WHAT MAKES MEANING NON-NATURAL?

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  • The Southern Journol of Philosophy (1985) Vol. XXIII, No. 4

    WHAT MAKES MEANING

    Arda Denkel Bogariq i University

    NON-NATURAL?

    I

    A distinction crucial to the communication-intention approach in philosophical semantics is bet ween natural and non-natural meaning. Since its introduction by Grice in the fifties!, it has been accepted as the major instrument for demarcating what may be called exclusively or typically human communication within the multitude of patterns of communicative interchange between living creatures. Leaving aside here the question whether the criteria for this distinction are satisfactory and how it is that a speaker in communication means something non- naturally rather than naturallyz, I shall concentrate on the issue of what it is that makes an utterance mean something non-naturally. Grices distinction does not provide an answer to this, for it is a vehicle of demarcation and not of explanation. As to Grices account of a speakers non-naturally meaning something by the use of an utterance, this too cannot be satisfactory since it is by no means a necessity that if on a given occasion someone using X meant r by it non-naturally, that X there (on the same occasion) will have meant r again non-naturally. It should be made clear that what is here at issue is not the question whether an X can be said to mean r on an occasion where a speaker using X meant r by it3. The idea, rather, is that whatever the content of meaning, that a speaker meant it by X non-naturally does not entail or guarantee that X meant it there non-naturally. A person may use X and mean r by it, satisfying all the requirements of the speakers occasion meaning, and nevertheless on that same occasion, X may still mean r naturally. Suppose I draw a picture of Mr Y displaying undue familiarity to Mrs X and show it to Mr X(M, p. 44). Even if we could accept that by the drawing I meant something non-naturally, we could not quite state that thedrawing meant the same non-naturally. As Grice notes, it will make a difference to the effect of my picture on Mr X whether or not he takes me to be intending to inform him (make him believe something) about Mrs X, and not to be just doodling or trying to produce a work of art. (M, p. 44) The same utterance( here the drawing)

    Ardo Denkel is Associote Professor 01 Bogaziqi University. Istanbul. In I985 he held o visiting appointment ot the University of Wisconsin, Modison. His orticles on meaning have beenpublished in Mind, Journal of Semantics, Philosophia, ondthe Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. His poper on form ond origin will oppeor in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy.

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  • will be taken to mean the same thing naturally or non-naturally, according to the recognition of the speakers intention. Supposing that the speakers intention were not recognized, it would be correct to say that the speaker was misunderstood. Would it, though, also be correct to say that theutterance was misunderstood? It seems there would be no reason for saying that it would, if the utterance is thesame under either interpretation.

    The description of what someone else is doing involves at least the following two dimensions: thepuredescription of the physical act and the description oftheact as intended for theachievement of a result. We call the latter intentional. If the object of an intentional action is the achievement of an effect in another agent where this essentially involves the latters being treated as a rational agent, then I call the intentional action an agent-directed action4. Thus, while all illocutionary acts are agent-directed, so are the non-linguistic actions of mocking and threatening. Hitting, pushing someone, pinching another to cause pain are not agent-directed actions, since the doing of them does not essentially involve the treatment of the agent as a rational agent: exactly the same could be done to animals.

    The same situation involving an agents action may, providing that the situation permits it, be described, as explained above, in these different ways: She cant reach the shelf (interpretation: because she is too short) or She wants me to think that she cant reach the shelf (because she is too short). While the first description of the situation will allow the statement of a natural meaning(her being unable to reach meant that she was too short), the second description will allow the statement of a non-natural meaning. While in the second it is possible to reformulate the statement of meaning by asserting that by what she did she meant that she is too short, this reformulation of the first description is not possible. (Cf. M, pp. 39-40)

    I shall defend two points:

    1. An agent using X can be said to mean something by it non- naturally only if his use is recognizable as agent-directed action.

    2. An utterance X can be said to mean something non-naturally only if the speakers use of X is recognized as an agent-directed action.

    ( I ) is obvious. Anyone who is said to mean something by X, intends to induce a thought, and performs X with this purpose. (M, p. 46) So, given the notion of agent-directed action, (1) is true by definition. ( 1 ) implies that if someone means something by X , then in performing X , he is performing an act which can be described as an illocutionary act.

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  • This is in agreement with Strawsons suggestion that Austins notion of uptake be identified with the understanding of the speakers meaning.5 Strawson further notes that (at least in order to retain this identifi- cation) Austins requirement that an illocutionary act should involve its uptake or recognition needs to be dropped. I think that even if we drop this requirement as regards the performing of an act that can be described as an illocutionary act, we could not do the same regarding a successfully performed illocutionary act. (Austins requirement was primarily meant to apply to the latter.) The reason will come out in what follows.

    Consider the case of a guest taking her empty wine glass to her lips just as she would drink from a full glass. How is this action to be interpreted? Why did the guest do it? One way to answer this is by saying that the guest did the above because (a) she wanted to drink wine and thought that theglass was full. If (a) were the correct interpretation of the action, and if as the host, I strongly preferred to save my wine for later occasions, I would not look guilty of ignoring a request if I did not offer my guest more wine. Now the same action may be interpreted in the agent-directed way by suggesting that she did that because (b) she wanted me to think that she wanted to drink wine and thought that the glass was full, i.e., she askedfor a refill. If (b) is appropriate, then failing to fill my guests glass I cannot avoid appearing guilty in the above sense apart from pretending not to understand her. Now, as regards the action of my guest, i.e., theutteranceshe produced, we can say that (a) is the natural meaning of this action and (b) is its non-natural meaning. I shall argue that the utterance means (b) only if its meaning (a) is attributed to my guest. I shall suggest that until theaction is recognized by the audience as meaning (b) (i.e., until the speakers intention to induce (a) by what she does is recognized) the action will mean (a) naturally.

    Why is it that the speakers non-naturally meaning(a) by her act does not suffice for this act to mean (b)? Why should the actions being recognizable as (b) not be sufficient, and the actual recognition be necessary? The answer is in the fact that the utterance, meaning (a), under the circumstances, could not be said to induce my giving my guest a refill, even if (a) was further (non-naturally) meant by the speaker. What can appropriately be said to induce my giving her a refill would be the utterances meaning (b). Let X be the speakers utterance (of taking the empty glass to her lips), and suppose that in response I do serve her wine. In answer to what made me or induced me to do this, and given the fact that I very much want to save my wine, I cannot say because my guest wanted to drink wine, thought her glass was full, (or that what she did meant that she wanted to drink etc.), and I did not want to appear guilty of ignoring her request.I certainly would not thus appear to be ignoring a request. In fact my response will be rationalized by nothing less than X meaning(b), and my not wanting to appear to be ignoringa

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  • request. So, given these circumstances, we can state the following as a criterion for (b).

    i- X means (b) only if X can induce my serving wine.

    Of course, for (i) to be true X doesnt have to induce this response. Only, if X meant (b), unlike its meaning(a), would it be necessary that X could induce (that it be capable of inducing) the response.6 I shall now state a second condition:

    ii- X can induce my serving wine only if Xs meaning (a) is attributed (by me) to the speaker as her meaning.

    (i) and (ii) will yield

    iii- X means (b) only if Xs meaning (a) is attributed to the speaker as her meaning.

    If we accept the rough equivalence (Cf. M, p. 40)

    iv- Xs meaning(a) is attributed to the speaker as her meaning = X is interpreted as (b)

    we will obtain

    v- X means (b) only if X is interpreted as (b).

    (v) yields that for X to mean (b) X must be recognized as an agent- directed action (Le., of asking a refill), i.e., (v) yields (2).

    Now, it may be objected to (ii) by first asking why it is that the speakers meaning (a) by X does not induce my serving wine. The answer is that someones meaning something does not belong to the category of things that can induce or cause other things. It is actions or particular interpretations of actions that can induce responses of relevant sorts. Secondly, it may be asked why thespeakers meaning(a) by X could not be Xs meaning (b). The answer is this: according to the definition of the previous section what X by itself means is (a). Suppose now the speaker used X and meant (a) by it. Is it possible to say that X there meant (b), but the audience did not understand it? But how can X mean (b) over and above meaning (a)? Would it be by the speakers meaning (a) by it? If the speaker meant (a) by X, the best one can say is that the meaning (a) of X is meant by the speaker. This will not be X meaning (b) since what it involves is Xs meaning (a) and someones meaning (a) by X. On the other hand, X meaning(b) is Xs meaning that someone means (a) by X. Thus, the speakers merely meaning (a) by X, does not make X mean (b).

    It needs to be emphasized that the conclusion of the present argument is not that Xs being interpreted as (b), or its meaning (a) being attributed to the speaker, is, by itself, sufficient for Xs meaning r

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  • non-naturally. This is only a necessary condition. Another necessary condition is that the attribution involved in the above be true of the speaker. In other words, for there to be non-natural meaning there should be a particular communicative intention and this must be recognized in the way an illocutionary act is said to involve both illocutionary force and its uptake.

    Grice explains (M, pp. 44-45) that a frown, if produced spon- taneously, is the natural sign of displeasure. However, at times, we convey our displeasure by frowning deliberately, where such a frown non-naturally means that one is displeased. But is the difference only in one being spontaneous and the other being deliberate? Supposing that the frown came in reaction to something I did, while a spontaneous frown may not call for an apology ( I may apologize but I wont feel a pressure to do so) a deliberate one will, on the condition I recognize that my interlocutor frowned deliberately (i.e., what the frown signifies naturally must be recognized as meant by the speaker). I think Grice agrees with this conclusion: Though in general a deliberate frown may have the same effect (as regards inducing a belief in my displeasure) as a spontaneous frown, it can be expected to have the same effect only provided the audience takes it as intended to convey displeasure. (M,

    It may be asked how a speakers meaning by an utterance, as opposed to his producing it without meaning, is recognized. Is it that each case of production of an utterance is ambiguous between natural and non- natural readings, and if the audience guesses the speakers background intentions right, then he understands the utterance non-naturally, and thus understands the speaker correctly? I have argued elsewhere7 that a speaker can be said to mean something by an utterance only if he signals his intentions to communicate. Therefore, the situation, far from involving a guess, is in fact a case of recognizing a speakers signalling that he intends to communicate. Furthermore, this allows a clear criterion for deciding whether the speaker5 intention is, on the occasion, understood or misunderstood. However, the same cannot be said about the understanding of the utterance: this latter is what conveys the content of meaning. The signal of communicative intent displaying the speakers attitude can be said to qualify the utterance only externally. The presence of a signal along with the utterance does not change the content (i.e., from (a) to (b)) of meaning intrinsically. So failure to recognize the speakers communicative intent may only count as misunderstanding the speaker, and not as misunderstanding the utterance. Only the content of an utterances meaning is indepen- dent of the audience, while the manner of meaning is dependent on his recognit ion.

    pp. 44-45)

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  • NOTES

    I Grice, H.P., Meaning The Phil. Rev., 66 (1957), references here to reprint in Strawson, P.F. (ed.) Philosophicul Logic, Oxford U.P., 1967, ubbr. (M).

    2 I have treated these two questions in the following papers: The Fringes of Natural Meaning, Philosophiu, Vol. 12, Nos. 3-4 (March 1983), pp. 337-343; The Speakers Communicative 1ntentJournulforthe TheoryofSociulBehuviour, Vol. 10No. I (March

    3 For this question, see the present authorsThe Meaning of an UtteranceJournulof Sernuntics, Vol. 11, No. 1 (March 1983), pp. 29-39.

    The effect intended on the agent does not have to be a behavioral or a behaviorally displayed one. For instance the intention of the speaker may be to embarrass his interlocutor and he may achieve this effect without it being accompanied by a blush. Similarly the intended effect may be amusing, scaring, puzzling, etc. (i.e., perlocution- aryeffects which may not always be publicly observable.) In this sense, works of art as utterances (even those with highly subjectice messages) will be said to involve a n intention to induce a n effect in the audience (spectator). Here, the effect intended can be specified to the extent the meaning of the utterance can be specified. The case of practising an utterance(sketching a work of art, rehearsing a play, a speech, exercising in a foreign language) which is not directed to an ac...

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