Saturday, September 05, 2009

Why Davidson is not Humpty Dumpty

I promised in the comments to the other post to say something about Davidson's argument in "Nice Derangement," which is of course the Ursprung of all this talk about rejecting the idea of "linguistic norms." (In the context of that discussion everybody is clear on this, except possibly me, but let me just tie up that loose end.) Unlike Bilgrami, Davidson does not direct his argument against Kripke and Burge in particular (and McDowell's somewhat differently focused criticism of same). Instead Davidson simply argues that we should not base our conception of language use, and thus of meaning, on the concept of convention, i.e., as manifested in linguistic rules which pre-exist and thereby determine the meanings of particular utterances on particular occasions, as if they were, in Davidson's dismissive terms, "portable interpreting machines."

Instead, the fundamental idea is that language is used above all to communicate (i.e. rather than to denote or represent, which it does in only a derivative manner). Similar ideas are already present in Davidson (q.v. "Reality Without Reference," and "Communication and Convention," in Inquiries), but here he spells out the implications more provocatively. Indeed, in asserting a primary role for the intentions of the speaker in determining meaning, he provokes suspicions of "internalism" and downright semantic nihilism.

The specific thesis he rejects is that "[t]he systematic knowledge or competence of the speaker or interpreter is learned in advance of occasions of interpretation and is conventional in character." Okay, that's pretty much what I said above. But later on, he elaborates: "[i]n principle communication does not demand that any two people speak the same language. What must be shared is the interpreter's and the speaker's understanding of the speaker's words." [438] Now there are some constraints on this sharing, some of which involve what can count as a possible communicative intention of the speaker in the given situation (here leaning on Grice's analysis of same); and it is these constraints which separate Davidson's account from nihilism and/or internalism.

Here Davidson points to Keith Donellan's previous (albeit somewhat differently focused – Davidson explains but I will skip that part) discussion of similar matters. Alfred MacKay had accused Donellan of Humpty Dumptyism ("When *I* use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean"), and in reply, Donellan "explains that intentions are connected with explanations and that you cannot intend to accomplish something by a certain means unless you believe or expect that the means will, or at least could, lead to the desired outcome. A speaker cannot, therefore, intend to mean something by what he says unless he believes his audience will interpret his words as he intends (the Gricean circle)." As quoted by Davidson, Donellan says:
If I were to end this reply to MacKay with the sentence 'There's glory for you' I would be guilty of arrogance and, no doubt, of overestimating the strength of what I have said, but given the background I do not think I could be accused of saying something unintelligible. I would be understood, and would I not have meant by 'glory' 'a nice knockdown argument'?
Davidson approves of this reply (and then explains a disagreement I have here elided). Okay, let me just quote the money paragraphs and then I'll stop.
Humpty Dumpty is out of it. He cannot mean what he says because he knows that 'There's glory for you' cannot be interpreted by Alice as meaning 'There's a nice knockdown argument for you.' We know he knows this because Alice says 'I don't know what you mean by "glory"', and Humpty Dumpty retorts, 'Of course you don't – til I tell you.' It is Mrs Malaprop and Donellan who interest me; Mrs Malaprop because she gets away with it without even trying or knowing, and Donellan because he gets away with it on purpose.

Here is what I mean by 'getting away with it': the interpreter comes to the occasion of utterance armed with a theory that tells him (or so he believes) what an arbitrary utterance of the speaker means. The speaker then says something with the intention that it will be interpreted in a certain way, and the expectation that it will be so interpreted. In fact this way is not provided for by the interpreter's theory. But the speaker is nevertheless understood; the interpreter adjusts his theory so that it yields the speaker's intended interpretation. The speaker has 'gotten away with it.' The speaker may or may not (Donellan, Mrs Malaprop) know that he has got away with anything; the interpreter may or may not know that the speaker intended to get away with anything. What is common to the cases is that the speaker expects to be, and is, interpreted as the speaker intended although the interpreter did not have a correct theory in advance. [440]
One more thing. I think that what this means is that when Wittgenstein asks us to consider whether I can say "bububu" and mean "if it does not rain I will go for a walk," the answer is yes, I can; but only after what he elsewhere calls "stagesetting." Before that, not so much (and certainly not by a Humpty Dumpty-like act of, say, inner ostention).

18 comments:

N. N. said...

Davidson's argument in "Nice Derangement," which is of course the Ursprung of all this talk about rejecting the idea of "linguistic norms."

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding (I havn't read your last post yet, and I still don't have a great handle on the first post in this series, and I am not at all comfortable pronouncing on Davidson, but...), nothing Davidson says in "Nice Derangement" appears to support a rejection of the existence of linguistic norms. His argument only establishes that such norms are unnecessary for communication. They do, however, seem to be necessary for 'effortless' or 'automatic' communication. Thus, Davidson remarks in "Nice Derangement":

"We [normally understand what others say], much of the time, effortlessly, even automatically. We can do this because we have learned to talk pretty much as others do, and this explains why we generally understand without effort much that they say."

Duck said...

The Bilgrami post (is that the one you haven't read?) was supposed to help in that in the first one I suggest a tweak to his and Davidson's rejection of "linguistic norms" without really saying what that was that I was tweaking. There (and in the relevant article, "Norms and Meaning," in R. Stocker, ed., Reading Davidson (1999?)) Bilgrami limits the rejection to "intrinsic, lexical" norms, which I mention in the first post but do not explain until the second.

And of course my point in the first post is just that, as you say, there's no harm in the *very idea* of "linguistic norms," as long as we're clear on what they're doing (and *not* doing). Since norms are "unnecessary for communication," they're unnecessary for *meaning*, and so can't be used to explain it (or constitute it!).

So what are they doing? First, they can be thought of (not as irreducibly semantic in the disputed sense, but) as prudential: you *better* talk that way in general (with strangers, say) if you are to be easily ("effortlessly") understood. But now they're not sui generis; they're just another form of prudential norm.

Compare the use of profanity. Profanity is inappropriate in certain contexts, and this is as objective a fact as any other. Use the "words you can't say on TV" on TV, and you *will* be fined. But that doesn't mean that using profanity is speaking "wrongly" in a stronger sense, even when it's inappropriate. The same is true when we risk confusing "inappropriate" use of idiolectic terms with "getting their meaning wrong" (and thus perforce saying something *else*).

(Oh, and secondly: they provide the necessary "stagesetting" for my ability to mean what I *do* mean; see the comments to that post.)

In short, that "such norms are unnecessary for communication" is, in the context, the whole ball game. My tweak was that we can see them as conceivable as prudential without actually translating our use of that concept into that idiom (i.e. out of "meaning"-talk), on pain of conceding the point. No doubt confusing all at once. Better now?

Daniel Lindquist said...

@N.N.: I think the "pretty much" is important there: we can talk in such a way as not to accord with "the norm" (i.e., how people generally speak/generally are expected to speak), and still be understood without effort. Many malaprops and spelling errors create no difficulties in understanding, in practice. So I think you attribute to him something stronger than Davidson would be happy with.

Duck said...

Yes, "pretty much" is important; but so is the trivial nature, in this context, of the idea of "effortlessness" or "automaticity" as compared with ("merely"?) perfectly effective communication.

I do wonder – and again, this relates to your worries about McDowell and Bildung – if perhaps the (actually) essential role in communication played by "stagesetting" is being conflated with, um, the onstage meaning-action it makes possible (in the particular offstage way that it does).

Daniel Lindquist said...

If I understand your last remark: I think McDowell tries to have it both ways in the Gadamer essay.

McDowell thinks it's necessary (and important to note) that any speaker became a speaker by induction into a Language (in a sense stronger than "he became able to communicate more or less well with others around him a good bit of the time"). He mainly tries to argue for this by rhetorically asking if we can make sense of someone learning to speak in an idiolect (rather than English or French or German or Zulu). But, and this is the striking bit, he also makes some claims that seem to betray his endorsement of the parts of "Epitaphs" that he endorses: He wants to affirm that, in the usual case, we mean something by meaning what our words mean in the language we're speaking in. He seems to imply that Davidson is right about meaning-intentions only in the cases where that doesn't happen, or something. Which is just making a mess of "Epitaphs".

N. N. said...

Duck,

And of course my point in the first post is just that, as you say, there's no harm in the *very idea* of "linguistic norms," as long as we're clear on what they're doing (and *not* doing). Since norms are "unnecessary for communication," they're unnecessary for *meaning*, and so can't be used to explain it (or constitute it!).

Got it (and agree with it).

First, they can be thought of [...] as prudential: you *better* talk that way in general (with strangers, say) if you are to be easily ("effortlessly") understood.

Got this too (and agree with it).

In short, that "such norms are unnecessary for communication" is, in the context, the whole ball game. My tweak was that we can see them as conceivable as prudential without actually translating our use of that concept into that idiom (i.e. out of "meaning"-talk), on pain of conceding the point. No doubt confusing all at once. Better now?

It is better, thanks. The only point I want to make is this: there is such a thing as getting it wrong according to my own meaning. If I mean by 'lynx' (etc.) what a cat expert means, then there will be certain circumstances in which my use of this term can only be characterized as a misuse (this was what I was aiming at with my comment to your first post). I'm interested in this because it creates a space (even for Davidsonians) for the kind of criticism of use that I draw from (a particular reading of) Wittgenstein. Accordingly, we can say to someone: 'If you mean what I mean by 'x', then this sentence misuses of 'x.' And under further circumstances (allowing for malapropism, etc.), we can add 'and this misuse is nonsensical.'

Daniel,

I think the "pretty much" is important there: we can talk in such a way as not to accord with "the norm" (i.e., how people generally speak/generally are expected to speak), and still be understood without effort. Many malaprops and spelling errors create no difficulties in understanding, in practice. So I think you attribute to him something stronger than Davidson would be happy with.

No doubt, sometimes we can still be understood without effort. However, it seems to me that this depends on a 'critical mass' of our way of speaking being according to the shared norm (also, in some instances the malapropism is understood because it has some phonetic similarity, etc., with a normal use of words). I think this is obvious: if there were no shared norms, there would be no such thing as 'effortless' or 'automatic' communication.

Daniel Lindquist said...

N.N.:"However, it seems to me that this depends on a 'critical mass' of our way of speaking being according to the shared norm (also, in some instances the malapropism is understood because it has some phonetic similarity, etc., with a normal use of words)."

Certainly many malaprops are easily understood because there are certain sorts of errors that we are prone to making than others: not all mispellings and mispeakings are equally common. It's easier for our mouths to slip from some sounds to others, certain keys are right next to each other, etc.

"I think this is obvious: if there were no shared norms, there would be no such thing as 'effortless' or 'automatic' communication."

I'm not sure that this is true; in any case I don't see that it's obvious. To take an easy counterexample, you could have a bunch of people who all spoke idiolecticly, but could understand one another effortlessly because of familiarity with the various idiolects of their neighbors. (I take this to be what LW imagines at PI ss243, with his tribe that speak only in monologue.) So if shared norms are necessary for effortless communication, then this can be only shared understandings of a particular's speakers words, not shared habits of speech among speakers.

Now, an idiolectic norm is already a strange thing. It's much trickier, even in principle, to draw the line between which of the speaker's utterances are the norm and which are deviations from it. (I think this sort of indeterminacy holds for all languages, but it's more striking in the idiolectic case.) And even if a norm for an idiolect is fairly cleanly laid out, I'm not sure that adherence to it on the part of the speaker is necessary for automatic understanding on the part of his hearers: the surrounding context (what else the speaker is doing, what else is true about the speaker's environs and the speaker's beliefs about his environs, what else the speaker wants to do in talking to his hearer(s), etc.) can, on occasion at least, and as a matter of principle, make it clear enough what a speaker must mean that it doesn't much matter if he makes his customary sounds, or different ones: one knows what he means. (That this can be properly "automatic" understanding is shown by the fact that sometimes odd speakings are only noticed in retrospect, when someone points them out or replays the tape.)

Now, why I think this matters:
N.N.:"If I mean by 'lynx' (etc.) what a cat expert means, then there will be certain circumstances in which my use of this term can only be characterized as a misuse (this was what I was aiming at with my comment to your first post)."

I think you may slide here between what Zooduck usually uses a word to mean (which is what the cat expert -- if he never misspeaks -- means by it), and what he uses it to mean on a particular occasion. What Zooduck misused is the sound /Links/, not something which means "Lynx". He did mean "ocelot" by /links/, in the example you mentioned, on Bilgrami's/Davidson's account, and in meaning this he said something which was true and which he knew to be true. The only mistake was in the sounds he made, not in the senses of his words or in what he believed about the cat. And that this counts as a misuse of the sounds, rather than just being a variance in my way of speaking, depends on further factors.

(character limit)

Daniel Lindquist said...

Suppose I forgot the common name for ocelots, but still knew a lot about them and how they were different from lynxes: I might get across that the ocelot I had spent the morning cleaning had interesting markings by saying "The lynx we just got in from South America has some interesting markings." My interlocutor might respond "Lynx? You mean the ocelot, don't you?" -- to which I might reply "Right, there's the word; I knew it wasn't actually a lynx. Lynxes are North American cats, as we both know. But you got the cat I meant." -- here, I think it's fairly painless to claim that I initially said something I knew was false, rather than using /links/ to mean "ocelot", but I think either way of describing what I did works fine. (I don't see that I would have to have a preference about which way to describe what I did. Either way, /osalot/ was the word I would've used if I had had the capacity at the relevant moment -- whether I used it to mean the same thing as I actually did, or if I used it instead to mean something else.)

The dialogue could also have gone like this:
Me: "The lynx we got in this morning from South America had interesting markings."
Int: "Lynx? We didn't get in a lynx this morning, did we?"
Me: "Not a lynx lynx; a South American lynx. Jungle lynx."
Int: "Lynxes live in North America and Russia. They aren't jungle cats."
Me: "Right, the lynx isn't a lynx lynx; it's that other lynx -- other lynxy thing. Similar size and coloring. Jungles of South America, I think it goes up as far as Mexico."
Int: "Oh, ocelots."
Me: "Oh, right! Ocelot. They do look like lynxes, though, don't they?"
Int: "They're not lynxes."
Me: "Right, it's a different kind of cat. I just meant that if you had to choose like, lynx, panther, lion, tiger, then out of those, they're lynxes."
Int: "I guess, sure, if those are the choices. Though I'm pretty sure they're actually small panthers."
Me: "Panthers are black. Well, I guess that's not true of mountain lions and the like. There are nonblack panthers."
Int: "The cool panthers are black."
Me: "Right. And big."
Int: "Yeah, I think that's why I said ocelots would be lynxes. They're small and orangey, not large and black. Not really proper panthers, for panthers."
Me: "Which is why they're lynxes instead."
Int: "Anyway -- what were the markings like?"
Me: "On the lynx?"
Int: "On the ocelot."
Me: "The lynx we got in from South America this morning has a spot that looks like Lincoln."
Int: "Now you're just doing it to annoy me."
Me: "Like on a penny. Lincoln in silhouette. On the side of the lynx."
Int: "Lunchtime over."

(character limit)

Daniel Lindquist said...

--here, I think it's more plausible to say that I used /links/ to mean "ocelot" and "thing that looks like a lynx" in addition to "lynx" -- I think I used all three in "The lynx isn't a lynx lynx". I think one could still claim that I just meant "lynx" all three times in that sentence, and spoke with a speaker's intention to say something about a cat which was not as I described it. But I think that this isn't forced on us, as an interpretation; meaning weird things by common words is also a thing that happens.

If it's hard to pin down what I meant by /links/, then it's also hard to tell whether the Wittgenstein-inspired line you want to hold onto will work. It might very well happen that not nonsense, but merely a different way of speaking, is what is being dealt with. So more caution is needed than I think the Hackerish Wittgenstein tends to display. If one can't make sense of an utterance on one way of understanding it, then this prima facie speaks as much against the way of understanding it as against the utterance's sensicality.

Speaking meaningfully but non-standardly is easy and commonplace.So the Hackerish conclusions about nonsensicality aren't as solid as they might seem to be. Which is why I think something more like Conant's reading of the latter Wittgenstein gets at a better strategy: Not "I can tell this sentence is nonsensical because of how the words are combined in it and what each means" but "Did you mean this, or that? If you meant this.... but if you meant that..." and then it turns out that the speaker hadn't really meant anything in particular; he'd just confused his utterance with things like it which would have meant things. (I think the fact that Conant's approach doesn't need to appeal to the idea of illicit ways of combining words etc. is something to notice downstream: you don't need such a notion to dissolve nonsense in the way his Wittgenstein does, and so it becomes a real question what work such a notion is supposed to do for us.)

Conant's approach keeps alive that the bringing of latent nonsense into daylight (where it's seen as patent nonsense) is a dialectical process; dialogue, not analysis by a philosopher working on his own, is where the action is at.

N. N. said...

So if shared norms are necessary for effortless communication, then this can be only shared understandings of a particular's speakers words, not shared habits of speech among speakers.

I think the relationship between understanding of words and habits of speech is much closer than your reply suggests. Your example is the same in principle as, e.g., someone understanding French speakers even though his native tongue is English. To understand French is to be able to speak it (to some degree), i.e., to have some French speaking habits in addition to one's English speaking habits.

N. N. said...

And even if a norm for an idiolect is fairly cleanly laid out, I'm not sure that adherence to it on the part of the speaker is necessary for automatic understanding on the part of his hearers: the surrounding context (what else the speaker is doing, what else is true about the speaker's environs and the speaker's beliefs about his environs, what else the speaker wants to do in talking to his hearer(s), etc.) can, on occasion at least, and as a matter of principle, make it clear enough what a speaker must mean that it doesn't much matter if he makes his customary sounds, or different ones: one knows what he means. (That this can be properly "automatic" understanding is shown by the fact that sometimes odd speakings are only noticed in retrospect, when someone points them out or replays the tape.)

I don't disagree with any of this. A speaker can equivocate 'on the fly' and still speak intelligibly, and he can be effortlessly understood if the context is sufficiently explanatory. The line between his 'normal' and novel uses can be tricky to draw, but I'm not primarily interested in that sort of trick (though it is important for what I am interested in). Here's a statement of mine from another discussion that I'm pretty happy with, so I'll use it here:

As you suggest, the abnormal (meaningful) use of "This color is red" doesn't need to be stated up front for the sentence to make sense. At the very least, the synesthete knows what he means (assuming his use of the sentence is meaningful); and in Davidsonian fashion we can catch on to his meaning by listening to the "fullness of his conversation." However, what we are doing when we listen is gleaning an explanation of his abnormal use from what he is saying (i.e., from the tacit explanations he is giving by using the sentence in context). But if we aren't particulary good at interpretation, or if he isn't particularly good at description, or if he is talking nonsense, we won't be able to glean an explantion from the conversation. At which point, we'll simply ask him: "What do you mean?" To get us to understand, he'll say something like "When I hear sounds, colors appear in my visual field. And the same colors always accompany the same sounds." To which we'll respond much as Wittgenstein does to the diviner: "This is a perfectly good explanation of what you mean by 'this sound being red', and the statement will have neither more, nor less, meaning than your explanation has given it."

On the other hand, if in context or in response to our direct questions the synesthete does not supply any such explanation, and instead maintains that the sound is red just as the rose is red, etc., we wouldn't be able to make sense of his claim. And his inability to make us understand would strongly support the conclusion that he wasn't making sense.

Applied to the present discussion, it may be difficult (i.e., not effortless or automatic) to know how a word is being used simply from our knowledge of a speaker's idiolectic norms (our initial theory about the meanings of his words), but in that case we can always question him. And there could be a point in questioning when it will be reasonable to conclude that a word is being misused in its present context.

So more caution is needed than I think the Hackerish Wittgenstein tends to display.

Agreed. Hacker is sometimes less than cautious in his analysis of misuses of words. Here is a lesson to learn from Davidson. But the lesson is not (I hold) that conceptual analysis is impossible. Merely that it requires some charity towards the subject of the analysis. And if, after being as charitable as one can reasonably be, no sense can be made of the speaker, there is good reason to suppose that he's not making any sense.

Finally, I think the present question is independent of 'what nonsense might be.'

Ben Wolfson said...

Obviously Duck needs to see about raising the character limit.

Duck said...

As I mentioned, I have looked all over Blogger and have found no mention of a comment character limit. If anyone knows how to raise it, then let that person speak and enlighten us. O/w we'll just have to make do with multiple comments.

Presskorn said...

A thought somewhat related to Duck's post, but somewhat unrelated to the discussion:

Surely is Humpty Dumpty is wrong, but surely Humpty Dumpty is right to say that ‘My words mean whatever I intend them to mean.’. Words generally mean what they are intended to mean. But the notion of intention cannot do the work that Humpty Dumpty intends it to do here, since the notion of intention is just restricted as the notion of meaning: It is simply impossible to intend to mean ‘A lighter, please’ by the words ‘A nice knockdown argument’ (unless this intention is preceded by a very specific & complex stage-setting typically involving the establishment of some a-typical lingo.). You simply cannot intend 'whatever' in isolation from a certain stage-setting. The possible range of intentions is just as delimited as the ordinary meanings of words. That is to say, 'intending to mean' is only a philosophically dangerous notion if the notion of intention is misunderstood. If the notion of intention is understood correctly, there is no reason to dismiss it on grounds of ‘mentalism’ or ‘closet-cartesianism’. (An ordinary concept like that of an intention never means something, as it were, illegitimate.)

Or simply: Saying that the meaning of a word depends on how you intend it does not carry the argument further, since the notion of intention, seen aright, is already closely tied that of meaning: ‘Intention’ is a conceptual entity, which can be constructed for any action, not a mental episode that precedes every action.

Duck said...

Presskorn: thanks for stopping by. I think I see what you're saying, and it seems in line with Davidson's point here, but let's see how we want to put it. I start out confused (normally I have to work up to it) when your first sentence begins: "Surely Humpty Dumpty is wrong, but surely Humpty Dumpty is right [...]". In particular, you say he's "right to say that ‘My words mean whatever I intend them to mean.’." But then you accuse him (this must be what he gets "wrong") of misunderstanding the notion of intention. Why intention? Well, that's what (on your version; the actual HD speaks of "choosing") he said: "My words mean whatever I intend them to mean." So on your account he used that word "correctly"-- i.e., in the conventional way -- to refer to a notion which (as it happens) he misunderstands. But is that right?

Let's remind ourselves: why did we think there was anything wrong in the first place? Well, because he uses "glory" in a completely uninterpretable way, and goes on to insist, contra Davidson, that, regardless, it meant then what he (just afterward) said it did. In fact he is explicit about it: "of course you don't [know what "glory" meant in my mouth just then] -- til I tell you." If he has to tell us, we say, it can't really have meant that, simply because of his "intention." So that's why he's wrong.

But what exactly is he wrong about, again? Maybe we should say this: instead of using the word in its conventional meaning -- to refer to something which can be misunderstood as a mental episode, but which is actually a conceptual entity -- he used it idiosyncratically, to refer to something which is (by definition, say) a mental episode, and not a conceptual entity. Now he's simply saying something false: he is saying that intentions so-construed can determine meaning, which we dispute.

It does seem that for Davidsonian reasons this is an interpretive option, which I guess is my point here. As it happens, I do prefer your way of speaking in this context, as it accounts for the senses in which "intention" can and cannot determine meaning, and thus why someone might get confused. We're simply not forced to take it this way because "that's what 'intention'/'intend' means." And in fact that's the best reason to put it our way: because people actually do say this (relatively) non-idiosyncratically, and we wish they wouldn't -- because of what we believe. Right?

Daniel Lindquist said...

"And there could be a point in questioning when it will be reasonable to conclude that a word is being misused in its present context."

This seems alright, if the point is just that where a word is "misused" we have nonsense at hand, and what looks like that word somewhere in it. But I don't think this can come apart from the question of what nonsense is; what's at issue is just whether nonsense can have parts which are intelligibly semantically significant still.

"Agreed. Hacker is sometimes less than cautious in his analysis of misuses of words. Here is a lesson to learn from Davidson. But the lesson is not (I hold) that conceptual analysis is impossible. Merely that it requires some charity towards the subject of the analysis. And if, after being as charitable as one can reasonably be, no sense can be made of the speaker, there is good reason to suppose that he's not making any sense."

We agree on the important bits, then. I'm fine with the idea that something like what Hacker wants to do might be doable, if one is subtler than Hacker tends to be. (And I did think he made several nice points in the Dennett exchange from a few years back.)

sorry it took me a week or so to get back to this; I realized that the time I was spending in these comment threads, and the philosophy-drive that was making me post long comments, could probably be turned towards my thesis. So I did. 35-page draft is now complete (sans an introduction and some citation work) and has been sent to Kremer for comments. I am pretty happy with it.

Presskorn said...

Duck: Thanks for clearing up some my thinking/rhetoric & although I am not entirely sure I can make sense of the last paragraph of your response, I think we are in basic agreement. My point about the Humpty Dumpty-phrase “My words mean what I intend to them mean” being both right and wrong is quite simply that it is both right and wrong.

There is a sense in which “My words mean what I intend to them mean” is true. I can elaborate and clarify the meanings of my words (or statements, more often actually) by elaborating my intentions. I can say “No, by saying that Duck was a ‘bachelor’ I didn’t intend to imply that he was an unmarried man, but rather he holds as in a degree from a university” & that sort of thing. In this sense, the Humpty Dumpty phrase is true, even trivially so.

The sense in which it is wrong is when ‘intend’ is misinterpreted as a mental episode with a content that is, as it were, unconstrained (or inner ostension, as you say) . This is where becomes mistaken or bad philosophy – when a first-year philosophy student or some dude at a bar (or even worse, a first-year philosophy student at a bar) says stuff like that the word ‘intention’ is being used idiosyncratically or non-ordinarily. And in such cases & probably in Carroll as well, it is simply something false that is being asserted.

In the ordinary sense of intention, which occurs in “No, by saying that Duck was a ‘bachelor’ I didn’t intend to imply that he was an unmarried man, but rather he holds as in a degree from a university”, ones intentions are just constrained as the meaning of ones words. So, in its trivially true sense, “My words mean what I intend to them mean” doesn’t really advance any philosophical argument or clarification of meaning.

(This is also what I take to be upshot of you (and Old Witters indirectly) saying that “Yes, indeed you can mean ‘it will rain tomorrow’ by ‘bububu’ – but only within a particular & peculiar stage-setting.”)

Icesword said...

Paraphrasing Russell, who cares about the silly things silly people say about trivial matters, except desperate philo-wanks tryin' to spank their way into a full-time work...