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HOW DO YOU MEAN?' J. F. M. HUNTER The question I am going to discuss is whether, when a person means something, for example when he says something and means it, or when he meanS this or that by what he says, or when he inadvertently says one thing although he means to say another, the meaning of it is something which goes on in him, an activity perhaps, or a process or a state or an event. If it is one of these things it will more likely than not be a mental something or other; but I do not wish to exclude the possibility that it might be something physical, such as looking stem when he makes a dire threat and means it, or perhaps an increase in the pulse rate. So while I will mostly talk about the possibility that meaning is a mental phenomenon , my remarks will generally apply equally well to the possibility that it is something physical. "How do you mean?", the question I have given as the title of this essay, is therefore only one of the questions I shan be conSidering and even so it has to be taken in a speCial and, you may think, peculiar way: that is as meaning 'What do you do in order to mean something?" or "How do you go about meaning something?" This question presupposes that meaning is something we do; but it might also be something that happens in us, and if so we could call it an event if it happened brieRy and intermittently, a process if it took some time and was marked by internal complexities, or a state if, like health, it involved a set of things being true of us at the same time. I desperately hope that the reader will be at least a little inclined to think that meaning something is one or other of these things, because otherwise he will likely only find these ruminations tiresome, and go away confirmed in the popular belief that philosophers are people who develop to a very fine point the art of tilting at windmills. But, not to rely entirely on chance in this matter, let me offer some considerations that might persuade One that meaning is something we do, or that happens in us. First of all, many of the ways we express ourselves strongly suggest this. We say "I said it and I meant it" and this looks like two things, not one; and when we say HI said it without meaning it," or "I said it but Volume XXXVIII, Numher I, October, 1968 52 J. F. M. HUNTBR didn't mean it," this looks like a report of the absence of one of these things, which would normally be present. We say 'What I meant when I said that was ...," and this looks like a report of something that went on alongside the saying of something; we talk of "trying to say what we mean," and this looks like a report of the existence of a state of affairs called "meaning something" prior to the existence of a state of affairs called "expressing it in words." And so On. Secondly, when we use the verb "to mean" in these ways, there does seem to be an inner state of ours that is importantly connected with our expressing ourselves the way we do. If we make a dire threat and mean it, we may be conscious of a feeling of grim determination. Or if we refer in conversation to Mr. N. and mean "the tall man over there in the comer," we perhaps think of him, or look his way. And when we are struggling to say what we mean, there is a familiar if hard-to-describe experience of the imminence of successful expression which could be called a pre-verbal knowledge of what we mean, or what we want to say. Thirdly, it is generally either true or false that we mean a dire threat, or mean this rather than that by something we have said; and a natural, if not a necessary, answer to the question what makes it true or false is that it is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 51-68
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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