CONCEPTS, MEANING, KNOWLEDGE, AND LANGUAGE

Anil Mitra, Copyright © January 19, 2020—February 11, 2020

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Concepts, meaning, knowledge, and language

 

CONCEPTS, MEANING, KNOWLEDGE, AND LANGUAGE

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Concepts, meaning, knowledge, and language

This is not currently a stand alone essay. It is therefore not intended as complete in itself. The material below is completed by complementary material in other documents where the following content is embedded.

An icon is an appearance or semblance that is capable of resemblance, with or without association to an actual resembled.

What is a resemblance (or semblance)? If it is external to ‘mind’ it is incomplete without recognition in mind. If it is in the ‘mind’ but the resembled, real or potential, is in the world—how is the semblance recognized or even possible? This is addressed later in discussing the nature of mind.

A sign is simple or compound.

A simple sign is anything, usually simple, whose significance is only in association with an icon—i.e. a resemblance.

A simple sign cannot be a designator, rigid or otherwise. Signs designate in virtue of the associated icon (in memory, in a dictionary and so on).

As an example of the claim in the previous paragraph, imagine someone shouting “tiger” in a forest in India. Only the English speakers react; the others show no fear. It is because the English associate tigers with the word ‘tiger’ while the others do not. If one thinks ‘tiger’ gets is meaning from word definitions like ‘large cat with black and orange stripes’ it is because one knows the meaning of the terms in the definition. But what, for example, is ‘orange’. Ultimately the words must be associated with icons. That is—

No icon, no reference (or recognition).

A compound sign is an arrangement of simple signs whose significance is in association with an icon (resemblance) or in the arrangement of the sign.

Without the icons, a compound sign designates a resembled class but no particular referent.

A symbol is the association of the icon and the sign.

A simple symbol is one for which sign is simple.

A compound symbol is one for which, for a sign system, a compound sign is necessary.

A concept is a picture—iconic or symbolic.

The icon or the symbol may be graphic, e.g. on a canvas or in stone, or of the mind; it may also be dramatic—e.g., movement, expression, and acting through. The association of icon and symbol is habitual, conventional, or by common use.

A referential concept—alternatively, an intentional conceptis one that intends or is intended to refer; a referent, if there is one, is that to which the concept refers.

In the following ‘concept’ shall denote ‘referential concept’.

A concept may have another concept as its referent. Concepts are as much in the world as anything else. ‘Matter’ and ‘mind’, which we often think of as categorially distinct, are not different categories (but we have not yet said anything significant of what they are).

Meaning is constituted of a concept and its possible referents.

It is a triple of sign, icon, and referent.

I regard this as related to but a better ‘meaning of meaning’ than to think of the concept as having meaning.

A definition (effective definition) is specification of the meaning of a concept.

Effective definitions of ‘Being’ and related concepts are given later.

When a definition is given and it is not clear that there is a referent, the existence will be proved. Otherwise, except where the contrary is stated, it will be assumed or merely stated.

Once two terms A and B are defined, ‘A is B’ is used to say used to say that A and B are the same referent (or, if B is a property, A has the property B).

Knowledge is meaning realized in a definite referent (the referent may be a collection of referents).

Abstraction is filtering out of distorting detail from the concept; and which results in perfectly faithful abstract knowledge. Pragmatic knowledge, which may also have abstraction, is knowledge that is good enough or even perfect for purposes at hand.

The join of abstract and pragmatic may be more powerful and reliable than each individually. If the abstract reveals a perfect value, the join of the abstract and the pragmatic may be perfect knowledge in terms of that value. The real metaphysics to be developed is perfect in this sense.

Language is typically regarded as a sign system with meaning, in which the meaning lies in the arrangement of the signs as determined by convention, reason, habit, and usage. That language is thought of as divested from icons is because the icons are tacit and we think we can talk of language without association of the signs to the icon. But as seen earlier, icons are essential

However, since icons are essential to meaning in an actual situation, it is better to think of language as a symbol system in which the focal point of meaning is simple symbols and compound signs (in reality of course, the symbols, too, are compound and meaning lies not only in the simple signs and icons but also in their arrangement and in the context).

In reality, though, communication is via any part of the triple of sign, icon, and referent that suffices.

Recognized functions of language are its effectiveness in representing, storing, and communicating regarding the real.

The focus on simple symbols and compound signs renders language close to effectively discrete representation or ‘digital’ but still symbolic and semantic (a focus only on signs and their arrangements is syntactic). The power of this is that it is effective in actual representation and communication.

There is no doubt that syntactic formalization is powerful, not just in resolution of foundational questions (especially in the abstract or symbolic sciences, e.g. logic and mathematics, but also in the concrete sciences), but even in formulating the questions.

However, to emphasize only syntax aspect is limiting. To think only in terms of signs may result in poverty of meaning (because not iconic) and excess of meaning (in the sense that meaning in sign arrangements allows multiple instantiation).

But if compound symbols are allowed but not required, the limitations are resolved (and the only limits, then, are human limits). This suggests of intuition as a formally recognized instrument—in balance with the symbolic but not as replacement. This is already done informally (in non-intuitionist systems) but what may change is, the admission of optimal—perhaps lesser—security in search of greater power; the relative weights of the intuitive and the formal symbolic, of the semantic and the syntactic, and of the rational and the empirical; and the admission of new ways of dealing with signs—as in computation.

Though outgrowth of the significance of language, especially formal languages in the abstract sciences such as mathematics and logic, is not foreseen, in view of the current state of those fields, and developments in metaphysics showing the universe to be the greatest possible, the nature and knowledge of language and of its relative use in balance with other ‘faculties’ of understanding and reason is likely to change.