2017/03/19 Meaning and Contingency

When I am teaching a meaning of English phrases, some students often point out that my lecture isn't as logical as it should be. By this indication, they seem to feel victorious. As I am a philosopher, being illogical seems to me to be a flaw that must be avoided. So I feel inferior to them. But come to think about it, the meaning of words or phrases cannot be explained logically. For it has never been determined logically, but contingently, by accident.

Suppose it is determined logically. Then, communication is impossible. I will take for example the word "I." Ordinarily, this refers to the person who is speaking or writing (of course I know that there has been much philosophical debate over the meaning of this word, but let's not argue about it for now). But logically speaking this word can mean anything depending on the occasion on which it is used. There is no logical guarantee that this word is used with the same meaning by anyone anywhere and anytime. If I decided to use the word in order to express the sensation that I have when I am about to sneeze, it can bear the meaning. So, logically speaking, no word cannot be given a fixed meaning.

If this argument holds true, and if the meaning of words and phrases is stable enough for there to be communication by dint of them, then it follows that the meaning is determined not by logic, but by accident. It can be said that it is fixed by its history. So the indication that my explanation of it is illogical is based on a totally wrong assumption: it is determined or should be determined logically. All I can explain is the context which can be thought to contribute to the fixation of it.

I seem to have written a couple of entries that are about similar themes. I will put the links below for those interested.