David E. Cooper
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 159
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Philosophers have traditionally approached questions of meaning as part of the philosophy of language. In this book David Cooper broadens the analysis beyond linguistic meaning to offer a an account of meaning in general. He shows that not only words, sentences, and utterances in the linguistic domain can be described as meaningful but also items in such domains as art, ceremony, social action, and bodily gesture. Unlike much of the recent work in the philosophy of meaning, Cooper is not concerned with trying to develop a theory of (linguistic) meaning but with examining the meaning of meaning through an overview of the behaviour and scope of "meaning" and its cognates, addressing questions about the import, function, and status of meaning. This fuller account of meaning not only addresses questions of the meaning of meaning but also the issues or problems that answers to those questions generate, such as, Is meaning just a misleading "folk" term for something more basic, such as the causal conditions governing the production of certain noises and movements? Is meaning something that we should strive for or should we let our lives "just be," rather than mean? By taking the problem of meaning out of the technical philosophy of language and providing a more general account Cooper is able to offer new insights into the meaning of meaning that will be of interest not only to philosophers of language but to philosophers working in other areas, such as epistemology and metaphysics.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8139-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. 1 Preliminaries
    (pp. 1-15)

    This book is both more and less modest in ambition than most English-language philosophical writings on meaning in recent times. In part, this is because the book belongs in a series primarily aimed at students who are no longer beginners in philosophy, so that it has its sights set higher than those of an introductory textbook, but without aspiring to the level of detailed and perhaps technical argumentation expected in a specialist monograph. The main reason for the book’s blend of modesty and ambition, however, is different, and owes to the fact that the writings I have in mind have...

  4. 2 The reach of meaning
    (pp. 16-39)

    The title of this chapter is a pun. In its first section, I want to convey the reach of meaning in the sense of its scope or extent, to draw attention to the many contexts and ways in which, and the many types of item of which, meaning is predicated. There is, however, another, albeit obsolete, sense in which to have the reach of something is to comprehend or get the measure of it. A later section of the chapter, accordingly, attempts a preliminary and general understanding of the phenomenon whose immense scope will already have been indicated. We want,...

  5. 3 Language
    (pp. 40-62)

    Chapter 2 provided an informal survey of the reach of meaning, with attention drawn to the many fields to which meaningful items belong, the various focuses under which such items are put and the different frames employed for indicating the meanings of items. It did not, I urged, follow from the protean reach of meaning that “mean” and related terms were ambiguous. Nor, I argued, was it legitimate to expel any of our talk of meaning – for example, of “natural” meaning – from the purview of an account of the meaning of meaning. What the reach of meaning reflects, rather, is...

  6. 4 Knowledge, meaning and world
    (pp. 63-84)

    As in Chapter 3, the focus of the present one is linguistic meaning. However, the issues considered are not peculiar to that domain and it will sometimes be therapeutic to have reminders of this. It may be that certain views to be discussed sound rather less plausible when we recall that gestures and facial expressions, say, also have their meanings. The chapter covers a lot of ground, but the matters discussed are intimately related. To begin with, there is some unfinished business from Chapter 3. There we noted in passing a dispute as to whether understanding sentences has to do...

  7. 5 Meaning, society and the human sciences
    (pp. 85-106)

    In Chapters 3 and 4, the focus has been upon linguistic meaning, salutary though it was at strategic points to recall that meaning is not the monopoly of language. In the remainder of this book, it is no longer the focus. The topic for Chapter 6 is meaning in the arts, plastic and musical no less than literary; while, in Chapter 7, it is the meaning of human life itself that is the subject. In the present chapter, our broad and amorphous domain coincides with the subject matter of the social or human sciences, theGeisteswissenschaften– with,inter alia,symbolic...

  8. 6 Meaning and the Arts
    (pp. 107-125)

    “But what does it mean?” Who has not heard, or indeed raised, that question on such occasions as standing before an unmade bed in an art gallery, or listening to a piece called “Invention VI for Oboe and Synthesizer”? The vocabulary of meaning is pervasive in contemporary discussion of art, and not only of the literary arts that inherit familiar issues of linguistic meaning and generate several more of their own, like that of authorial authority over the meaning of a text. Few books on the philosophy of music, for example, are without their chapter on meaning in music.


  9. 7 The meaning of life
    (pp. 126-142)

    The eponymous heroine of Michael Ondaatje’sAnil’s Ghostis disillusioned, no longer able to “believe that meaning allowed a person a door to escape grief and fear” (2000: 55). It is a belief, however, that most of us are reluctant to abandon. A typical response, after all, by those whom tragedy affects – the loss of a child, say – is to seek some “sense to it” that might redeem the event from sheer pointless contingency. It is not, of course, only in order to confront grief and fear that people seek meaning or sense in their intercourse with the world. Human...

  10. References
    (pp. 143-148)
  11. Index
    (pp. 149-152)