Dianne Rae E.

Siriban MA Comparative Literature 95-23533 1st Writing Assignment in Philo 295 Philosophy of Language Professor Ciracio Sayson August 12, 2006

When People Mean:
A Reading of Grice’s Theory of Meaningnn and its implications on Art and Literature
In his paper “Meaning,” Grice includes utterer’s intention at the core of the meaning of statements. His explanations and further exemplifications lead me to believe that Grice at least thought of the utterer’s intention as the force that directs the meanings in statements. His paper is an argument against established causal theories of language and the idea made in these theories that meaning is conditioned in people via consistent use and practice (in Martinich, 74). His initial explanation of utterer’s intention alone makes me believe that Grice does relegate meaning to the realm of pragmatics, since meaning, for him, is dependent on factors beyond the mere sounds and words that constitute a sentence, nor is meaning simply constituted by signs and symbols within an utterer’s act of communication (utterance) alone. I shall explain further how I understand his arguments. Grice initially expressed, as one of his concerns, that the meanings of utterances may be deduced from the utterer’s use of signs to make known his intention on a particular occasion. However, to exemplify nonnatural meaning or “meaningnn”, the existence of an utterer’s intention is not enough. Rather, the existence of an intended audience to which the utterance is directed,

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and the audience’s recognition of the intention are necessary components to complete the concept of meaningnn. However, Grice warns that simply having an intended audience and effecting a certain belief or effect in the audience is not enough to show meaningnn, nor is it simply proven by the audience’s recognition of the utterer’s intention. There is non-natural meaning in an utterance or if it induces in its audience an effect over which the audience has control of, or if the audience is merely given a “reason” for believing the utterer’s intention to be symptomatic of something. In other words: natural meaning = x meant something; whereas nonnatural meaning = someone meant something by x (76). For example, I come across my boyfriend’s cellphone hidden underneath the beddings and I discover in it some very explicit text messages from another woman. Natural meaning takes place when I think that someone is flirting with him. However, there is non-natural meaning in his act of hiding the cellphone from me. The act may give me reason to believe that he is cheating on me or that he is playing a really bad practical joke on me, and so on. Unlike in natural meaning—i.e. the meaning of the text messages for me, where I am compelled to automatically conclude something by logic, scientific evidence, reflex, etc.— nonnatural meaning or meaningnn as circumscribed in my recognition of my boyfriend’s act of hiding his cellphone induces me to think and process the information until I make sense of it as an act of “betrayal,” a practical joke, or simply a coincidence and therefore an insignificant circumstance, or something else. To sum up Grice’s explanation of nonnatural meaning, he said that the following premises are required for the existence of meaningnn: (1) an utterance imbued with the utterer’s

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intention, (2) an audience for which the utterance is intended, (3) the audience’s recognition of the intention, (4) the reason for the audience to believe the utterance as a means to convey the utterer’s intention. The question that has to be asked next is whether there can be meaning when the utterer’s intention and the audience’s recognition of the intention does not coincide (as is one of the many issues that critics of art and literature are currently preoccupied with). To this Grice simply answers that our use of language is guided by certain conventions. If, by chance, an utterer uses a word or language itself in an unconventional way, it is natural for us to try to find out the reasons for this deviation by looking at the context in which the utterance was made. This last point, however vague, is what convinces me that Grice’s view of meaning, particularly meaningnn, relegates the whole matter to pragmatics.

I am reminded of a personal experience which very much relates to this idea. About a month ago I was stumped when one of my students, upon being questioned if he had made a particular requirement all by himself, answered me with: “Word.” I heard the expression again in an Alicia Keys song, and then in a TV sitcom. I finally got really curious and asked a friend who, just my luck, is quite exposed to RnB music. He confirmed for me that “word” in ghetto lingo or “rapper terms” is synonymous to “really” or “true” as it might have come from the phrase “you have my word.” For further elucidation, I would like to cite one of Chris Ragg’s blog entries, entitled “Meaning In Art” (from Mumblings and Grumblings), wherein he used the Gricean theory of meaningnn as a framework for discussing works of art as meaningful not only because of their

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physical compositions. He cites a theoretical circumstance that may serve as a springboard for talking about utterer’s intention in art:
“Do Van Gogh’s paintings have meaning simply in virtue of their physical composition? I believe the correct answer is no, they do not. If by some [archeological] miracle, an object that perfectly resembled a Van Gogh painting was found buried beneath the Earth, we should not say that is has the same meaning as the actual artifact created by our dear Vincent.”

Ragg explains his stand by claiming that Van Gogh must have imbued this painting with meaning in the act of “putting matter against matter” in the expression of his mind. Expressions that may have been motivated by his experiences, prejudices, emotions, and influenced by the impositions of his society’s history, culture and even his personal circumstances. In conclusion, Ragg says that the intention of the artist is represented by the actual “physical artifact” that is the artwork—“artifacts alone have no meaning…[rather] they represent their meaning.” This explanation of meaningnn as applied to art seems to relate very much to rhetoric or the art of delivering messages effectively through skillful use of the language or medium. Although Grice has noted that by using the word “intention” he did not mean that all utterances are “planned” (deliberated on, or thought out well) beforehand. Honestly, this part of the paper also struck me as hazy. However, it leads me to understand that although we human beings do often act on impulse, this does not mean that we do not act without intention. Also, I believe that some people are better adept at communicating than others, and that through rhetorical skill they seem to be able to induce natural reactions from nonnatural meanings. A good example of this would be this memorable scene from The Interpreter, a film starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. In this film Kidman, who plays the role of a UN employed interpreter suspected to be part of the supposed assassination plot against a formidable

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African dictator, convinces the case’s head investigator (Penn) that she has no hand the said assassination plot, but is in fact just a victim of circumstance. In her moving narration of a practice called “The Drowning Man Ritual” in her nativeland, Motobo, Africa, one witnesses Kidman’s excellent narration and her skillful use of verbal and nonverbal components (which certainly confirms her being an exceptional actress). This exposition makes it impossible for the investigator (and the audience as well) to think of the Kidman’s character as guilty of the accusation. *** Though I have made clear that I see Grice’s ideas of meaning as favoring pragmatics, there is a question left unsettled in my mind regarding the nature of meaning from a comparative literature student’s point of view. Given Grice’s theory of nonnatural meaning, Is meaningnn therefore valid or does meaningnn exist if the intention behind an utterance and the intention recognized by the audience do not coincide? For instance, a poet composed a poem with the intention of expressing his weariness of what he sees as an otherwise dull and senseless world. However, his readers have taken the same poem to be the sublimation of a fervent death-wish by the author or of the text’s implied persona. Does this disparity between the intention of the author and the audience’s recognition of the intention invalidate the significance or meaningnn of the poem? Recent trends in literary studies have tended to favor reader-response/reader oriented, feminist, mythological-archetypal approaches and the likes, rather than historical-biographical approaches that take into account the author’s personal circumstances in the production of meanings in a text. Modern critical theories in literature therefore actually makes it explicit as stating that the “the author is dead” in the production of meaning and therefore the author’s

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intention should not really interfere with how the reader makes sense of the text. Is the Gricean view of nonnatural meaning therefore utterer-oriented and rather than reader-oriented? Can it accommodate the validation of meaning from the audience’s standpoint? Or, perhaps a better question is, in critical studies of literature and art, is it more appropriate to take a reader-oriented or an utterer-oriented stance?

----------------------------------------------------------------------References: 1. Martinich, A.P. (ed.) (1990). The philosophy of language (2nd edition). New York: Oxford University Press 2. Ragg, Chris (11 May 2005). Meaning in art in Mumblings and grumblings (weblog). http://chrisragg.blogspot.com/2005/05/meaning-in-art.html

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