CONCEPTS, MEANING, KNOWLEDGE, AND LANGUAGE
Anil Mitra, Copyright © January 19, 2020—March 28, 2020
CONCEPTS, MEANING, KNOWLEDGE, AND LANGUAGE
This document is the main source for its topics. Editing, modification, addition should be done here.
a journey in being-outline.doc may change to ‘the way of being-resource for outline, content, and plan’
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.
A precise sense to the terms mind, consciousness, and matter is not essential to this discussion.
If this document is part of another, the latter may discuss mind, consciousness, and matter.
Another word for idea is concept which includes but is not limited to higher concept or concept as unit of meaning.
Examples of ideas are thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.
Ideas are fundamental as
1. The place individuals feel and effectively are alive—i.e., not robotic. The location of all significance and receptacle all that is significant to the individual—i.e., the location of the meaning of life.
2. The effective measure of existence (since awareness, being ideational, does not step outside the idea); and therefore
3. The only medium for the extension of limited beings beyond their being and to the boundary of all Being;
4. The bearer of meaning and knowledge (and therefore the ultimate source or ‘ground’ of material support for the extension of beings to all Being).
That is, ideas are target, means, and result of transformation. In #3, they are seen to be intrinsic and direct; in #4, instrumental and indirect. That is—
An icon is an appearance (semblance) that is capable of resemblance, with or without association to an actual resembled.
What is a resemblance? If it is external to is mind it is not recognition. For recognition it must be in the mind. But since the (hypothetically) resembled is in the world, how is it recognized—how is recognition possible at all. Briefly, semblance and so recognition occur because mind does not get outside ideas—while the image of a mountain is in the mind, the ‘object’ is always the product of further experience. This does not imply that there are no objects or objectivity but that they are not precisely what they are naïvely thought to be. It does not imply that the idea creates the object but that idea and object are bound as one. It may seem that this says the world is flimsy like an idea. That is not the case; rather the idea is more extensive and solid than it is typically thought.
When this piece is part of The Way, it is later shown what objects and objectivity are and how ideas and objects are bound as one.
A simple sign is anything, usually simple, whose assigned significance and meaning 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 an 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—
Without icons there can be neither reference nor 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.
The italicized or refers to the ‘inclusive or’—‘p or q’ if at least one of ‘p’ and ‘q’ is true.
A sign is simple or compound.
Without the icons, a compound sign designates a resemblance class but no particular referent.
A symbol is the association of an icon and a sign.
Although the association may be cultural or normative, it does not follow that no rigid designation is possible; however, rigid designation often occurs in a specific contest and requires further specification to be rigid in a larger context.
A simple symbol is one for which sign is simple.
A compound symbol is one for which the sign is compound. It is essentially compound if simplifying the sign or icon omits detail.
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 concept—is one that intends or is intended to refer; a referent, if there is one, is that to which the concept refers.
Reference is (perfectly) faithful if the concept is faithful to the referent. This is generally possible only (i) when the concept is abstracted so that distorted detail no longer remains (ii) the criteria of faithfulness has play. This is elaborated later.
If null referents are allowed, referential concepts always have referents.
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. Though we often think of mind and matter as distinct categories they are not (but we have not yet said anything significant of what they are—even that they are ought to be thought of as categories).
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.
In documents on The Way, effective definitions of ‘Being’ and related concepts are given later.
When a definition is given, only when it is not clear that there is a referent, will existence of a referent or the class of referents be proved. Otherwise it may be merely stated or assumed.
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, A is an object and B is a property, A has the property B).
Knowledge is meaning realized in a definite referent (a plurality may count as a referent).
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.
If the purposes at hand are all that count, pragmatic knowledge is (may be regarded as) perfect.
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 a sign system with meaning.
That is, 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 (and association with icons).
When 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.
Further, since icons are essential to meaning in an actual situation, it may be 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).
How is a connector such as ‘and’ a simple symbol? It is a symbol when phrases are regarded as objects.
In reality, though, communication is via any part of the triple of sign, icon, and referent that suffices.
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). Precision of reference and necessity of inference (sound argument, valid deductive argument) becomes possible.
Though capable of precision by abstraction and adjustment of criteria, our forms of reference and inference (e.g. propositional and predicative) may be limited. The kinds of form of knowledge may be larger than is commonly thought.
A power of discreteness is that it is effective in representation and communication; and of the representation as an object in itself that is precisely knowable.
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). Of course an ‘excess’ of meaning may be empowering.
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.