine that they are or why they are.
Explanatory Virtues of Definitions Definitions can explain this difference. Anyone who knows what ‘bachelor’ means knows the definition of ‘bachelor’ (because this is the meaning) and hence knows that bachelors are unmarried men.
Explanatory Virtues of Definitions This is why it’s not interesting, and why you don’t need to survey the bachelors to find out if they’re unmarried. You know in advance of a survey, by knowing what bachelor means, that is, its definition.
Definitions and Informal Validity Definitions can also help us explain informal validity. A formally valid argument is one where the conclusion follows from the premises, no matter what the non-logical expressions mean: Mimi is orange & Mimi is a cat. Therefore, Mimi is orange.