I'm posting a five-page portion of Chap. 3 in my manuscript, A Dialogue on Opposing Worldviews.
If anyone wishes to engage in abstruse philosophical thinking, please feel free to read this portion of my book, and I'd be happy for any sort of evaluation -- negative, positive, reserved, dismayed, "dull", "dry", engaging, or whatever.
Here's the first part of Chap. 3:
[Early Next Week]
The Nature of Meaning in Language
Scepticus: Well Studiosus, we’re back again for some thought-provoking discussions. Did you take my advice and “let your hair down” a bit last weekend?
Studiosus: Scepticus, I had a moderately good weekend, and I felt no need to engage with the profligate lifestyles. However, to be honest, I was bit more relaxed and inclined toward withdrawing my guard than is usually the case.
Scepticus: One issue that my book will address, and which I surmise that you and I disagree on sharply is the matter of meaning in language. I take it upon myself to propose that meaning exists, if anywhere at all, in the objective properties of linguistic conventions that are socially constructed. That is, meanings exist in dictionaries, in books, magazines, on websites, etc. And they come to possess meaning by our social constructs – we construct meanings, and we represent those meanings via symbols. That, then, is the essence of meaning. Can you argue with that?
Studiosus: Scepticus, I feel compelled to rather strongly dissent from your views. After all, meaning never exists “out there” in some objective domain. Rather, meaning is in the consciousness that finds a symbol or state of affairs to be meaningful. As an example, let’s suppose that I see some page of writing in French. Given the fact that I know essentially no French at all, a page of French script is likely totally meaningless to me – it conveys nothing to me, and thus has no meaning to me. Now, to a person familiar with French writing, the writing will likely make very much sense, and it’ll be meaningful. Then, in his consciousness, the writing has meaning, whereas in my consciousness, there is no meaning at all. Is this not sufficient proof that meaning resides in one’s consciousness? In other words, the French literary symbols are only meaningful to a consciousness that has been trained to comprehend French writing. Otherwise, the same writing is entirely meaningless. This logically annihilates the idea that meaning resides in symbols. Furthermore, conventions don’t matter here – except in the sense that the reader of the French script only finds meaning in it by virtue of what the reader learned to be proper French. In the latter sense, conventions exist such that in order for the reader to understand the writer, the former must be aware of the “conventions” of the latter in order that meaning is conveyed to the reader. Since each individual consciousness must be properly trained and informed so as to render the French writing meaningful, the real meaning is found in the consciousness of the writer and the corresponding consciousness of the reader. The two consciousnesses communicate via mutually understood sets of symbols. Wittgenstein’s ideas of language being a game certainly have valid points; we must know what the game is (consensually) all about in order to find meaning in the language. Let me use another example to illustrate my point: suppose I’m a new employee at a job, and my coworkers frequently are heard making comments about Doc saying such-and-such, or doing so-and-so. Now, since I’m new there, I haven’t yet come to know who this Doc is that they’re referring to. Maybe he’s a supervisor or a technician at the job. But while everyone else knows what (who) “Doc” refers to, it is essentially a meaningless term to me, because I’ve not been initiated into their linguistic styles yet. To my consciousness, “Doc” is meaningless; to their consciousnesses, the meaning is clear. Therefore, I once more clench my point by affirming that it’s only in the mind (the consciousness) that “Doc” has meaning. Surely, you don’t mean to be able to gainsay this, do you?
Scepticus: Studiosus, your rigorous logic does get a bit old. It must be conceded that the consciousness must be socially developed sufficiently well to find meaning in language, and that without the conscious preparedness, meaning does not occur. However, I still wish to argue that meaning is a social construct, and that its genuine existence is in the physical sounds or symbols that are socially understood to possess certain meanings.
Studiosus: But Scepticus, you are running in circles. You say that the meaning is socially constructed and that it exists in sounds and symbols, and you even concede that the consciousness must be properly prepared in order to find the meaning present; however, you wish to deny that all it takes is for one factor to be absent to wipe out any meaning, and that is the factor of the conscious disposition toward a certain symbol. I’m fond of examples; so let me throw another one at you. Suppose you and I are discussing some matter, and I say to you “Suzie invited me over for dinner”. But utterly unbeknown to me, you have an aunt named Suzie, and since you didn’t know just how much I socialize in circles where your aunt goes, you assumed that the Suzie I referred to was your aunt. Thus, to you, “Suzie” meant your aunt, whereas to me when I used the name “Suzie”, it meant my co-worker – not your aunt. Where does the “real” meaning exist in this case? Since I was the one to use “Suzie” in that instance, my meaning of the name had to be understood in order for you to understand me. Thus, one might say that the “real” meaning of “Suzie” here was a name for my coworker – not your aunt. However, unless one of us elucidated further, you and I would go separate ways having very different meanings for “Suzie” as used on that occasion. The meaning each of us held was precisely in our individual consciousness, and this again illustrates my point that meaning always resides in one’s consciousness – never elsewhere. But the only way for us to communicate effectively is for us to share enough conscious states concerning various matters of the application of important symbols to enable the sharing of meanings. I do not need to ever have heard of Professor Welt in order for me to understand a German word he used in some phrase, if somewhere I’d learned from some book or teacher enough about the German language. By proper preparation of my consciousness, his meaning of the word in question that I saw in a written phrase can be quite comprehensible to me, even if this was my first time to ever hear of him or anything he wrote. My consciousness interpreted that set of symbols (the word in question) to possess certain meaning, and thus Professor Welt and I shared a common conscious understanding of the word being discussed. But the bottom line is that this is not social construction so much as it’s a matter of development of the individual conscious states that determine the ability to communicate.
Scepticus: You’ve gotten a bit longwinded, Studiosus, but I grant you that conscious states are part of the equation. Yet conscious states are where social construction takes place. Social construction involves collective consciousness, so to speak. Thus, language still turns out to be socially constructed.
Studiosus: Apart from some form of mystical universal consciousness, etc., we can hardly think in terms of “collective consciousness”. We could get into issues surrounding universals versus particulars and so-on, but I wish to focus on the individual consciousness. But even if one were to concede that meaning is a social construct, it would still destroy the idea of meaning as residing in physical objects, symbols, sounds, and so-on, because a collective consciousness is still a matter (ultimately) of consciousness. Therefore, it seems to me, Scepticus, that your philosophy of radical materialism is pretty much dealt a fatal blow. Maybe we can discuss such issues in future debates?