Use Theories of Meaning

Discipline: Philosophy

Theories springing mainly from Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), that the meaning of a word or sentence is to be sought in its use, not in its correspondence to some entity (as naming and correspondence theories of meaning in general imply).

The use in question normally means actual usage, but may also refer to an alleged correct usage; or the meaning of a word may be explained in terms of rules for its use (also see: de facto and de jure theories of meaning).

Sometimes such theories were regarded not so much as theories of meaning but as replacing theories of meaning, as in the slogan 'Don't ask for the meaning, ask for the use' (common in the heyday of linguistic philosophy, with which use theories were closely associated).

It may be objected, however, that use is indeed different from meaning, but cannot simply replace it since it presupposes it.

L Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1952), especially part 1, p.1-43


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