The word “meaning”.

‹‹ Grammatically, the word “meaning” belongs to the substantives whose basic function is apparently to signify real objects. There can be no doubt that many substantives really do have this function. But there is also a large group of substantives for which no corresponding object can be found in reality, even when the concept of “real object” is very widely extended. It is true, there is a tendency, in the case of these substantives also, to assume an object which is to be conceived on the analogy of real objects and which thus, for example, has the characteristic of independent existence.

Now, Wittgenstein is of the opinion that the word “meaning” belongs to the latter group of substantives. There is no real independent object that one would call “the meaning of the word x”. But, according to Wittgenstein, one is inclined also with this expression to look for an independent object that would correspond to it. He speaks of a “temptation to look about you for something which you might call the ‘meaning’ .” (B.B. 1). This “temptation” arises from the tendency to look for a corresponding substance in the case of every substantive. “The questions ‘what is the length ?’, ‘what is meaning ?’, ‘what is the number one ?’ etc. produce in us a mental cramp. We feel that we cannot point to anything in reply to them and yet ought to point to something. (We are up against one of the great source of philosophical bewilderment: we try to find a substance for a substantive)” (B.B. 1). ››





[About hypostatisation of meaning:

‹‹ Already Aristotle was resisting the conception that to every substantive there must correspond a substance (cf for example De Sophisticis Elenchis 178b  37 ). In the Middle Age it was above all Ockham who was repeatedly drawing attention to false hypostatisation, resulting from the capacity of certain words to be conveyed into substantives. ››

‹‹ Ryle also represents the view that the hypostatisation of meaning has its roots in certain linguistic forms of expression. His arguments sound, it is true, much more radical than the cautious formulations of Wittgenstein: “ A host of errors of the same sort has been generated in logic itself and epistemology by the omission to analyse the quasi-descriptive phrase: the meaning of the expression ‘x’. I suspect that all the mistaken doctrines of concepts, ideas, terms, judgements, objective propositions, contents, objective and the like derive from the same fallacy, namely, that must be something referred to by such expression as: the meaning of the word (phrase or sentences) ‘x’, on all fours with the policeman who really is referred to by the descriptive phrase in ‘ our village policeman is fond of football’. “ (Ryle 1931 p.30). ›› ]