“The philosophical context in which Aristotle addresses these issues is provided by his predecessors, most importantly by Plato, and thus the first order of business is to look at Plato’s Cratylus on meaning and reference.
The Cratylus is a sustained attack on the theories of meaning that were currently in vogue. Two theories are canvassed there and shown to be inadequate. These theories, moreover, would appear to exhaust the possibilities: either words are conventional signs and meanings are assigned by human beings and can be changed at the whim of the language user(s), or words are natural signs. Naturalism is shown to be required in order to give an adequate account of truth; conventionalism, however, is shown to provide a more satisfactory account of the way in which the words of a natural language acquire, maintain, and change their meanings.
|NameBearerObject||“the object in the world (pragma) that is the referent of the name (word)”|
|MentalState||“the name-bearing mental state (pathema)”||refers to NameBearerObject|
|Meaning||“The meaning is the intentional content of the psychological state for which the word stands…”||component of MentalState|
|Convention||“The relation between written and spoken words is conventional, as is the relation between spoken words and the mental states that are the vehicles of meaning; different languages correlate different sounds with the same intentional content and the same sound with different contents.”||mediates between MentalState and SpokenWord; WrittenWord|
|SpokenWord||The spoken form of a word||subkind of Word|
|WrittenWord||The written form of a word||subkind of Word|
|Word||A word in a given language||in material relation with Word|
In the De Interpretatione, Aristotle chooses to negotiate a compromise between the two rejected alternatives. The relation between written and spoken words is conventional, as is the relation between spoken words and the mental states that are the vehicles of meaning; different languages correlate different sounds with the same intentional content and the same sound with different contents. Notwithstanding, the relation between the mental state and the object it represents is natural – the same for all humans – and reference is secured by resemblance.”
For better understanding please check the post [1.2.3] about Plato’s Cratylus.
The souce of all citations: Deborah K. W. Modrak, Aristotle’s Theory of Language and Meaning, Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 4.
First published: 20/3/2019
Updated: 7/12/2021 minor changes