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Universities of Belgrade and Pennsylvania




Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Markovic, Mihailo, 1923-

Dialectical theory of meaning.

(Boston studies in the philosophy of science; v. 81)

At head of title: Universities of Belgrade and Pennsylvania.
"New edition based on the work originally published by Nolit,
Belgrade, under the title: DijalektiCka teorija zna?:enja" - T. p. verso.
Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Meaning
(Philosophy) 2. Philosophy, Marxist. I. Title. II. Series.
Q174.B67 vol. 81 [B105.M4] SOlS [121'.68]
ISBN-13: 978-94-009-6258-3 e-ISBN-13: 978-94-009-6256-9
DOl: 10.1007/978-94-009-6256-9

Published by D. Reidel Publishing Company,

P.O. Box 17, 3300 AA Dordrecht, Holland

Sold and distributed in the U.S.A. and Canada

by Kluwer Academic Publishers
190 Old Derby Street, Hingham, MA 02043, U.S.A.

In all other countries, sold and distributed

by Kluwer Academic Publishers Group
P.O. Box 322, 3300 AH Dordrecht, Holland

New edition based on the work originally published by Nolit, Belgrade,

under the title Dijalekticka teorija znacenja

Translated by David Rouge and Joan Coddington from the

Serbo-Croat; Chapter IX translated by Zoran Minderovic

All Rights Reserved

1984 by D. Reidel Publishing Company_
No part of the material protected by this copyright notice may be reproduced or
utilized in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and
retrieval system, without written permission from the copyright owner

Editorial Preface vii

Preface to the English Editon ix




I. General Logical Problems of Constructing a Theory of

Meaning 31
II. Categories of Objective Reality 43
III. Symbols 91
IV. Objective Experience 108
V. Concepts and Other Categories of Thought 131


VI. Meaning as a Complex of Relationships 171

VII. Mental Meaning 179
VIII. Objective Meaning 188
IX. Linguistic Meaning 261
X. Practical Meaning 319


XI. The Genesis of Signs and Meaning 331

XII. General Definition of Meaning: The Interrelationships of
the Individual Dimensions of Meaning 363
XIII. Conditions of Effective Communication 372

Index of Names 396


This prize monograph was a pioneering work among Marxist philosophers,

East and West, twenty-five years ago. To our mind, the work would have been
received with respect and pleasure by philosophers of many viewpoints if it
had been known abroad then. Now, revised for this English-language editiJn
by our dear and honored colleague Mihailo Markovic, it is still admirable, still
the insightful and stimulating accomplishment of a pioneering philosophical
and scientific mind, still resonating to the three themes of technical mastery,
humane purpose, political critique.
Markovic has always worked with the scientific and the humanist disci-
plines inseparably, a faithful as well as a creative man oflate twentieth century
thOUght. Reasoning is to be studied as any other object of investigation would
be: empirically, theoretically, psychologically, historically, imaginatively. But
the entry is often through the study of meaning, in language and in life. In his
splendid guide into the work before us, his Introduction, Markovic shows his
remarkable ability as the teacher, motivating, clarifying, sketching the whole,
illuminating the detail, Critically situating the problem within a practical
understanding of the tool oflanguage.
To the reader, it may be the centrality of praxis which ties together the
author's skill at analysis with his down-to-earth sensibility regarding herme-
neutic response to social crisis. Von Wright spoke for Markovic so well when
he pressed upon us that to explain an event we must first understand its
meaning. And in that recognition of meaning beyond symbols, of meaning
within events, Markovic had already found part of the dialectic of the meaning-
ful. His ideal exposition is, he tells us, an imaginary dialogue, not so much
between himself and us but between those opposed and (inevitably) one-sided
theories, whose own truths must be seen, and preserved, and brought together.
The issue of such an active understanding would be philosophy at its traditional
task of comprehending and criticizing the human situation. Markovic cites
Heidegger on the existential seriousness of this study: language is the house of
Being (p. xii). And we know how hidden at times, open at times, our reality
may be, and our languages and our artifacts too. To get at the language,
to understand meaning, to reconstruct the subject-object interaction in its
cognitive power and its social rootedness, these are tasks Markovic has taken

on. We need not all be Marxists to see the significance ofthese tasks. Karl Marx
once wrote, "language is practical consciousness", and Wittgenstein that "to
imagine a language means to imagine a form of life". But life, praxis, is prima-
ry; for Markovic, then, it is clear that meaning will not be found in form, not
even in 'a form oflife', but in the intentionality of human practice, in 'practi-
cal consciousness'.

March 1984

Center for Philosophy and History of Science ROBERT S. COHEN

Boston University

Department of Philosophy MARX W. WARTOFSKY

Baruch College
The City University of New York

At the time when this book was published, in 1961, the problem of meaning
was almost entirely new to Marxist philosophers. There were two exceptions,
however. Important contributions to th~ philosophy of language were made
by the Russian philosopher and psychologist Bakhtin, but they were unknown
outside the small circle of his friends. (He published some of his works under
the name of his colleague Voloshinov.) Another Marxist philosopher who
was interested in the field and was very well acquainted with the Western
literature was Adam Schaff. While I was writing this book he was preparing
his Introduction to Semantics.
My interest in the problem of meaning was aroused by two years of study
with A. J. Ayer at University College, London, in 1953-54 and 1955 -56.
I wrote a doctoral dissertation on the concept of logic, a part of which was
a discussion of the problem of meaning. Coming back to the University of
Belgrade in September 1956 I started teaching a course in the theory of
meaning, and a few months later decided to write a book on that topic.
The writing took two years, 1957-59.
The book was well received in Yugoslavia, received a national award for
scholarship in 1962, and had two editions. Some Soviet logicians decided
to translate it into Russian, and it was accepted for publication by the
publishing house Progress. The Soviet logician Gorski wrote an extensive
introduction. In 1969, when it was already printed, its distribution was
stopped for political reasons.
Why could this work be of any interest to Anglo-American readers with a
delay of more than two decades?
First, it is very different from theories of meaning elaborated within
dominant Anglo-American philosophical currents such as logical empiricism,
philosophy of ordinary language, realism and pragmatism. It has been devel-
oped on essentially different philosophical foundations, and even within
Marxist philosophy these do not have much in common with the philosophy
of official Marxism with its uncritical, pre-Kantian materialism and vulgarized
Second, the analysis of meaning developed in this book was very critical
of the linguistic behaviorism that prevailed in analytical philosophy during

the Fifties and Sixties. It seemed obvious to me that a subjective mental

dimension of meaning was the necessary constituent of any sound account
of meaning. At that time most analytical philosophers knew little of phe-
nomenology and hermeneutics, and rejected anything that smacked of the
"ghost in the machine." Even terms like "concepts" were suspect: they had
to be understood as sets of rules for using words and not as some kind of
mental entities. However, with the development of the philosophy of action
it became respectable to speak of "intentions" and other mental states.
Recent interest in the interpretative social science approach and in the
philosophy of. Husser!, Heidegger, Gadamer, Apel and Habermas makes the
kind of work on meaning pursued in this book more relevant today than two
decades ago.

In all existing theories of meaning the entire approach to problems of symbol-
ism, language and communication has been largely determined by the kind
of philosophy previously accepted.
Nominalism has led towards an investigation of the relations of signs
toward other signs. According to Ayer in 1947, "to say what a symbol means
is not to bring it into a relation with some objects, but to interpret it in
terms of other symbols." 1 This conception of meaning was developed by
the formalistic school of mathematical logic (Hilbert, Bernays, Ackermann)
and by the logical syntax of language approach in one phase of the develop-
ment oflogical empiricism. 2
Various forms of behaviorism and pragmatism directed the inquiry of
meaning toward the study of relations between symbols and practical actions.
One of the most important theories of meaning that emerged on that phil-
osophical ground was the late Wittgenstein's view of meaning as the use of
words in certain contexts and situations. 3 Here the search for meaning is
restricted to the narrow sphere of linguistic behavior ("language game").
For Charles Sanders Peirce, the founder of pragmatism, the meaning of a
sign is constituted by the sum of all its practical consequences. 4 Along the
same line Dewey developed his instrumentalist theory according to which
meaning is,a method of action, an instrument of practical action. 5
Empiricism, by virtue of its basic' epistemological principle that all knowl-
edge derives from sensory experience, reduced the field of meaning to the
relation of signs and certain immediate, intersubjective experiences. The
meaning of a proposition is the method of its verification. 6 The theory was
exceedingly restrictive, and it was revised and improved several times during

the Forties and Fifties: various possibilities of its formulation were explored
in terms of verifiability, testability, confirmation, translatability into em-
piricallanguage, etc. The basic idea of construing meaning in terms of sensory
experience was retained, and its restrictiveness only reflects the narrowness of
the starting philosophical assumption.
Transcendental idealism, the view that certain a priori forms of thought
are constitutive of all experience and all knowledge, resulted in a conception
of meaning in terms of the concept that is expressed by the term. Accord-
ing to Casssirer, existence of mind precedes the existence of symbolic forms.
In the flux of experience, mind establishes constant relations among all
the elements of a sensory sequence and creates the symbol in order to fix
those relations. Thus the creation of a symbol "does not generate meaning,
it only stabilizes it and applies it to a special case."7
Realism presupposes an objective being that is independent of conscious-
ness and prior to the symbolizing function. Meaning is, then, relation to being.
Various realist philosophers interpret being in different ways: it could be con-
stituted by particular material objects (materialists, naive realists) or by ideal
essences and values (eidos) which are valid independently of either material
things or the actual psychic life of human beings (phenomenologists); fmally,
being is conceived by objective idealists as a structure of ideas which exist
independently of the human mind and precede the existence of material
things and linguistic signs. In all realism a structural identity of being and
thought is assumed. Being is not conceived as mediated by human practice
and language. It is, thus, nothing but a projection of thought onto objective
reality. That is quite explicit in Frege, who says that the meaning (Bedeutung)
of grammatical predicates are concepts. Concepts are thus supposed to exist
in reality. "There is no sharp distinction between concepts and reality," says
Frege. "I call concepts under which an object is subsumed its properties."8
In Wittgenstein's Tractatus the relation of picturing facts constitutes the
meaning of propositions. "A thought is a logical picture of facts." To under-
stand the meaning of a proposition is to be able to conceive what it would
be like if that proposition were true. 9
In Hussed's phenomenological realism, meanings are ideal units that
allegedly have being independently of both material things and our thoughts.
Hussed's conception of meaning (at an early stage of development of his
philosophy) is obviously close to Platonism. It is different, however, insofar
as he does not speak about ideal existence but about ideal validity of mean-
ing. 10
A contemporary representative of Platonic realism is James Feibleman;

according to him the meaning of words is constituted by their relations to

universals, "ideas which are independent of actuality." 11
Existentialism, in contrast to all other philosophies, does not ask the
question of the meaning of words, propositions and symbolic forms in general,
but asks the question of the meaning of being as such. The best example of
this approach is Heidegger's Sein und Zeit. In contrast to Parmenides, Plato
and Aristotle, Heidegger does not take external physical being as his starting
point but human being (Dasein ).12 The meaning of human existence can
be understood only when one realizes its temporality, historicity and
nnitude. Its freedom involves care, anxiety and dread; its practical engage-
ment leads to loss of one's self and to irresponsible anonymity. All projects
are brought to nothingness in death. Being is hidden but it appears and
reveals itself by the appearance of concrete beings. Language and its investi-
gation and meditation about it become extremely important since language is
"the house of Being." Although language in some contexts conceals Being, in
some others, especially those of thinkers and poets, it reveals Being, makes
it appear. In that sense, "language is not a tool at his (man's) disposal, neither
is it that event which disposes of the supreme possibility of human exis-

Enormous differences among these typical conceptions of meaning stem
from very different ontological commitments, different philosophical meth-
ods, and, consequently, from disparate meanings ascribed to the word
The ontological commitment of the formalist-syntactical theory of mean-
ing is exceedingly weak. No physical or mental reality is presupposed, not
even the existence of human beings, of their experiences or of any form
of historical activity. There are only signs and a certain logical structure
which is reduced to merely syntactical rules - rules of formation and trans-
formation. No wonder such a logically structured system of signs has been
characterized by Hilbert as a "mere game," whereas Carnap denied any
justifIcation for the choice of rules ("There is no morality in logic. Everybody
is free to lay down his own rules of formation and transformation, so long
as one states them explicitly").14 Against the background of such an ex-
tremely weak ontology the only dimension of meaning that can be taken
into account is implicit meaning of signs with respect to inner (syntactical)
structure oflanguage.

Pragmatism and instrumentalism are committed to the existence of human

practice, either in the form of linguistic behavior ("use of words") or activ-
ity in general where practical operations associated with a sign (opera-
tions of producing, reconstructing, measuring, etc.) allow us to identify the
meaning of the sign. The implicit ontological assumptions of pragmatism-
instrumentalism-operationalism are the existence of agents and an environ-
ment upon which they act. However, these remain vague and unstructured.
For Dewey, the external environment is plastic and formless: all forms,
structures, properties of objects are the product of action and inquiry .IS
Equally undifferentiated is the mind. Thinking is reduced to preliminary
speech, "a succession of silently spoken words."16 It follows that meaning
has nothing to do with some illusory mental processes but with practical
action: it is a relation between signs and behavioral operations.
The ontology of empiricism vacillated between "physicalism" and "pheno-
menalism," i.e., between the recognition of the objective existence of physical
things and the more sceptical view that the only existence we can directly
know of is that of experienced phenomena. In both cases the decisive con-
straint to our ontological commitment is intersubjective empirical evidence.
Only those entities are admitted the existence of which can be tested by
intersubjective observation. It follows, then, that only those statements are
meaningful that are testable and verifiable.
Transcendental idealism examines the conditions of the very possibility
of our knowledge and finds them in a priori forms of experience and reason,
in the "transcendental schemes" of Kant and, more generally, in Cassirer's
symbolic forms. 1? Neither physical objects nor experience belong to the
ontological premises of this philosophy. Neo-Kantians have shown that Kant's
presupposition of the "things-in-themselves" was redundant. Experience is
not recognized as primary reality since it always involves ordering, inter-
pretative and objectifying functions of certain mental forms. Within such a
philosophical framework it becomes possible to make a distinction between
subjective and objective meaning. Here objectivity of meaning would not be
related to empirical verifiability but to conceptual universality.lS
Realist ontology is stronger, less restrictive than any other, except exist-
entialism of Heidegger's variety. All kinds of real entities are admitted: from
individual objects, their properties and relations to objective essence~ and
values "in themselves" and to objective ideas and conceptual structures
existing independently of human consciousness (objective idealism). Such a
philosophical ground allows one to interpret meaning as the relation of
designation of certain objects.

Heidegger's ontology is even less critical than the realist one. Realists
project known entities onto objective reality; their basic weakness is a pre-
Kantian naivete with which they identify concepts with objects. Heid~gger
goes very much beyond this traditional metaphysical boldness: being is
immensely richer than any structure of objects that we know. It is hidden
and reveals itself only to a limited degree. As a consequence the meaning of
human existence in relation to such a concealed being cannot be logically
articulated and grasped.

The ontological commitments of the theory of meanin~ expounded in this
book are more critical and restrictive than realism and Heidegger's philosophy
of being; they are stronger than all the other philosophical positions discussed
so far.
The starting point of this ontology is neither being nor conceptual thOUght
nor experience - it is praxis. We are immediately and with full certainty
aware that we act, make efforts to realize certain purposes, meet resistance
from external reality and, as a result of our action, experience changes in
both objective situation and ourselves. Praxis is subjective-objective: we do
not have to cope with insurmountable difficulties of establishing the link
between subject and object, mind and matter, which have been separated
from the start. The initial category of praxis is a poorly differentiated totality
which has to be analyzed and reconstructed as a rich concrete unity of its
A very simple initial analysis derives the subjective and the objective as
the two polar opposites in praxis. On the one hand, the very possibility of
human praxis presupposes the immediate awareness of an environment, the
existence of a purpose, of conceptual thought that articulates this purpose
and gives it a distinctly human character (which is bringing into existence
something potential, something believed to be general, structured, not yet
observable). On the other hand, for praxis to actually take place it is not
sufficient to be immediately conscious of an environment. The environment
must really be there, since by defInition praxis is interaction and in the
absence of an object with which we interact, praxis could not even start.
We know that praxis started since the practical experience that we have
during the process of interaction is essentially different from the passive,
contemplative experience that we have when we read or look at a piece of
art or dream. In contemplative experience anything goes, we may play with

logical possibilities, there are no constraints, except those which we have

laid down ourselves - and even those can in principle be abolished at will.
In practical experience we meet and immediately feel the resistance of an
external reality, we learn that there are constraints which we cannot, even
in principle, remove; we also find out that there is enough regularity in the
world to be able to predict the outcome of our action, but also that the
world is alien to us, never fully known by us, so that a possibility of utter
failure in our undertakings must always be taken into account.
On further analysis we discover the subjective in the objective and the
objective in the subjective. At first it seems that that alien external reality
with which we practically interact, over which we achieve an increasing
measure of control but which also consistently baffles and frustrates us - is
a mere object. But then a distinction becomes more and more necessary.
There is obviously a being beyond our knowledge and understanding, beyond
our practical needs. We know how much we do not know and how often we
fail in our practical efforts. There is a being "in itself." There is nothing
to be said about being in itself - since this is what "in itself' means: for the
time being it is beyond our practical control, even beyond our intellectual
reach, it is independent of any interaction with us, we do not know anything
about it and cannot qualify it in any other way except by the predicate "in
itself." However, there is a growing (no matter how still limited) segment of
being that comes to be "for us," with which we are in practical interaction,
which we are able to describe, explain and foresee using our empirical and
conceptual means. This constitutes our human world. The human world is
some kind of model of the world "in itself' - it is simplified and idealized
but it is reliable for many practical purposes; and to that extent, we have
the best possible reason for saying that its structure is adequate to the struc-
ture of the world "in itself." Obviously the distinction between the two is
historical: with the exponential growth of scholarship, technology and
practical efficiency in all its dimensions, we may say that being "in itself' in-
creasingly gets transformed into being "for us" - even though this process
can never reach its end since being seems to be infmite and inexhaustible.
The important consequence for the theory of meaning is that we never refer
to objects "in themselves" as designata of signs. Signs can only designate
objects of practical interaction which have already been experienced and
conceptualized, no matter how vaguely. Designated objects are objects of
our human world.
Another important aspect of the subjective in the objective is "other
minds." The human world has to be analyzed into nature and society. Our

practical interaction reveals two different dimensions: one is conflict with

natural forces, struggle for survival in a hostile natural environment, util-
ization of natural resources for human purposes, growing production and
control over nature (which, as we see with increasing clarity, may assume a
self-destructive course). Another dimension of praxis is social interaction,
collaboration, conflict and conflict resolution, greater or lesser control over
blind social forces. In the process of social interaction we become aware of
"other minds," of our identity with them and differences from them. That
we have similar experiences, ideas and purposes we come to know since we
succeed in communicating. And that we really succeed in communicating,
that we assign the same meanings to the same signs, we fmd out whenever
we manage to collaborate. Each practical response that was expected in a
communication process, each series of practical operations of a number of
subjects which turn out to be well-harmonized, well-adjusted to each other,
confirms the existence of an invariant, intersubjective structure of com-
munication. That is how we come to know that the other mind exists and is
strncturally similar, even if not qualitatively identical to ours.
On the other hand, analysis reveals the objective in the subjective. Mind
has an inner, unobservable and an outer, intersubjectively observable
dimension. The latt-er is constituted by symbolic forms and signs in general.
A system of signs is the objective, practical form of the existence of con-
sciousness. Even if one could imagine consciousness separated from signs,
there would be nothing fixed, stable, recurrent or structural in that abstrac-
tion of consciousness. In the absence of signs there would be just a chaotic
flux of impressions. However, once we have signs and specifically human
forms of signs - symbols - there is a possibility of the objective existence
of a whole world of culture. What once in history happened as a purely
subjective, creative act was objectified in a text, painting, sculpture or
building. Spirit turned into a world of objects, ready to be interpreted in
ever new ways, time and again able to enrich the spiritual life of the myriads
of subsequent generations.
Once we have to recognize that in addition to individual subjects there
are also collective subjects, that collective ideas and values are far from being
purely subjective but constitute very essential elements of objective social
reality - the simple dichotomy of subject and object must be replaced by a
conceptual continuum of considerable complexity. At one pole of this con-
tinuum is the abstraction of being "in itself," independent of any human
consciousness; at the opposite pole of the continuum is the abstraction of
a "pure consciousness" of an individual who is isolated from society and

does not take part in any practical activity. Everything that happens in the
real historical world is both subjective and objective, but we have to deter-
mine in each particular case precisely in what sense it is subjective and in
what sense it is objective. Furthermore, we can establish the distance from
either of the two poles of the continuum and determine the respective degree
of subjectivity and of objectivity. Most subjective are individual psychological
processes. But even there an experience, thought or feeling may become the
object of scrutiny and critical examination at the level of individual self
consciousness. Symbolically expressed mental contents are objectified; while
they continue to be related to specific individual subjects, they begin to exist
independently of them, to the extent to which there are other subjects who
are able to interpret them. Social ideas and norms, cultural forms, political
institutions are products of human subjects, very much determined by their
subjective experiences and the level of their spiritual development. But they
are objective in the sense that they have acquired a physical, spatial dimen-
sion of their existence as written texts, records or habits of overt behavior.
As such they are independent of any individual consciousness and continue
to exist long after the disappearance of those who participated in their
While both space and time are dimensions of objective being, existence
in space (material existence in contrast to psychological existence in time
only) secures a greater degree of objectivity. Non-recorded culture, dances,
music, oral literature, may live for centuries, transmitted from generation
to generation. If it exists only in time, in living performances, it lasts only as
long as those who know how to perform and interpret it live. It is indepen-
dent of any individual person who belongs to that culture but not indepen-
dent of the existence of that part of humanity which produced and maintained
that culture. When these people perish, all those unwritten, unrecorded
products of their culture perish too. Once these cultural products are given
spatial, material form they survive for other cultures, for humankind as a
whole, since sooner or later the codes necessary for their interpretation will
be rediscovered. Yet no matter how highly objective (in the sense of indepen-
dence of a growing number of individual minds) a cultural phenomenon is,
it is relative to human (or any other conscious) beings who are able to inter-
pret it. Outside of this relation it exists only as a stone or as a canvas covered
with paints, or a heap of printed paper. Culture has no objectivity outside
of the relation to humankind as a collective subject. Only natural phenomena
would continue to exist if all of humanity were to disappear - in that sense
they may be ascribed a maximum possible objectivity (short of being "things

in themselves" since we can think and speak about them only to the extent
to which we have identified and described them in terms of our available
conceptual tools).
This kind of ontology does not only do much greater justice to the ways
we actually use the terms "subject" and "object," it also offers greater
simplicity in building a theory of meaning on its ground and allows one to
avoid some unsurmountable difficulties of those theories which assume a
dualism of subject and object.
This dualism is surprisingly evident in much of Western philosophy and
also in official Marxism. When Wittgenstein in the Tractatus divided the world
into the facts and propositions that picture them, he did something that every
dialectical materialist would have to accept on his own ontological grounds.
The world is divided into matter and mind, matter is objective, mind is sub-
jective and the latter reflects the former. On the other hand, Soviet psy-
chology has been resting for decades on Pavlovian behaviorism. Similar
behaviorism reigns in the West.

As a consequence of the reduction of the sphere of the objective to physical
objects and of the sphere of the subjective to intersubjectively observed
responses in language and overt behavior, two important problems turned out
to be unsolvable.
The first is: what is designated by all kinds of symbols that obviously do
not refer to physical objects? The second is: what is expressed by symbols
that makes human operations with symbols different from those of computers
or animals?
If semantics studies the relation of a sign to a designated object, we must
either be able to specify in each case what the designated object is, or to say
that some symbols do not have the semantical dimension of their meaning.
Once designata are reduced to physical objects, a number of difficult
questions arise: May the designatum be a hypothetical physical object, a
construct that refers to something existing that we poorly and vaguely
understand, for example, a "black hole"? What is the designated object of
mythological, religious or literary terms? What is signified by metaphysical
concepts? How can one think something about nothing? What do mathe-
matical and logical symbols designate, for example, those of imaginary
numbers, geometrical figures or logical constants?
A rich ontology in which different kinds of phYSical and cultural objects

are distinguished allows one to give a satisfactory answer to such questions.

Whatever other dimensions of meaning may exist, one is necessarily the
relation of the sign towards a designated object. We cannot be conscious
without being conscious of something. (Brentano and Husserl have charac-
terized this necessary feature of all human consciousness as intentionality:
consciousness always intends an object.) If there is a set of signs that as a
whole have semantical meaning, i.e., refer to something in reality, how is it
possible that some of the signs designate objects and some do not? It seems
plausible that those which do not are redundant. And yet their function is
construed as one of connecting others. (Russell, for example, thought that
the logical constants "if... then," "and," "or" and "not" are "incomplete"
symbols.) They do not designate anything, but are necessary for connecting
those symbols which do designate. This makes sense only if we assume that
the world is a haphazard collection of things which are totally unrelated and
lack any structure. Then our empirical terms would designate intersubjec-
tively observable things, whereas all structuring would be projected by us
using our "incomplete symbols." To see that in reality this is not so, it
suffices to consider any case of our practical activity. The condition of the
very possibility of any practical activity is that the environment in which we
act is structured independently of our action. We are able to make coordi-
nated, purposeful moves and to control what we are doing -whether walking,
swimming, playing or working - only owing to the fact that the environment
is already structured before we begin to modify and restructure it. Those
symbols which do not refer to things and to their observable properties
designate various elements of the structure: from relations among things
(above-below, between etc.) to most general relations (condition-consequence,
conjunction, disjunction) and to various kinds of possibilities.
The second important problem which cannot be solved when we split
the world into purely objective and purely subjective states of affairs is how
to give a reliable scientific account of specifically human communication
without reducing it to mechanical behavior comparable with that of machines
and non-human organisms. Once only overt behavior was admitted to the
realm of the objective, and science presumably had to deal with the objective,
intersubjectively testable, it followed that a good theory of communication
and meaning had to disregard all that was "merely" mental, admittedly
subjective. A better example of "reification," of reducing human beings to
things, can hardly be found. Surely human beings do not only use signs,
they use them consciously, they associate with them all kinds of feelings,
images, intentions, hopes, projects - which very incompletely and often

with great delay come to expression in overt behavior or in the way that
signs have been used. New subjective meanings which precede new ways of
using signs are the products of a complex mental process which involves:
self-consciousness, awareness of limitations in past conduct, revolt against
the routine, against the boredom of many repetitions, creative mutations,
autonomous choices of new ways of acting, of different responses to the same
stimuli. All that is entirely disregarded in the behaviorist paradigm. Once
the "ghost in the machine" has been eliminated, we are reduced to automata.
Socialization resembles programming of a computer. like a computer we
follow the rules of the program, learn and correct ourselves within the boun-
daries of what was prescribed by the program. In the same way in which a
computer is reprogranuned from time to time, a Skinnerian social engineering
will reinforce or extinguish some of our habits of responding. When writers
like Huxley or Orwell described such a reified world, they did it with bitter
irony. The purpose of such negative utopias was to warn us that the price
for all the technological wonders and all those perfectly efficient social
conditions of the "brave new world" was a total loss of freedom and culture.
When some behaviorist scholars describe a very similar world of "social
engineering," they seem to offer it as the only possible paradigm of a truly
"free society." But the only difference in comparison with the "animal farm"
may be that technocrats and not political bureaucrats are those "more equal
than others."
Once we understand that in all subjective phenomena there is one element
of objectivity that can be scientifically examined, we need not resort to all
those gross behaviorist restrictions that eradicate all that is specifically human
in language and communication. A wealth of objective information may be
obviously derived from the study of various texts: documents, archives,
memoirs, autobiographies, journals, literary descriptions, newspaper accounts,
interviews. None of this need be "objective" in the sense of being disinter-
ested, impartial, value-free or well-controlled by the rules of scientific method.
Each particular item may be biased, emotional, guided by one or other practi-
cal interest. But a skilled researcher will discover in this maze of one-sided,
mutually contradictory accounts the invariant, truly objective elements. We
will never be able to establish Qualitatively identical elements in various
individual experiences and interpretations. We might be able to reconstruct
structurally identical features of both what happened and how various types
of people psychologically reacted to it, and what typical motives are likely
to guide them in their subsequent practical activity.
One could in fact distinguish among many layers of objectivity in the

mental life of individuals. It is one world which we see with different eyes
and different practical interests: in spite of all inequalities, some of the
world's constraints and potentialities are the same for all, and very different
people do not fail to perceive them. The sun and water, air and earth resources
are there, but they are limited and considerably depleted; furthermore, there
is now the objective possibility of total self-destruction. People who live in
this world have similar basic capacities (to reason, to communicate in sym-
bols, to act creatively, etc.) and have similar needs under similar conditions.
They very much disagree because conditions are not similar. However, there is
little doubt that other conditions being equal, they prefer peace to war,
mutual care to egoism, creation to destruction, reason to insanity. In this one
world with one humankind, many people fmd themselves in the same situa-
tion: in the "third world," inability to overcome poverty, to accumulate
enough goods to "take off' and develop; in the "second world," inefficiency
of production, a heavy burden of armaments, progressive privatization; in
the "first world," inability to continue exponential growth and wasteful
consumption, and at the same time provide armaments and welfare. In each
of these situations large groups (classes, nations, ethnic minorities, sexes,
generations) have common interests, worries and aspirations. Even in the life
of one single individual there might be something objective: a character that
is unique with respect to all other persons but which is more or less a stable
personal structure that allows us to understand, explain and even, to some
extent, predict future acts of that individual.
Clearly, empirical data usable for scientific research must meet some
criteria of objective validity and reliability. However, empiricism laid down
a narrow, much too restrictive demand: intersubjectivity of observation. What
really counts as objective is not whether a number of researchers were able
to observe one and the same event but whether in the number of individual
empirical reports (which need not be based on observation) there are invariant
elements. It is possible that a number of observers of a behavioral pheno-
menon come up with conflicting reports and that a number of introspective
reports describing subjective reactions to this phenomenon disclose a remark-
able degree of identity. It is also important to realize that behavioral data
might be much less significant and informative than data about subjective
motives, aspirations or dispOSitions to act. Only the latter provide knowledge
about not yet observable strong psychological currents, about real degrees of
acceptance of a regime, about emergent social movements and sudden social
All this leads to the conclusion that the realm of subjectivity in general

is not only a very important but also a legitimate subject matter of scientific
study; that what gives it legitimacy is an ontological conception that dis-
closes various levels of objectivity in subjective phenomena; and that, there-
fore, study of subjective or mental meaning must be part of a sound con-
temporary theory of meaning.

The two decades that have passed since the publication of this book have
considerably strengthened the case against psychological and linguistic
behaviorism. To a considerable extent the revolt against the dominating
school of thought in social science and philosophy has been a part of a general
cultural crisis. The Second World War has been followed by two decades of
remarkable material growth and prosperity. When the most urgent material
needs were met, at least in the more developed countries, it became obvious
that the price for technological and economic progress was a moral and
spiritual desert in which the younger generation found itself. The bomb
changed the entire conception of time: the futUre lost its meaning. Unjust
interventions and wars of superpowers undermined confidence in govern-
ments. Kennedy and Khrushchev were the last two leaders who aroused hope,
and achieved the endorsement of the intellectual elites in their countries:
one was assassinated, the other ousted. There were still grounds for belief in
further exponential growth. However, the net result of that growth seemed to
be a mindless consumerism, a growing gap between a hedonistic and a starving
world, a threatening pollution and depletion of the natural environment.
Neither the philosophy that was dominant nor mainstream social science
offered any understanding of this crisis. This was not merely the lack of a
sense of direction and a poor choice of research programs. Mainstream
scholarship lacked the conceptual and methodological tools even to begin
to understand the nature of the malaise. It was completely geared to a
"neutral," "disinterested" study of existing trends, of the conditions of
lasting balance; it seemed to be totally conformistic and co-opted by the
system. Science was identified as one of the most important forces for pre-
serving the status quo. Therefore, with good reasons, it was held responsible
for the threat of nuclear disaster, for pollution, for its services to ideological
manipulation and the cold war, for total silence about critical issues of the
The revolt of the Sixties did not change the political or economic structure
of any of the societies in which it took place - from the USA to France and

Spain, to Poland, Yugoslavia and Turkey, to Sri Lanka and Japan. But it
undermined the values of official ideology and culture and opened the gate
for a serious and sustained search for alternatives.
When the storm of anti-Vietnam War resistance was over and a cultural
revolution that did not rest on firm intellectual foundations had ended, a
mere return to old analytical philosophy and behaviorist social science
was no longer possible in the USA, in spite of all the pressure that came from
basic pillars of the intellectual establishment. An unusual interest developed
in Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Husser!, Heidegger, Sartre, Weber, Schutz, Gadamer,
Foucault, Ricoeur, Habermas and other Continental thinkers.
Many Anglo-American philosophers and social scholars have for the first
time begun to seriously consider that in addition to mainstream analytical-
empirical orientation, there are also other important theoretical orientations,
and that in addition to explanation (in terms of objective laws and rules),
there are other equally important scientific concerns, such as understanding
(in terms of subjective motives and intentions) and critique (from an ex-
plicitly stated value standpoint). The methodological orientation associated
with the concept of understanding (Verstehen) will be especially relevant
to all subsequent developments of the theory of meaning. Bridges were built
between those different orientations in Explanation and Understanding. 19
Von Wright insisted that before explaining an event, one had previously to
understand its meaning. On the other hand, in an article on hermeneutical
science Charles Taylor expressed an important observation about the re-
levancy of understanding for social critique: in the same way in which without
understanding, the mainstream "bargaining" culture cannot recognize the
possibility of human variation, a critical, revolutionary activity might be
incapable of seeing "any limits to mankind's ability to transform itself.,,20
However, theoreticians of interpretation themselves have traveled a long
way from early metaphysical and subjectivist formulations of hermeneutics
and phenomenology toward greater precision and scientific objectivity.
Where the old hermeneuticians Droyssen and Dilthey spoke of "empathy"
as a special subjective power by which one can grasp the subjective meaning
of cultural symbols and individual acts, modern hermeneutics has elaborated
sophisticated methods of "decoding texts" and "reading" the agent's "self-
defmitions." In a comparable way modern phenomenological social science
does not make much use of Husserl's multiple epoche and constitution of the
"absolute ego." The method of ideal types developed by Weber and Schutz
allows the scholar to attribute typical goals and purposes to fictitious,
"typical" individuals in everyday life. This method still requires the insight

sensibility of the scholar in the effort to comprehend the self-interpretation

and self-knowledge of the agent. However, the typical is not purely subjective,
it is an objective structure of actual subjective meanings. It should be vali-
dated by meeting the criteria of consistency and adequacy, 21 and is open to
the critical examination of other scholars.
One of the greatest contributions of interpretative science is the develop-
ment of a method of validation which does much more justice to the specific
nature of social research than the customary hypothetico-deductive model of
the analytical-empirical approach. Validation ,there is deductive derivation
from some initial postulates in accordance with explicitly stated rules. Here,
in interpretative science, validation is an open-ended search for consensus
in a dialogue between conflicting interpretations. The dialogue is an argu-
mentative process in which one party expresses a claim and the other chal-
lenges it and tries to defeat it. This is the structure of legal reasoning 22 and
of literary criticism and of historical interpretation. 23 In legal practice the
dialogue ends with the implementation of the judge's verdict. "Neither in
literary criticism nor in social science is there such a last word. Or, if there
is any, we call that violence."24
Mentalism, the recognition of mental meaning, and in general a radical
alternative to behaviorism, has prevailed during the last two decades in at
least some of its forms. The more controversial form is the one that originates
from hermeneutics and phenomenology. It starts with subjective data and
conflicting subjective meanings and seeks to resolve conflicts and to reach
consensus. The end product of interpretation can neither be "verified,"
demonstrated to be objective nor merely "falsified" in a Popperian sense. It
can only be challenged, thus giving way to a renewed dialogue. Another,
less controversial form of mentalism developed within the mainstream an-
alytical-empirical orientation itself. The starting point here is not "readings"
of subjective data made possible owing to a special sensibility, intuitive
power or capacity for insight. One starts with objective, "brute" behavioral
data: speech acts and actions. Words can do things - as Austin put it. 25
Speech acts and actions are in general here to be interpreted, and for that
purpose one can construct "ideal models,,26 similar to the ideal types of
Weber and Schutz.
And in order to account for observed behavioral data, one has to assume
that people have intentions, motives, mental images and unconscious desires.
Meaning cannot be reduced to the mere use of words and other signs (as
Wittgenstein proposed 27). Otherwise we would not be able to distinguish
between the linguistic behavior of conscious beings and that of machines,

between normal corrununication in which symbols effectively convey a

certain intended "sense-content" and a more or less misleading use of symbols
which does not correspond to actual thoughts, feelings and intentions.
Without the assumption of a multi-leveled mental .meaning, important
insights about unconscious drives, "rationalization," "bad faith" and psy-
chological "repression" would lack any sense. Contemporary social science
and psychology would be irrunensely impoverished if all such mental entities
and processes were to be eliminated. There is no need for it; they even pass
the criteria of testability: they are regularly manifested under specifiable
conditions. After all, the ghost is still in the machine.

Finally, an additional explanation is needed for the very title of the book.
What does it mean for a theory of meaning to be dialectical? In the Introduc-
tion dialectics is defmed as a general philosophical method characterized
by "a procedure of investigation that is maximally objective, comprehensive
dynamic and concrete."28 In 1959, when this was written, I emphasized
those features of the method that made it a powerful conceptual tool in
the struggle against arbitrary Stalinistic ideological manipulation. (A good
example of that manipulation is Stalin's comment on his theory of the
state. That the state must first be strengthened in order to wither away
looks contradictory, he says, but such "dialectical" contradictions are con-
stitutive of each development.) When presented to a Western philosophical
audience, the dialectical method has to. shift the focus of its own self-under-
In the very root of the word (dialektos - discourse, dialektike tekhne -
art of debate) there is an indication of the implicit tendency to overcome
the narrowness, partiality and one-sidedness of one particular view. The
purpose of a dialogue is not merely to refute the opponent's claim but
also to overcome the limitations of one's own ideas, and to generate a con-
ception that meets the challenges and furnishes answers to questions. An
implicit tendency toward totality is obvious in Plato when he tries to "dia-
lectically" embrace all ideas and arrange them hierarchically. In modern
German idealistic philosophy dialectics is a method of system building; for
Hegel, totality is the dialectically developed World Spirit that eventually comes
to embrace the entire conceptual structure of the world. Marx rejected the
idealistic background, but preserved a wholistic approach to investigated phe-
nomena. All incomplete results, are, therefore, half-truths. One can distinguish

but cannot separate economic, political, legal, cultural, psychological dimen-

sions of reality. Consequently analysis has to be followed by synthesis, decom-
position by reconstruction. Partial, abstract, incomplete products of research
must be reintegrated, and the whole, which was obscure, vague, opaque,
abstract at the start of inquiry, now becomes clear and concrete.
In the case of the study of meaning, one has a complex, undifferentiated
situation at the beginning. A human individual uses a sign (and speech acts
and actions too belong to the broad category of signs) to convey information
or a thought, feeling or command. Other individuals have a mental disposition
to associate the sign with another object or with a set of practical operations
relevant to the determination of that object. One can immediately experience
what this other "designated" object is, how it can be identified, measured,
created; this can be directly shown to him. But also one can understand that
connection in a purely verbal way, if the given sign is related to some other
signs in a way that is regulated by certain objective rules. A sign means
something in a definite community. And yet it may mean one thing to one
individual and something else to another. Often we cannot say what this
thing is unless we can list practical operations needed to identify or produce
it. It seems to follow that these operations cannot be abstracted from the
meaning. How do we know what a word means if we do not know how to
use it? On the other hand, it seems that it has a meaning independently of
any use and any mental disposition to associate some object with it. A
dictionary says what the word means simply by bringing it into definite
relations with other words. When the sign in question is not a word but
a cultural symbol, a speech act or an action, there are no dictionaries to
help us. Each person may come up with a unique subjective interpretation.
An objective, social interpretation may be proposed by an ideal-typical
construction and, at least for the time being, established by consensus.
There are obviously several dimensions of such meaningful communica-
tion with signs. We have seen earlier how, depending on their philosophical
background, various researchers focus on one or the other dimension: the
relation of a sign toward other signs, toward the designated object, toward
practical operations which are necessary to identify or generate that object,
toward mental dispositions of the speaker or those of the hearer, toward
social relations in which a consensus concerning the meaning of a sign may
be reached.. The result is a cluster of fragmented theories which reduce
meaning to only one of its dimensions and appear to be incompatible with
each other.
What characterizes a dialectical approach to such a complex situation is

bringing all those one-sided, opposite theories into an imaginary dialogue,

establishing the elements of unity in them, discovering their basic limitations
that must be overcome but also the elements of truth in them which have to
be reintegrated within a comprehensive new theory.
The original version of this work published in Serbocroatian contained a
part of 134 pages, dealing with a critique of various competing theories of
meaning in contemporary philosophy. In the light of subsequent develop-
ments in the Sixties and Seventies, this part would have to be considerably
expanded. Since in this edition the book had to be abbreviated rather than
expanded, it was omitted altogether. However, the results of that critique
are implicit in the analysis of meaning offered here.,

It was obvious already at the very beginning of this preface how much in-
debted I must be to A. J. Ayer for arousing my interest in this field and for
opening the first clear-cut avenues into the jungle. He was a great teacher,
not only in offering knowledge of meaning and demanding clarity from his
students, but also in showing practically how wonderfully lucid philosophy
can be.
I am also obliged to a circle of my younger colleagues at the University
of Belgrade who have systematically discussed problems of language and
meaning in the history of philosophy and contemporary philosophy of
language during the period 1958-61. This was an almost ideal "speech
community" and a strongly supportive environment for work on such a
major project.
I should also like to express my deepest gratitude to Professor Robert
Cohen, not only for making the publication of this book in English possible
but for all that he has done for Yugoslav philosophy during the last ten years.

26 October 1982 MIHAILO MARKOVIC


I A. J. Ayer, Thinking and Meaning, London, 1947, p. 27.

2 Rudolf Carnap, Die Logische Syntax der Sprache, Wien, 1934.
3 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford, 1953, 43. This view
was further developed by the Oxford School. According to its main representative,
Gilbert Ryle, "To say that an x has a certain meaning means to say that x has a certain

use, i.e., a set of rules and conventions that regulate its use" (Weitz, 'Oxford Philosophy,'
The Philosophical Review 12 (1953),187-233).
4 C. S. Peirce, 'How to Make Our Ideas Oear,' Collected Papers, Cambridge, Mass.,
1931-35, Vol. V, 9.
5 John Dewey, Experience and Nature, Chicago and London, 1926, p. 187.
6 Following Wittgenstein's Tractatus, Friedrich Waismann stated this simple formula in
'Logische Analyse der Wahrscheinlichkeitsbegriff,' Erkenntnis, No. 2-4, p. 229.
7 Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Yale University Press, New Haven,
1953, Vol. I, p.l06.
8 Gottlob Frege, Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, eds.
Geach and Black, Oxford, 1952, pp. 49, 57.
9 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, New York, 1922, 4.024.
10 Edmund Husserl, Logische Untersuchungen 1900-1901, Vol. II, p. 125.
11 James Feibleman, The Revival of Realism, Chapel Hill, 1946, p. 260.
12 Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, M. Niemeyer, Tiibingen 1949, p. 7. (Being and
Time, Harper & Row, New York and Evanston, 1926, p. 27.)
13 Martin Heidegger,ErlDuterungen zu Holderlin's Dichtung, V. Klostermann, Frankfurt
am Main, 1951, S. 35. (Holderlin and the Essence of Poetry, Regnery, Chicago, 1949,
14 Rudolf Carnap, op. cit.
15 John DeweY,Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, 1938, p. 372.
16 Dewey,Experience and Nature, p.166.
17 Ernst Cassirer, Philosophie der Symbolischen Formen. (I. Die Sprache, 1923; II.
Das Mythische Denken, 1925; III. Phiinomenologie der Erkenntnis, 1929, Berlin.) The
Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Yale University Press, New Haven,1953.
18 According to Lotze, a universal concept is a rule that articulates sensory impressions
into a series. (Rudolf Lotze, Logik, Leipzig, 1880, pp. 14,29.)
19 Georg Henrik von Wright, Explanation and Understanding, Cornell University Press,
20 Charles Taylor, 'Interpretation and the Sciences of Man,' in Interpretative Social
Science: A Reader, eds. Rabinow and Sullivan, University of California Press, Berkeley,
Los Angeles and London, 1979, p. 68.
21 "Fulfillment of the postulate of logical consistency warrants the objective validity
of the thought objects constructed by the social scientist .... Compliance with the
postulate of adequacy warrants the consistency of the constructs of common-sense
experience of the social reality." (Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers, Martinus Nijhoff,
The Hague 1964, Vol. I, pp. 63-64.)
22 H. L. A. Hart, 'The Ascription of Responsibility and Rights; Proceedings of the
Aristotelian Society 49 (1948), 171-94.
23 Paul Ricoeur, 'The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as A Text,'
in Interpretative Social Science: A Reader, eds. Rabinow and Sullivan, University of
California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1979, p. 94.
24 Ibid.
25 John Austin, How to Do Things with Words, Harvard University Press, Cambridge,
Mass., 1962.
26 John Searle, Speech Acts, Cambridge University Press, London, 1965, p. 56.
27 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, pp. 6, 20.
28 See p. 19.

The sort of sceptic who doubts the true development of human culture and
fmds confirmation in philosophy of his thesis of eternal variation on the same
basic topics and constant reiteration of the same motifs should be reminded
of the history of the problem of language and meaning.
In traditional philosophy, with rare exceptions, this problem by and
large did not exist. Philosophers were primarily concerned with the nature of
the world, the basic substances of which it was comprised, the general laws
prevailing, the meaning of life, whether human action was free, how truth
was to be discovered, the basic forms of thought, basic human values, etc.
Philosophy more or less lost sight of the fact, or implicitly assumed it to be
non-problematic that these questions, as well as the various possible answers,
must first and foremost be formulated in some kind of language, and that
in all the discussions and investigations through which we endeavor to reach
a solution we must first directly encounter statements and words: our own
words, through which we endeavor to express and transmit to others our
thoughts, and the words of others which we attempt to interpret. When we
become conscious of language, that medium of all our communication, to
which we are so accustomed that most often it escapes our notice, certain
fundamental problems immediately arise: what is the true social meaning of
such extremely abstract expressions as "the world," "substance," "laws,"
"meaning," "freedom," "truth," "value," etc.? How do we know how to
use these expressions in the process of social communication in such a manner
that both we and our interlocutor or reader think of the same thing? How
do we know that anything at all in reality corresponds to these expressions?
What are the criteria to judge that the questions we pose and the answers we
give have any sort of meaning for all people or at least for all the members of
a given society? What conditions must be met so that the linguistic expressions
used may have a definite social meaning and so that communication may
be maximally effective?
The greatest classical philosophers, and particularly realist and rationalist
philosophers, assumed a priori that words were inseparably linked to things,
and that in language and its general categories (universals) we encounter the
structure of reality itself. Logos is simultaneously the law of words, spirit,

and objective being. In Plato's Cratylus, Socrates, in contrast to Hermogen's

doubts, resolutely insists that between words and things there is an intimate
natural connection and that knowledge of the meaning of a term is at the
same time knowledge of the essence of the thing itself, since all words indicate
the nature of things. In the Organon and other works, Aristotle always pro-
ceeds from the syntactical and semantic forms of the Greek language in
dealing with logical, metaphysical, and scientific problems. For him the
structure of language, thought, and being is one and the same. The thrust
in language is also dominant in medieval philosophy - language is of divine
origin and existed prior to man: "In the beginning was the word and the
word was with God .... " For Descartes mind and language were inseparably
linked - language is a product of the human spirit. In all the various languages
there exists fundamentally one eternal, rational form of language, lingua
One can not assert that the critical analysis oflanguage in modern philoso-
phy has not had many precursors, particularly among the Empiricists and
Sceptics. But it was never before as fundamental and systematic, and never
had the paramount or fundamental significance attached to it that it has
today. Never have so many philosophers, including the leading figures,
been concerned with the problems of language, symbolic forms generally,
or meaning. There are a number of reasons for this state of affairs in modern



Proceeding from specific to general reasons, primary consideration should

be given to the influence which the development of symbolic logic has had
on modern philosophical thought. The aspiration to create an ideally precise
symbolic language is centuries old - we encounter it as far back as the 12th
century, in Lullus' Ars magna. But it was only in the mid-19th century that
George Boole and August de Morgan created the first successful symbolic
language applicable in logic. From that time logic assumed a new orientation.
While in the past it was often conceived as the art of thinking, the science of
proper thinking, or even as the science of the structure of being (ontology),
for the greatest logicians in the second half of the 19th and first half of the
20th century logic was first and foremost a science of noncontradictory
symbolic systems. Since in the course of time the view came to prevail that
no metaphysical interpretation should be given in advance to these systems,

the sole alternative that remained was to consider these symbolic systems as
artificial languages. At first, logicians were chiefly occupied with the problems
of the syntactical structure oflaIlguage. In the nineteen-thirties, the problems
of the meaning of symbolic expressions became the topic of the day. A new
discipline oflogic emerged - semantics.
The investigation of meaning quickly shifted from the domain of artificial
languages to the field of natural (ordinary) language. Particularly in English
philosophy, a reaction took place with respect to the earlier harsh criticism
of ordinary language. The formerly widely accepted belief that the ambiguity
and indefmiteness of the expressions of ordinary language were the chief cause
for the lack of clarity and precision of philosophy was opposed by new
forms of realism, which held that the sole possible point of departure in
philosophy was the meaning of the terms of ordinary language. Nevertheless,
the modern attempts to re-establish confidence in ordinary language no
longer proceeded in the old manner, on the basis of an assumption of identity
between the structure of language and the structure of reality. Today it is
believed that these two structures are, at most, similar, implying the existence
of many deviations. Accordingly, any conclusions about being, on the basis
of language, entail an unacceptable logical jump. The meaning of linguistic
terms can no longer be conceived in the old comfortable manner. Many
expressions are not nouns and do not refer to anything. Furthermore, in the
case of nouns, there is the question of whether their meaning is suited to
the nature of the thing itself. What, then, is meaning? In recent years many
theories have been developed which attempt to answer this question in a
variety of ways.
The problem of meaning quickly became of interest to other philosophers
in addition to logicians. Once attention was directed to the symbolic character
of language and the entire process of learning and cognition, it was not
difficult to see that art as a whole was of a symbolic character. To interpret
a work of art meant first and foremost to understand or emotionally experi-
ence the meaning of words, colors, forms, musical tones, or the movements
of the human body. Similarly, to understand the moral value of a human
act, whether one judged it to be good or bad, meant first and foremost to
know the meaning of the symbols "good" and "bad," "right" and "wrong".
In The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 1 Ernst Cassirer comprehensively
investigated all the other symbolic forms - mythical, religious, and ritual.
Gradually the concept of meaning was considerably broadened. While once
"to understand meaning" meant to experience an idea or image of an object,
Richards and Ogden, in their classic work The Meaning of Meaning, 2 added

"emotive" meaning to intellectual or cognitive meaning. Later Morris pro-

posed the additional category of "prescriptive" meaning, characteristic of
symbols that perfonn the function of prescribing certain kinds of activity.
Now it has been accepted that many symbols mean something to us by
arousing certain feelings or stimulating us to action.
The problem of meaning assumed still greater breadth and significance
for philosophy with the realization that linguistic and artistic symbols are
merely a category of a broad class of objects that function as signs in our
lives. For a conscious being who understands their meaning, written or
spoken words are signs to the extent that they direct his attention to a
certain real or imaginary object to which they are constantly related. Thus
when we cross a street and hear the sound of a hom close to us, we become
aware of the proximity of an automobile and hurry to get out of its way or
wait until it passes. Man is not the sole conscious being capable of interpreting
a sign. This ability also extends to any animal that has acquired a conditioned
reflex and is capable of associating two objects in such a way that the appear-
ance of one (the sign) arouses the same reaction as if the other (the reference)
were present. Considerations of this sort open up a series of problems. For
example, what are signs and what is the difference between signs generally
and symbols? What are the basic elements of the situations in which we
operate with signs? What are all the types of signs in existence, and what
are the basic types of their use?
Pioneering work in this direction was carried out in the nineteenth century
by Charles Sanders Peirce. Unfortunately, his work remained unknown to
the philosophic community at large until the publication of his collected
papers in the nineteen-thirties. 3
Charles Morris systematically developed a new science of signs which he
called "serniotics."4 It is divided into three basic disciplines: syntax, (the
analysis of relations among signs), semantics (the investigation of the relation
between signs and references), and pragmatics (the study of the use of signs,
i.e. the relationship between signs and the people who use them).
Peirce considered a sign to be anything that mediated between an object
and a mental process. s When something is able to replace another thing in
the production of a certain mental effect, then it is a sign (representamen,
according to Peirce)" the mental effect is the interpretant, and the thing
which the sign replaces is its object. 6
The explanation of the tenn "sign" by means of the terms "mental effect,"
"thought," "consciousness," etc., was later subjected to severe criticism.
The argument cited was that in principle we cannot know whether something

is a sign without having a method to determine whether the sign has aroused
a mental process in the mind of the interpretor. According to these critics
the sole possible method is to study the behavior of the given subject. And if
that is the case, then the only way to defme a sign is by means of the physical
reactions which its manifestation arouses. This defmition was provided by
Morris himself, as follows:

If an object A directs the behavior of a group of organisms 0 toward the attainment of

certain practical objectives in a manner similar (although not necessarily identical) to
the manner in which the group would be directed toward the same goal in the same
situation by another object B, then for the group of organisms 0 the object A is a
sign signifying the object B. 7

Since not even this type of defInition is faultless for in the case of highly
advanced, conscious beings the use of signs is not accompanied by any sort
of directly observable physical reactions (for example listening to concert
music), disputes arose between the "mentalists" and "behaviorists" around
numerous questions of the theory of signs and meaning. These have not
yet been resolved in favor of either school, but have aroused great interest
in the issues among the ranks of specialistis.



Today the problem of meaning increasingly occupies the center of philosophic

interest and thus the increasing concern of contemporary man with the various
forms of symbolic activity has revealed certain essential humanistic problems.
A very large and important part of our lives is spent in the creation of
symbols and the interpretation of their meaning. We speak, read, write,
listen to music, look at paintings, photographs, and charts, and direct our
work by means of signs conveyed to us by various instruments and machines:
we transmit by means of signs a wide range of information without which
our existence would be inconceivable. To a large degree our social relations
are conditioned by observance of various ground rules of a symbolic nature
which permit order and mutual understanding in the most efficient manner.
With the 'development of technology and civilization, contemporary man
more and more manipulates symbols and less and less handles material things
in their direct natural aspect. Even those physical objects which remain in
their essentially material form take on a new meaning for man: they become
the means for the achievement of some human purpose; they tum inta-signs

and symbols of something else which is more important than the objects
themselves, insofar as we are in a position to interpret them correctly. Here
we encounter a special aspect of the humanization of nature. Man himself
subjugates nature and transforms it according to his own needs and purposes
not only by the production of new material objects but also by the production
of new meanings, and by attaching a more profound human significance
to the objects about him. In this manner all natural phenomena - clouds
and the moon in lyric poetry, fruit and vegetables in a still-life painting,
mountains and rivers in historical and political writing - all take on a symbolic
function and become material points around which thoughts and feelings of
an interpersonal nature and meaning are concentrated.
However, this tendency to humanize nature by symbolic transformation
is always accompanied by the opposing tendency to alienation of symbols
from man. The spontaneous development of the meaning of these symbols
often brought about a situation in which symbols began to exercise a function
precisely opposite to what had originally been intended. Instead of informing,
transmitting a clear message evoking a definite feeling; instead of uniting
people, symbols often misinform, divide, activate an emotive resistance,
became barriers and agents of disunity. Instead of being instruments of
freedom and of control over natural and social forces, symbols become
hostile forces controling man and preventing him from seeing clearly himself
and others. This specific aspect of man's enslavement to his own tools of
expression was noted by the great English poet, painter, and mystic, William
"In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear." 8
The point is that language and other symbolic forms are a colossal means
of imposing dominating ideas, beliefs, moral norms, and stereotyped emo-
tional reactions on every individual in a given social community. It is true,
only owing to speech, to the use of symbols, man succeeds in creating his
society, in establishing links of communication and cooperation with other
people, in material and cultural production. Only in this way is he able to
overcome the bounds of his own individual consciousness and to become
a participant in collective psychological events variously termed 'the spirit
of the times,' 'national consciousness', 'public opinion,' etc. Unfortunately,
throughout history there have been few forms of socialization which have

not been abused at times by someone. What seems to be universally social

is often only some covert, special, group interest, opposed to the whole of
society. The problem is always whether, in consciously rejecting a part of
his own individuality in order to accept the forms of conduct which are
characteristic of the surroundings in which he lives, man really becomes part
of humanity, and really transforms himself into a 'social being.' Language
and various other forms of social symbolic activity always manifest themselves
not merely as the supreme instrument for linking one person with another,
but also as the ideal means of ensuring the sovereign hegemony of privileged
social groups. There is enormous power in magic ritual, religiOUS teachings and
ceremonies, ideological slogans, and in general in cliches and the stereotypes
which prevail in a given environment, to bring together, unite, and create
the kind of social cohesion which sometimes produces total self-forgetfulness
and the fanatical submersion of the individual in the collective. Throughout
history this power has been used for anti-social ends, to establish maximum
subjugation to central authority and to stimulate antagonism toward some
other social community. A few examples from history will suffice to demon-
strate this.
Several hundred thousand heretics were condemned and burnt at the
stake by the Christians. In many cases it is practically impossible for a con-
temporary person to understand exactly what the differences in conviction
were between the heretics and other believers. Usually the heretics were the
more forthright and fanatical religious enthusiasts and the difference between
them and loyal subjects of the Church was embodied in the acceptance or
nonacceptance of some trifling verbal symbol: for example, whether the
three persons of the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - had the same
essence; or whether Jesus was born to Mary as God or as a man who later
became God. Nevertheless, believers watched with enjoyment the death
agonies of their anathematized opponents, convinced that they were doing
right and that in rooting out those who did not believe, for example, that the
Son is of the same substance as the Father, humanity would profit. It should
be recalled that for centuries millions of Catholics and Orthodox hated one
another and rationalized that hatred in terms of an unresolvable conflict
over the word filioque. In the last war, in the twentieth century, several
hundred thousand Yugoslavs were slaughtered for the sake of that trivial
filioque. Of course, other factors were always involved, but these were
concealed in the appropriately chosen symbols.
For centuries the English, the French, and the Dutch subjugated colonial
peoples in the name of 'spreading European culture and civilization' and

'education for a democratic way of life.' Countless men of honor left their
bones thousands of miles from their home countries, convinced that they
were making a noble and profoundly meaningful sacrifice to 'liberate the
tomb of Christ from the hands of the infidel,' 'for the glory of British arms,'
for 'sweet France,' for 'mother Russia,' for 'the great historic mission of the
German race,' for 'the free world' or for 'defense of socialism'.
Unfortunately, these forms of spiritual enslavement and alienation have
not been avoided by many who work or believe they are working to eliminate
enslavement and alienation in today's society. In the 30's Stalin liquidated
tens of thousands of genuine revolutionaries in the name of a struggle "against
the agents of imperialism." The real fact of an imperialist danger served as
the basis to create a word-myth whereby everything could be explained: a
myth in which millions of people believe without second thought, even when
it was applied in the most absurd circumstances. Today we are witness to
many similar myths and cliches serving propaganda purposes. For example,
"revisionism" in certain eastern countries and "communism" in some western
countries are often used as symbols for everything evil in the world, synonyms
for oppression, treachery, and immorality.
Modem philosophy of language originated, to a large degree, in the revolt
against these crude mystifications and the often clearly demagogic use of
abstractions. Semantics has pointed the fmger at one evil - and that is its
genuine merit - but has not explained that evil nor is it able to. The cause
of enormous confusion in the modem world, of irrational behavior by huge
masses of people was seen by some philosophers of language in "imperfect
language," "the tyranny of words," 9 and "the uncontrolled use of abstrac-
tions". People like Korzybski, Hayakawa, Stuart Chase, and others, have
not perceived the deeper roots of this tyranny of words, in the conflict of
interests among certain social groups. Thus some of these "semanticists"
have found a miraculous universal cure for all social evils: the perfection of
language, the acquisition of a proper semantic culture, training for under-
standing the true semantic nature of abstractions.
In discarding such expressly ideological conclusions one ought not over-
look the real problems of modem society from which they derive and which
they attempt to resolve in a completely biased manner. The root of social
pathology is in class conflicts, in relations of domination and exploitation,
in alienated labor and alienated politiCS. It is of fundamental importance to
examine how all these underlYing social patterns manifest themselves in
human communication and in the use of linguistic symbols. Rather than
discarding semantic theories together with the real humanist problems which

these theories indicate, one must seriously be concerned with these problems
and attempt to fmd more profound, and sophisticated solutions to them.



The problem of meaning has various levels of generality depending on

whether one is concerned with the meaning of any symbols and signs, or with
the meaning of those symbols which are of direct interest to philosophy
(terms in common speech and in the language of science, artistic symbols,
moral predicates), or whether one is concerned with the m~aning of philo-
sophical categories and principles.
In its broadest scope the concept of meaning includes the entire range
of problems in human communication and interpretation, (even those forms
which have a distinctly irrational character, such as ritual, mythic, and
religious symbols). It is clear that this range exceeds the strict limits of philos-
ophy; it is a broad field for interdisciplinary inquiry by philosophers, sociol-
ogists, anthropologists, social psychologists, linguists, and ethnologists. The
semiotics of Morris was an attempt to construct a single complex scholarly
discipline to deal with this. The task before philosophy is to explain not only
the category of meaning but also the other fundamental categories such
as sign, symbol, meaning, communication, interpretation. The problem for
philosophy is defming the particular meaning of various specific kinds of
symbolic activity and also defining the most general conditions under which a
sign is socially communicable, that is, understandable by other members
of a community.
It is not easy to decide which of the existing philosophical disciplines
should take this problem into its sphere of activity. Epistemology and logic
are too narrow in this respect since they are concerned only with problems
of knowledge while we are here concerned with the entire range of human
mental experience and reactions in the process of social communication.
Ontology also embraces only one of the mentioned aspects: what is the
ontological status of signs and meaning? In what sense may it be said that
they intersubjectively exist, and how do signs and meaning differ from other
objects? It is evident that traditional philosophical diSCiplines have been
constructed in the spirit of an intellectualistic orientation which has lost
sight of the multiplicity of man's relations to the world, and which has
systematically ignored the role which language and other symbolic forms
play in man's creation of images of the world and of himself. Cassirer's

"philosophy of symbolic forms" may be understood as a new philosophical

discipline attempting to fill this gap and which in many respects is of a
fundamental character in relatiori to the other philosophical disciplines.
Those who do not wish to increase the number of philosophical disciplines
are certainly obliged to leave room for this question in the framework of
'general philosophy,' i.e. general philosophical theory and method.
When we shift from this general theoretical level, where we pose the
problem of the meaning of all signs, to the particular level at which we
encounter symbols with a more or less expressly rational character, subject
to theoretical analysis, and accordingly of special significance for philosophy
(for example the symbols of scientific language, art, and moral life), all
the cited problems are posed in more concrete form: What is the meaning
of words and linguistic expressions generally? What is the relationship be-
tween language and thought, language and objective reality? What are the
conditions for the most effective linguistic communication among people?
What is the meaning of works of art and their various elements (the repre-
sentation of real objects, the presentation of the individual visions of the
author, the expression of thoughts and feelings, etc.)? What is the meaning
of our moral and general value judgments? In stating that something is
good or beautiful, do we thus describe certain objective properties of human
actions and their results; or do we express our subjective feelings of approval
and pleasure; or do we suggest to others the adoption of certain practical
At this level we are dealing with language in general, with science, art, and
morals. This is the subject-matter of inquiry of specialized scholars (linguists,
art-historians, anthropologists, sociologists, etc.). Philosophers deal with these
only to the extent to which they provide general theoretical and methodolog-
ical foundations for specialized study. For example it is the task of physicists
to give precise definition to the terms encountered in physics, and it is the
task of literary theorists and critics to determine the meaning of special
literary symbols. But it is the task of logicians to determine the meaning of
the expressions of scientific language in general and to determine precisely
the conditions under which the meaning of any specific scientific term may
be considered to be precisely dermed. It is likewise the task of aestheticians
to furnish a general specification of the meaning of the symbols of art, to
discover its various levels (the intellectual and the emotional, the literal and
the hidden, the personal and the social) and to explain the distinctiveness of
the symbols of the various types of art (poetry, music, painting, etc.).
Finally, the third and most narrowly philosophical level at which the

problem of meaning arises is the level at which we encounter the problem of

the meaning of phiiosophicallanguage.
In order to say anything about the language of the special branches of
knowledge, of value judgments, and of artistic symbols, the philosopher
utilizes a special language; he must create specific symbols of the highest
possible order of abstraction in order to speak about all other symbols.
Sometimes he attempts to speak directly about reality, to neglect the data
of specialized scientists. This is the case, for example, with metaphysicians
who wish to expound their intuitive vision of the world. But in any case
reality is mediated by language. The philosopher can see the world and
communicate his thoughts only if he utilizes a certain number of specifically
philosophical symbols, such as 'matter,' 'causality,' 'necessity,' 'freedom,'
'truth,' the 'good,' the 'beautiful,' etc. There can be no doubt that in the
field of philosophy today the lack of clarity and ambiguity of such terms
is the chief reason for the prevailing confusion and absence of mutual under-
standing, particularly among philosophers belonging to opposing schools
and tendencies of thought. Relatively similar views are often expressed in
disparate languages, differing from school to school, and the impression is
made that principled, substantive disputes are in question.
When we encounter an abstract statement such as 'Reality is indeter-
ministic,' we usually tend to attach to these words the meaning which fits
our conception. When we facilely perform this act of translation, it seems
to us that we know our collocutor's thought and the sort of statement about
the objective world which is implied by it. We forget completely that words
stand between us and the thoughts of our collocutor. A linguistic expression
may be all that is actually given, all that we have seen written or heard
expressed. What the expression means, what thought is expressed by it, and
what objective state of affairs the thought refers to - all constitute a problem
to be resolved before we are in a position to judge whether the thought is
true or what is the objective state of affairs.
The terms of philosophical language differ from all other symbols in that
they express thoughts of a very general and abstract character, rather than
feelin~ or other mental dispositions. To that extent the investigation of
their meaning is the subject-matter of logic in a quite broad sense of that
It is often thought that logic deals only with the meaning of terms per-
taining to the process of thought and cognition. According to this view
problems of the meaning of all other philosophical categories belong to
corresponding philosophical disciplines - ontology, ethics, aestehetics or,

more precisely, belong to the metatheories of corresponding philosophical

theories. This distinguishing between the levels of theory and metatheory
unquestionably has a full measure of justification. In a theory certain terms
may be used without providing explicit definitions of them. A metatheory
is thus a higher order theory, in which the meaning of such terms is explicitly
given. One can thus argue that a discussion of the meaning of ethical categories
('good,' 'right,' morally obligatory,' etc.) belongs to the field of metaethics
and a discussion of the meaning of aesthetic categories ('beautiful,' 'ugly,'
'tragic,' 'comic,' etc.) belongs to the field of meta-aesthetics. However, this
viewpoint does not contradict the foregOing one, since all meta-theories
belong in a sense to logic; they serve to solve logical problems of correspond-
ing theories. Logic is here not conceived in a narrow, formal sense, as the
study of the formal rules of thought or of the conditions of consistency
of a symbolic system. Here logic refers to the study of the conditions of
cognition of objective truth. Inasmuch as such conditions include com-
municability, i.e. the social understandability of the meaning of a linguistic
expression, each metatheory is in fact a special logic or a part oflogic.
When we say that the subject-matter of logic is to study and determine
the necessary conditions that thought must meet in order for us to know
the objective truth, we must first of all spell out the kind of thought that
is in question.
Logic cannot deal with thought as a subjective mental process in the
head of a particular individual. Like any other field of learning, logic can
study only a subject that has an objective existence external to individual
consciousness, and which is consequently theoretically accessible to others.
That subject is formulated, linguistically expressed thought.


Language can well serve the study of thought for the following reasons:
1. Language is materially given: the sounds produced in speech by our
larynx or the structures of ink produced by our hand in writing are physical
phenomena: the sound vibrations of air molecules, the sources of light
waves that can be perceived directly by the senses - in an intersubjective
manner. Inasmuch as in a certain social context these physical phenomena
customarily arouse specific psychological reactions, they can obviously
serve as the key for the study of these reactions. Language is actually a
distinctive form of human practice. Precisely because it is simultaneously
objective and subjective, and both physical and mental, practice is the best

means to study mental life as a whole. Scholarly language is that part of

practice that can best serve the objective investigation of highly developed
forms of thought. This is why it is methodologically more correct for logic
to begin its investigations with the meaning of linguistic expressions and not
with concepts and judgments, as in classical logic.
2. The linguistic process is structurally similar to the corresponding process
of thought: it could not be otherwise if language is the objective, practical
form with which thought expresses itself. The link between thought and
language is much closer than it would appear. The issue here is not that we
first think to ourselves - independently of language - and then express our
thoughts in language, objectivizing them and making them accessible to
other people. 1o Even when we think in silence, we are actually thinking in a
certain language. A man who had completely forgotten any language would
be incapable of truly thinking about anything. It is assumed here that thinking
refers to an articulate, discursive process rather than to a diffuse state of
consciousness. ll Thus language is the decisive, formative factor of thought. 12
The extent of the impact of language upon the organization of experience
and upon the entire world-view and culture of a society has been convincingly
demonstrated by anthropological investigations of primitive peoples. For
example in all European languages, in addition to nouns referring to objects
with clearly defined boundaries (tree, house) there exist nouns that refer to
homogeneous continuums lacking defined boundaries (water, cloth, flour,
etc.). When we wish to set boundaries we add a special word - thus resulting
in expressions such as 'glass of water,' 'yard of cloth,' 'sack of flour,' etc.
With this sort of structure language points toward a conception of the entire
world as a combination of unformed material (or substance) and a form
which imparts defmed boundaries to each specific part of it. But in the
language of the Hopi Indians there are no such 'construct' nouns to refer
to continuous matter: all words refer to particular objects - bodies. Among
other things this precludes the dichotomy of form and matter. 13
In addition to vocabulary, the conjugation of verbs and the structure of
sentences are other linguistic factors that significantly affect the mode of
thought. As opposed to European languages with their system of verb tenses,
the verbs of the Hopi language have no present, past, or future tense, having
instead various forms in accordance with whether the speaker is reporting
something, expressing his expectations, or stating a recognized truth. The
absence of verb tenses is also to be found in the Wintu, Navaho, and other
Indian tribes. In conceptual terms this sort of grammatical structure prevents
the objectivization of time. As Whorfhas concluded, the Hopi do not see the

world as a complex of things, all of which have a past, present, and future
- they see around themselves events, each of which has its own special,
concrete mode of duration, growth, decline, creativity. Time itself does not
exist, and consequently neither do verbal tenses.
It is interesting how the morphology of the verbs of the Wintu Indians
reveals an entire metaphysics of necessity and freedom. In their language each
verb has two forms that are used in various circumstances. The first form
signifies that the subject is participating freely in the activity referred to by
the verb. The second type refers to actions and processes that are necessary
and outside his control, before which he is quite unfree and helpless. 14
Finally, sentence structure affects thought perhaps more than any other
grammatical feature. Two types of sentences prevail in the European languages
- those in which a predicate is attributed to a subject, and those that express
the activity of a particular subject. In both cases the subject is something
stable and substantial; this assumption leads toward a metaphysics of sub-
stances. It is noteworthy that this sort of 'substantialist' mode of thought
has begun to disappear only in recent times, under the influence of scientific
language, in which increasing importance has been assumed by relational
sentences (e.g. "The evaporation of water is the cause of rain.").
The type of sentence we generally fmd in the languages of primitive tribes
is suited to the description of specific events, and this differs from European
languages in two important aspects. First of all, there is no copula in them,
the subject is not reified, and the predicate is not an 'essence,' inherent in
the subject. ('Praedicatum inest subjecto'). Here then we fmd thought to be
still descriptive, direct, and concrete - situational, and still not tending to
reveal the more profound, constant, and necessary characteristics of objects.
Secondly, in the sentences that express activity, usually it is not man who
acts and causes action: movement and action are inherent in the object
itself: man is merely brought into a relation with it. This is the case, for
example, in the grammar of the Navaho, as Hoyer has reported. 15
How does this characteristic of language affect the manner of thinking?
First, it stimulates a very dynamic approach to objects - objects are not
things but a constant ebb and flow of things. This has led Henle 16 to conclude
that what we have here is a Bergsonian rather than an Aristotelian manner
of thinking (toward which the ordinary language of the European peoples
gravitates). Secondly, the fact that the grammatical structure of a language
generally excludes man as the cause of action is in accord with the general
attitude of primitive people toward nature. Man's impotence with respect
to nature is reflected in the structure of language. And conversely, for its

part language contributes to the fonnation of a passive mental attitude.

As Kluckhohn and Leighton have reported, the Navaho do not claim to
be able to control nature, attempting instead to affect it by means of magic,
song, and ritual. 17
The examples cited unquestionably indicate not only the existence of
significant variation and fundamental differences in the structure of various
languages, but also a close relation between the natural and social conditions
of life, the structure of language and the mode of thinking and view of the
3. A third reason for treating language as the key to the study ofthought
is the fact that only language assures the essential unification of the thought
of various individuals which is the sine qua non of all interpersonal com-
munication. Like any other form, language is constant in the context of
variability, and is general in the context of the individual. The thinking of
the individual always has a personal coloration: everyone comes into contact
with different individual objects (even if they belong to the same kind)
and possesses different previous experiences, feelings, practical needs and
interests. Language sets the limits to the expression of the personal, subjective,
and unique. The meanings of man's words are general, always somewhat
stereotyped and eroded from long use. In reducing the possibility of the full
expression of an ample individuality, language correspondingly ensures the
possibility of communication, that wondrous submersion of one conscious-
ness in another, that fascinating interlinking of minds separated by thousands
of miles and thousands of years. This creates the eternal dilemma that con-
fronts poets: how to express oneself in the language of all? Should one
create a completely new language and risk speaking without being heard
or understood, or should one accept stereotypes and be understood, but
fail to say that which is most personal, authentically one's own, what is
perhaps all that is genuinely original? Great artists arrive at their own balance
in this dilemma - they do not pennit themselves to remain hennetically
closed and narcissistically satisfied with their splendid isolation, but they also
refuse to reconcile themselves with the language which is at their command:
they rework it, infusing it with fresh, new blood. They leave behind a some-
what new, enriched language. Lesser writers do not arrive at such a balance.
It seems that they are not bothered by cliches and stereotypes because they
have nothing to say. After hearing them, people will justifiably ask that
sceptical question from Gorki's novel, Klim Samgin, "Was there any boy
at all?" Or, there will be the same situation as in Ionesco's The Chairs -
what appeared to the old man to be the magnificent message of mankind,

the fruit of the mature thought of an entire life, will objectively appear to
be impotent, inarticulate mumbling.
This dilemma is not posed so sharply in science and philosophy, but it is
nevertheless still present. Every great philosopher has had to introduce an
entire new conceptual apparatus in order to express his thought to others
(and himself!). But the fact remains that various interpretations are possible,
and that certain texts remain ununderstandable (one should recall Hegel,
Whitehead, Heidegger).
This dialectical opposition between the individual's desire for completely
authentic expression and the desire to transmit his thoughts to others is
resolved in the development of language, a development in which language
nevertheless does not cease to be interpersonal and social.
We can be directly conscious of the objective fact that we think. But we
can have objective knowledge of what someone thinks and whether his
thought is true only to the extent to which this thought has assumed a
standard social form through the medium oflanguage.


There are three basic groups of conditions which a formulated thought

(proposition) should satisfy in order to be accepted as objectively true:
1. social communicability,
2. theoretical proof,
3. practical verification.
A proposition can be said to be socially communicable when the meaning
of the individual terms and the meaning of the entire sentence are clear and
socially understandable. In other words, the possibility must exist for every-
one who speaks a given language and has sufficient previous experience to
properly interpret whatever the author of the proposition wanted to say with
it. In the event that the conditions of communicability are not fulfilled, it
will not be clear which proposition it is whose truth is in question. By the
same token it will not be possible to determine whether it satisfies the other
criteria of truth, i.e. whether it may be derived from previously confirmed
propositions in accordance with the rules of logic (which is the essence of
proof) and whether one may derive from it predictions of concrete events
to guide successfully our practical activity (which is the essence of practical
Various cases may be found in which some of the conditions of com-
municability are not satisfied. For example:

(a) The proposition uses ambiguous terms without explaining which

meaning is being utilized (nor does the context make this immediately
(b) The meaning of terms is shifted or radically altered (with respect to
the generally accepted meaning), without the shift being made explicitly
(c) A term is not used consistently, varying from context to context.
(d) The proposition shifts from one type of language to another without
making clear which criteria of meaning are to be used. The criteria of meaning
are different in scientific language, ordinary language, metaphysical lan-
guage, the language of art, the language of religion and myth, the language
of political propaganda, etc. Many symbols are nonsensical from an intel-
lectual, logical standpoint, but become meaningful if it is clear that they are
intended to have an emotive function. Something that may be communicable
in a popular presentation may be imprecise in scientific language; something
that may be meaningless in the language of science may have a rich meaning
in the language of poetry, etc. It is important that the the type of symbolic
functions that signs perform be precisely specified, and that the type of
language to which they belong be indicated precisely.
(e) From the standpoint of logic, typically incommunicable symbols are
those which claim to tell us something about the world, but cannot be
correlated even indirectly with practical experience. Many abstract terms of
speculative metaphysics are of this type.
(0 Another cause of incommunicability is the implicit utilization of a
special type oflogic whose criteria for the disparate and absurd are dissimilar.
For example, some propositions of the form "A is B and is not B", which
are permitted in dialectical logic insofar as they pertain to processes of move-
ment, appear paradoxical and nonsensical from the standpoint of formal
logic. Any divergence from the logic that is generally accepted in a given,
culture (which for the present is by and large a common sense logic of non-
contradiction) should be explicitly specified and explained.
In all such cases it remains indetermined which thought is expressed in
the given linguistic form. In other words, we are left in the dark as to what
truth is in question. For example, in his Philosophy of History Hegel says:
"World history in general is the display of spirit in time as the idea of nature
displays itself in space." 18 In this sentence the terms 'world history,' 'display,'
'time,' 'space,' are for Hegel symbols with a function similar to that which
they exericse in ordinary language. But this is not the case with such words
as 'spirit' and 'idea.' If these words are treated as the ordinary symbols

signifying the intellectual consciousness of a man, the entire sentence is

quite senseless. Accordingly before one can raise the question of the truth
of what Hegel says one must raise the question of meaning. What sort of
language does this sentence pertain to (scientific, metaphysical, artistic, etc.),
what did Hegel wish to state; does his thought have an objective, socially
communicable meaning, and finally, what is that meaning if it is interpreted
from the standpoint of a particular logic and general philosophical theory and
method? It is only in the wake of such preliminary (semantic) investigations
that the possibility arises to utilize the other two criteria to truth.
On the other hand, there are cases in which a precise knowledge of the
meaning of all the tenns that appear in a sentence, in addition to knowledge
of the function which the sentence exercises in the given context, is both a
necessary and a sufficient condition of the truth of the proposition. This is
the case with analytic propositions, such as:
(1) All brothers are men.
(2) Five is greater than three.
(3) Protons have a positive charge.
When one knows the meaning of the terms 'brother' and 'man' it is clear
that the fonner implies the latter. By definition every brother must be a man
- no further investigation of such a proposition (its proof, and comparison
with the facts of experience) is needed; one may be assured of its truth even
without testing.
Similarly, if one knows the meaning of 'five,' 'three,' and the relational
tenn 'greater,' it necessarily follows that there are more units in five than in
three. Admittedly, analytic propositions are always relative with respect to
the given language, in this case the language of a particular numerical system.
In another numerical system the definitions of 'five' and 'three' would be
different, so that the cited sentence would perhaps not be analytical, and
would not be truthful at all.
Finally, 'positive charge' is one of the necessary elements of the meaning
of the term 'proton.' Accordingly this proposition, too, is true - at least
in some contexts - on the basis of the definition of the terms used.
It should be pointed out here that there is no absolute difference between
analytic and synthetic sentences (with the meaning of the former dependent
solely upon linguistic conventions and definition and that of the latter solely
upon experience). One and the same sentence can function as an analytic
proposition in a context in which the previously given definition is im-
plicit, and as a synthetic proposition in the context of reporting experiential

facts which serve to transcend the meaning of the terms given in previous
The division of logic in which one studies the conditions of the commu-
nicability and analyticity of propositions, the logical criteria of sense and
nonsense, and all other problems of meaning whose resolution determines the
identification of truth, may be termed the theory of meaning. It constitutes
in fact one of the three basic logical disciplines - the other two being the
theory of proof and the theory of verificaton, in which one studies the two
other groups of conditions of objective truth, proof and practical verification.
The theory of meaning is the introduction to logic in the sense that the
investigation of the meaning of a proposition precedes the application of all
other criteria for the determination of its truthfulness.



The title of this work - The Dialectical Theory of Meaning - calls for still
another explanation - i.e. what in this context is meant by dialectics. It
goes without saying that there can be no question here of setting forth a
ready-made theory of meaning as part of a Marxist or any other dialectical
philosophy, for the simple reason that no such theory has been developed
within Marxism. The question here is to attempt to formulate systematically
a theory of meaning from the standpoint of Marxist humanistic dialectics.
What is often referred to by Marxist dialectics is a kind of ontology
embodying the most general laws of the movement of being (the unity of
opposites, the transformation of quantity into quality, the negation of
negation). Furthermore dialectics is often understood as a kind of logic
applied to developmental processes, exempt from the formal logical principles
of noncontradiction and the ~xclusion of the third. Of late, recognition has
been given to an anthropological conception of dialectics as a general theory
of human practice.
All these varying interpretations of dialectics are possible in principle.
However, we shall not concern ourselves here with discussing these various
possible conceptions but rather with specifying the meaning in which the
term 'dialectics' will be applied to the theory of meaning in this work.
We shall utilize 'dialectics' to refer to a general philosophical method
characterized by a procedure of investigation that is maximally objective,
comprehensive, dynamic, and concrete, considering creative human practice
to be the key to theoretical objectivity.

1. The tendency toward objectivity is characteristic of many philosophical

doctrines, but the question is what 'objectivity' refers to. A matter on which
there is agreement among philosophers of many schools is that the process
of investigation should lead to interpersonal knowledge about the objects
and their interrelationships such as they are in actual reality, regardless of
the consciousness of the individual subject. The demand for objectivity
entails the elimination of all extra-intellectual factors (desire, interest, feeling)
in the process of investigation. 19 Of all our mental capacities we are left
merely with observations aimed at establishing individual facts and logical
thinking aimed at drawing general conclusions. There exists more or less full
agreement - in theory at least, if not always in practice - that in investiga-
tion one should not proceed on the basis of ready-made schemata and uncrit-
ically accepted assumptions. 20
The distinguishing characteristic of the dialectical conception of objectivity
is the firm linking of theoretical investigation to practical activity. The object
is not understood as something merely given, external to man and completely
independent of him: human social practice is included in the defmition of
the object. There are many objects that unquestionably exist in themselves,
but we know them only as they are for us, transformed by practice. Accord-
ingly the objectivity of the fmding of an investigation is to be determined
not solely in a theoretical manner (by observation and thinking), but rather
through purposeful action and the alteration of the object.
What should be the consequences of the application of this principle in
the theory of meaning? In this field we are confronted with the following
situation. A large number of theories tend to reduce meaning to a subjective
act or disposition or concept, a set of observations or mental operations,
a readiness for suitable physical reaction, or - in the case of symbols from
the field of art and morals - the emotional state of appeal and approval,
recommending and encouraging others to change their attitude. On the
other hand, we have theories that conceive the meaning of a sign as the
corresponding object in itself, or an ideal essence whose existence is related
neither to the mental life of man nor material reality, but rather to a third,
ideal sphere ofva1idity.
The dialectical conception of meaning has to be placed in opposition
to both groups of theories mentioned. If a sign is actually used in social
communication, so that by means of it people can understand one another
and coordinate their activity, it certainly Signifies something that is objectively
given, independent of the consciousness of any individual subject. But in
distinction from the views of various types of realists and vulgar materialists,

'object' is to be conceived more elastically. This is a very broad category

which embodies both individual material things, general properties and
relations, social institutions, and even social ideas and the general structures
of collective mental processes - for these are all entities that exist indepen-
dently of the consciousness of any individual subject. These are not absolute
objects, postulated and given in themselves. A man can know only that with
which he has come into at least an intermediate practical relation, and which
he has practically modified. One can say something only about the humanized
world of objects. An object in itself is the most abstract of all abstractions.
This implies an essential criterion for decision whether a particular symbol
signifies a real object or there is no object of that type, so that at least in a
cognitive sense the symbol is meaningless (which does not involve that it
could not refer to an imaginary or ideal object and that it could not have
some non-cognitive meaning). This criterion is sharply distinguished from
purely empiricist criteria according to which one may meaningfully speak
only about objects that can be experienced by the senses. It also rejects the
uncritical realism of those who overload the sphere of being by postulating
all possible types of objects, proceeding upon the conviction that anything
one speaks about must exist in some way or another. The dialectical criterion
involves practical operations that mediate between theory and reality. When
results of practical actions coincide with predictions derived from a certain
theory T, we have good reason to hold that a symbol that is a constitu-
tive element of the theory T truly refers to a real object. This criterion is
severe enough to exclude various imaginary, unreal objects, such as Pegasus,
phlogiston, the ether, etc., while remaining sufficiently elastic to encompass
objective correlates of the most abstract logical and mathematical symbols
that are often claimed to have no relation whatever to objective reality.
2. One of the characteristics of the historic process of human cognition
is that, consciously or not, we simplify objects in order to study their various
aspects and relations. At a later stage of inquiry we correct and enrich such
oversimplified images of objects. Eventually we tend to integrate the various
partial aspects of knowledge into a unified synthetic whole.
Every good scholar carries out such analytical simplifications in a con-
scious, methodical manner, taking account of everything that has been
excluded, with a full measure of criticism of the natural, spontaneous ten-
dency to hypostatize and absolutize such one-sided, isolated abstract elements.
Each time this analytic, simplifying phase of investigation must be overcome
with a fresh effort to encompass synthetically and comprehensively the
object of investigation in its complexity.

None of the foregoing is unique to dialectics: many philosophers and

methodologists assume a critical stance toward one-sided approaches to
objects and advocate the mutual complementarity of analysis and synthesis.
The differentia specijica of the dialectical method is that in the analysis of
the object of study there is the tendency to discover opposing and even con-
tradictory elements and, conversely, in the processes of dialectical synthesis
to establish genuine continuity and the temporary unity of ostensibly irrecon-
cilable oppositions.
This principle of investigation is based on the universally applicable
empirical premise that all objects have properties and dispositions that are
mutually exclusive and thus represent a source of the dynamic impulses
that determine movement and change.
In application to general theoretical problems, dialectics incorporates
the demand to encompass synthetically all the separate aspects, dimensions,
and components that have been obtained in analysis. Thus, by its very nature,
this method represents a criticism of all one-sided theories in which one
element is unjustifiably hypostatized at the expense of all others opposed
to it. Thus for example many theories in modem philosophy tend to
explain meaning by reducing it to a single relation (the relation of a sign
to a designated object, to the concept which it expresses, to other signs of
the given linguistic system, or to the practical operations associated with
the given sign). Thus there arise ostensibly irreconcilable oppositions between
individual theories. The utilization of the dialectical method ensures an
openness to maximal complexity and elasticity in approaching this problem.
If two or more theories well supported by real facts appear to exclude one
another, the question arises as to whether they do not express partial frag-
ments of truth that should be encompassed by a broader and more complex
theory. Is not meaning a complex of relations (a structure)? Is not the very
concept of meaning relative to different systems of signs, to different types
of functions that a sign can perform in order to satisfy various types of
human needs? In this way one can establish a continuum of opposing, discrete
This method might lead to eclecticism if carried out in a subjective,
arbitrary manner. But the unity of opposites must be objectively founded.
This means that one must proceed from genuine linguistic practice. Two
opposing relations will be interpreted as two dimensions of a higher unity
- meaning, only insofar as the concept of meaning is used in both ways, or
in other words, if linguistic practice cannot be explained in toto by reducing
meaning to a single relation. But one may be critical toward actual linguistic

practice insofar as it leads to confusion or in any sense seems unsuited to the

attainment of important human purposes. In the latter case one assumes a
practical and creative stance toward one's own linguistic practice: we wish
to change it. But it is of vital importance that this desire for change be
objectively founded: we must provide a reasoned, rational criticism of existing
linguistic practice, and we must cite the objective reasons that justify our
purpose and practical intervention. For example, in our synthesis of the con-
cept of meaning we shall try to encompass one of its neglected components
in order to eliminate confUSion, ambiguity or incoherence.
Provided it is correctly theoretically reasoned and practically justified, this
dialectical unification of opposites, firstly, will not be arbitrary and eclectic
and, secondly, will in many cases lead to the relativization of opposites and
the elimination of their formal-logical incompatibility. The integration of
opposing factors assumes the determination of a context (coordinant system)
in which each of them applies. Inasmuch as these contexts (coordinant
systems) differ from one another, the result of this process will be the elimi-
nation of the apparent irreconcilability of opposites.
3. One of the most essential characteristics of the dialectical method
is that it treats all objects as developmental processes. True, dialecticians
are not the only ones who study the genesis and dynamics of the object
of investigation. Following the triumph of Darwin's theory evolutionism
penetrated all fields of learning: today there are no serious scholars or phi-
losophers still prepared to believe that objects and forms are absolutely
stationary, or who believe that the explanation of their genesis and evolution
is not an essential part of a rational explanation. But nevertheless evolution
may be conceived in a number of different ways. For example Darwin and
many evolutionists conceived of the evolution of living beings as gradual
change without discontinuity between old and new forms. Many historians
believed that in spite of all the variability of individual events they all
expressed certain unchanging, universal forms.21 The causes of development
were often sought in the action of certain external factors (God as the prime
mover of nature, the geographical environment and climate as the determinant
of the development of societies, etc.).
A distinctive feature of Marxist dialectics is to conceive of development
as the abolition of internal limitations and, accordingly, with respect to
two successive developmental forms, to note gradualness and continuity in
some properties and discontinuity and discreteness in others. This means
that each successive higher phase brings with it a new quality which cannot
be reduced to the preceding one or be explained as greater complexity or

a greater quantity of the same. 22 On the other hand this new quality cannot
be explained fully if it is not correlated with the quality from which it
emerged and some of whose essential elements it has retained in a new form.
Moreover dialectics also directs toward investigation of the invariant
structures in variable phenomena and the discovery of laws, types, and
cycles. There is no other way of conceptualizing movement. Nevertheless for
dialecticians there is nothing absolutely stationary. All apparently permanent
forms are conditional, changing over time, disappearing, and being superseded
by other forms. From a dialectical standpoint, the only absolute is change
and development.
The causes of development, for dialecticians, are principally internal. The
dynamics of an object are determined by opposition and the processes of
mutual exclusion of their properties, dispositions, and internal tendencies.
As applied to the question of meaning, the dialectical principle of devel-
opment implies the demand for the study of the origin and development
of signs and meaning. A separate chapter will be devoted to that problem,
in which it will be necessary to take into account, on the one hand, the
history of human language and symbolic activity generally, and on the
other hand, the development of language and thinking in the individual
history of the child. 23
Finally the general character of the dialectical method, and particularly
of the principle of development, also determines to a great extent the method
of criticism. Criticism should be creative in the sense that it transcends both
the viewpoint being criticized and the critic's own viewpoint. Ever since
Hegel, to transcend has meant to eliminate and to maintain. Unless one
discovers and eliminates a limitation one cannot give shape to a particular
new quality. But conversely, unless one maintains certain values, unless one
establishes continuity and accepts the partial, if only relative truth which
the criticized viewpoint embodies, there can be no genuine progress. Thus,
in order to be dialectical, criticism should not be destructive - and above all
it should be self-critical; its own point of view evolves in the process of
criticism. In setting itself in opposition to the other viewpoint criticism
sees its own limitations and strives toward a new synthesis.
4. Dialectical concreteness is the tendency to link the universal with the
particular and individual. In the literature the meaning attached most often to
'concrete' is "that which is applied to an actual individual thing as opposed to
an abstract quality," or "the specific as opposed to the general."24 Dialectical
concreteness is taken to mean here a particular manner of interpreting the
meaning of abstract terms: meaning is not reduced solely to the common

definition of a class of individual cases or the bare generality taken in isola-

tion, which can be expressed in toto with a relatively brief definition. To
comprehend concretely the meaning of an abstraction is to encompass
conceptually the distinctive features of the individual objects to which the
abstraction may be applied, the conditions under which this application is
possible in various contexts, and fInally the practical consequences relevant
to its use. lhis mode of interpreting the meaning of abstract symbols may be
traced, in part, to Hegel's idea of the "concrete universal." The same notion
is to be found in Peirce's principle of pragmatism 2S and in Korzybski's
demand (Universal Semantics) that the abstract always be exemplified and
understood 'extentionally,' not just 'intentionally,' and that we utilize only
those symbols that stand for genuine objects. 26
As applied to the problem of meaning, the dialectical principle of con-
creteness implies principally the demand that one not be content solely with
giving a general, abstract definition of meaning, but instead show how meaning
varies and specifies itself in various types of languages, given the various
functions that a symbol may perform. Therefore although our prime interest
is a specific type of meaning - the cognitive meaning that the expressions of
scholarly language can have - meaning as a general category, and accordingly
cognitive meaning will not be able to be determined concretely if we do not
take into account other specific types of meaning, such as emotive and
prescriptive meaning. Similarly, in discussing the various dimensions of
meaning, such as objective meaning for example, we shall succeed in defining
them concretely only if we specify them with reference to various types of
linguistic expressions - for example if we specify the objective meanings of
various categories of words, sentences, descriptions, logical connectives, etc.
Moreover, the explication of the concept of meaning implies the use of
a range of general philosophical categories, such as object, experience,
symbol, concept, practice, and so on. The concept of meaning will be defmed
in a relatively concrete manner only on the condition that these fundamental
theoretical-cognitive concepts are specified and made concrete. Thus the
development of the dialectical theory of meaning requires a separate section
providing an explanation of the basic categories necessary for the construction
ofthe theory.
Finally maximal concreteness in treating the problem of meaning can be
achieved only if we identify the practical consequences of the proposed
solution. In this case practical consequences of the proposed theoretical
explication of the concept of meaning is the determination of the conditions
under which meaning can be clear and communicable to others and under

which the interpretation of the meaning of others may become maximally

adequate. Thus the practical purpose of this entire work is to defme precisely
the conditions of effective communication among people.
The foregoing specification of the subject matter and method of this work
determines its structure. Part One will deal with the epistemological foun-
dations of the dialectical theory of meaning. Part Two will be devoted to an
analysis of the various dimensions of meaning and their interconnections.
Part Three will trace the genesis of signs and meaning and discuss the general
conditions of effective communication.


1 Ernst Cassirer, Philosophie der Symbo/ischen Formen, I 1923, II 1925, III 1929,
2 Ogden and Richards, The Meaning of Meaning, London, 1923.
3 Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers, Cambridge, Mass., 1931-1935, Vols. 1-
4 Charles Morris, Signs, Language and Behavior, New York, 1946.
5 Peirce, op. cit., Vol. V, 484.
6 Ibid., Vol. V, 564.
7 Charles Morris, Signs, Language and Behavior, New York, 1946.
8 William Blake, 'Songs of Experience,' cited in M. Cornforth, In Defence of Philosophy,
London, 150.
9 For example, Stuart Chase explains the persecution of the Jews as follows: "The long
agony of the people called the Jews to a large degree was provoked by semantic confu-
sion. (Stuart Chase, The Tyranny of Words, p. 230.)
10 Cassirer states the following fact of essential importance with respect to the relation
ship of language and thought: "In learning to name things the child does not simply
attach a list of artificial signs to his previous knowledge but rather a list of shaped
empirical objects. In fact he teaches himself to formulate concepts of these objects and
to comprehend the objective world ... Without the assistance of names each step
forward in the process of objectification would be lost the very next moment" (Ernst
Cassirer,An Essay on Man, New Haven, 1944, p. 132).
11 In one of her studies on language and perception Grace de Laguna correctly states:
"If an animal cannot express its thoughts in language, this is because it has no thoughts
to be expressed, for unformulated thoughts are a little less than thoughts" (Grace de
Laguna, 'Perception and Language,' Human Biology I (1929), 555-58).
12 In stressjng the formative role of language one should constantly bear in mind that
language itself is the result of an evolution of experience and thought. The character
and wealth of its vocabulary, and peculiarities of its grammar and syntax are completely
determined by the experiences of human practice in given natural and social circum-
stances. The fact is that once it is shaped language continues to exercise a powerful
influence upon the manner of thinking of each individual in a society and upon the
course of its cultural creativity.

13 Benjamin I. Whorf, 'The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behaviour to Language'

in Language, Thought and Reality, ed. I. B. CaroU, Cambridge, 1956, pp. 75-93.
14 Dorothy Lee, 'Conceptual Implications of an Indian Language,' in Philosophy of
Science 5, (1936), 90.
15 Harry Hoyer, 'Cultural Implications of Some Navaho Linguistic Categories,' Lan-
guage 27 (1951), 111-120.
16 Paul Henle, 'Language, Thought and Culture' in Language, Thought and Culture,
University of Michigan Press, 1958, p. 18.
17 Ibid., p. 23.
18 Hegel, The Philosophy of History, Kultura, 1951, p. 79.
19 For example the German historian Ranke criticized the romanticists for the fact
that in their historical studies they manifested love for anything that was miraculous,
obscure, mysterious, and bizarre, and for the fact that they gave rein to their nation-
alistic and religious feelings. A typical example of such an unobjective attitude toward
history was the Prussian historian Treitschke, who purposely relied solely upon Prussian
documents so as to arrive at findings that would not contradict his glorification of
Prussian politics. The French logician Gobleau even reduced objectivity to rationality
- the exclusion of emotional and other non-intellectual processes in investigation.
20 Typical examples of the imposition of ready-made stereotypes upon the facts are to
be found in Hegel and Taine. Proceeding from his metaphysical conception of the
development of objective spirit from its unconscious state - with minimal freedom -
to self-consciousness and maximal freedom, Hegel divided all of history into three
periods: (1) the oriental, in which the individual despot determines the course of his-
torical events, (2) the classical, in which there prevailed a fixed order identical for aU
and in which people are partly free and partly unfree, and (3) the German period, in
which man possessed freedom as a man.
The positivist Taine, who was horrified at the "monstrous Hegelian logic" and
proclaimed the principle that the historian was required only to confum facts, himself
situated the investigation of facts in the framework of an unchanging, a priori formula:
all events are determined by three basic causes - race, environment and time.
21 Examples of such unchanging forms are: the eternal cycles, in which the French
materialists of the eighteenth century believed, the triad of Hegel's absolute spirit,
Herder's postulate of the constancy of human nature, Burckhardt's indestructible
general human types, Spengler's cycles of the rise and faU of civilizations.
22 The theory of emergent evolution by the English realists Loyd Morgan and Alexander
developed this idea in detail.
23 The great paucity of facts about the symbolic activity of primitive people forces us
to treat the historical genesis of signs and meaning by and large on analogy with known
facts about the development of speech in the child and about the languages of the primi-
tive peoples of today. In consequence everything that is said about this problem has a
hypothetical character.
24 Irving Co pi, 'The Growth of Concepts', in P. Henle, op. cit., p. 33.
25 "Observe which effects that could have the practical consequences we consider to be
the object of our concept. Then our comprehension of these effects is the entirety of
our concept of the object" (c. S. Peirce, Collected Papers, Vol. V, 2).
26 Korzybski, Science and Sanity, Connecticut, 1948, p. 82.






Theories of meaning differ from one another not only in that each is predi-
cated on different philosophical principles, but also in that each examines
different aspects or dimensions of meaning. The one factor is closely bound
up with the other. Nominalism commands us to investigate the relationship
of symbols to other symbols; various forms of pragmatism prompt us to
investigate the relationship of symbols and practice; positivism takes as
its primary interest the relationship of symbols to immediate experience;
conceptualism focuses upon the relationship of symbols to thought and
conceptual entities; and fmally the basic propositions of realistic philosophy
point to the necessity of investigating the relationship of symbols to objects
independent of human consciousness.
Each of these conceptions has some kind of empirical basis, for the extra-
ordinarily complex phenomenon of meaning truly encompasses all of these
various factors, while not being reducible to anyone of them alone. We are
thus faced with the task of proceeding from the existing one-sided theories,
filling in the gaps and resolving their difficulties, and effecting a kind of
This task is attainable only if at the very beginning we introduce certain
significant distinctions which encompass the contrasting moments stressed
in the various existing theories of meaning.
These contrasting moments are:
1. The difference between personal (subjective) and social (objective)
2. The difference between implicit and explicit meaning.
3. The difference between meaning as an internal, conscious, phenomenon
and meaning as a readiness (disposition, habit, capacity) for external reaction
under certain conditions.
4. The difference between meaning as a relationship of a sign to the
conception of an object and meaning as the relationship of a symbol to a real,
specified object.
Positivists generally restrict themselves to personal meaning. Realists, in'

an effort to explain social cohesion and successful communication, go far

beyond the minimum necessary to explain these facts, and attribute extra-
social validity (validity 'in itself) to the objectivity of meaning. Thus they
eliminate the difference between the concepts (of social character) and the
objects themselves which are independent of the existence of society and
thought. Formalists insist only upon explicit meaning, as if the meanings
of our symbols could be reduced solely to their verbal defmitions. Finally,
conceptualists concentrate solely upon the internal (mental) dimension of
meaning, and pragmatists and instrumentalists solely upon the external
(practical) dimension.


Having drawn distinctions between the various dimensions that enter into
the concept of meaning, it has to be stressed that some of them are by no
means controversial and that problems and difficulties arise only when one
overreaches them and asserts more than they allow. Thus, for example, the
existence of personal meaning poses no problem. Everyone will agree that
the meaning of a symbol may vary from one person to the next and that each
subject can arbitrarily construe a new meaning for a symbol which no one
else can understand. The question remains, however, whether these personal
meanings are of any general interest - except in the instance of works of art
- and accordingly whether they should be the subject of scholarly, and
particularly logical investigation. Along these lines it is an open question
as to which meanings can be understood by others and are thus social in
nature. Are they collective ideas, ideal essences, expressions of the national
or absolute spirit, a priori concepts identical for all persons, things in them-
selves, etc.?
Explicit meaning is also not open to question. When we already have an
entire system of signs, as for example a language, obviously we may express
the meaning of some symbols by their relationship toward other symbols.
What is open to question is what is expressed by these other symbols, which
are similarly mere physical phenomena (visual, acoustic, tactile, etc.). What
is it that they transmit and what do other people understand? In brief, the
principal problems appear in connection with implicit meaning.
Similarly there is no difficulty with the assumption that we may gather
from the manner of a subject's use of a symbol and from his overall be-
havior the meaning of that symbol for him. Behavior is accessible to the
observation of other people, and by observing the constant correlations

between a symbol and certain types of practical actions and reactions one
may formulate strictly empirical and verifiable assumptions about the mean-
ing of a given symbol. But the opponents of behaviorism doubt whether
these exclusively external reactions say everything about meaning. lfere
again we encounter an open question. What is meaning over and above
that? Is one justified in speaking of an internal dimension of meaning, a
mental act, or disposition which is in principle inaccessible to interpersonal
observation? The one school seems to assert too little, remaining within the
confmes of empirical observation. The other seems to assert too much,
entering into a region of unverifiable hypotheses and speculation.
Finally most modern philosophers would not argue with the proposition
that meaning is a relationship to an object (objective thing, property or
relation). What is open to question is whether this object is merely immanent
in our consciousness (whether it is merely an idea, concept, or logical con-
struct) or has a transcendental character. In other words, whether this object
is merely a given in consciousness or whether it is an objective given in the
physical world. Or does the object exist as both immanent and transcendent,
existing as a certain correlation between the two?


Having cited the foregoing open questions with respect to the explanation
of meaning, it is not difficult to see that at issue are central epistemological
problems such as the relationship betweeen experience and thought, the
ontological status of concepts, the criterion of the intersubjectivity of cogni-
tion, and particularly the relationship between objects, on the one hand,
and experience and thought on the other. One can bypass some of these
questions and yet obtain a theory of meaning applicable to a certain range
of cases. For example the defmition of symbols may be given even on the
basis of the simplest of all existing theories - the syntactical (formalistic)
theory, which does not broach any of the cited epistemological problems,
remaining completely within the framework of the relationship of certain
linguistic signs to others. Simplicity means here a minimal number of assump-
tions. Other conditions being equal, one should certainly adopt the theory
which is simplest in this sense. But here 'other conditions" are by no means
equal. Explanatory power, i.e. applicability to the entire range of cases in
which the problem of meaning arises, is a methodological principle of greater
significance than the principle of simplicity. The theory that explains more,
or in this case which defmes meaning in such a way that the definition can

encompass the most diverse cases and contexts in which the term 'meaning'
is used in ordinary life, scholarship, and philosophy, is preferrable to other
theories which only partially succ~ed, even though it is stronger and involves
a larger number of assumptions. On the other hand, in analyzing the realistic
theory of meaning we came to the conclusion that it achieves its great power
of explanation and applicability by utilizing a larger number of assumptions
than is necessary (some of which are completely unacceptable, due to the
paradoxical nature of their consequences).
Accordingly a theory of meaning that corresponds to the basic principles
of dialectical humanism should be more flexible and critical than the realistic



Just as in any other defmition of concepts, here too we must fulfil the
logical demand that the concepts in terms of which the category of meaning
is defmed should themselves be defined as precisely as possible. And in doing
so we must not merely provide definitions that do nothing more than reveal
the most abstract elements of the content of a concept. Of course in order
to defme most concretely all the epistemological categories that we shall
deal with, taking into account all their basic types of application in various
contexts, one would have to devote an entire monograph to each. Here it is
necessary to define them only from the standpoint of the ultimate goal
of the investigation. And the ultimate goal is to explain the category of
meaning in all its basic cognitive dimensions, from the standpoint of four
basic questions:
1. What is meaning (how can we define it, taking into account all the
various dimensions and modes of meaning)?
2. How do the meanings of linguistic symbols arise?
3. What is the ontological status of meaning (in what sense can one say
that meanings exist)?
4. How (by what methods) can one know meaning?
Another fundamental logical demand which we must take care to fulfil
is the explicit statement of the basic assumptions of our theory. Not all
the concepts of a theory may be defmed, and not all propositions may
be proven if we wish to avoid circularity. Thus one must closely determine
one's point of departure, i.e. the concepts and propositions in terms of
which all the other concepts and propositions of a given theory are to be

explained or derived, but which must remain assumed or known in some

other manner.
But a particular difficulty arises when one must defme logical and epis-
temological categories. It appears that one is inevitably caught up here in
a vicious circle, for no logical concept may be defmed without using the
entire logic in one's explications. Thus, for example, in our case the ultimate
goal is to define the category of meaning, but we would not be able to make
a single step toward the goal without knowing what meaning itself is and
- upon that basis - what the meaning is of the special linguistic phrases we
utilize. Similarly one of the primary tasks in building our theory will be
to explicate concept as a category; however, we are already utilizing this
category amply. But this difficulty is resolved by drawing a distinction
between on the one hand, the informal, common-sense logical apparatus
which everyone uses, not just in science and philosophy but also in ordinary
life and without which all thought would be impossible, and on the other
hand, logic as a developed and somewhat formalized scholarly discipline,
whose terms are precisely defmed and whose meaning often differs from
their common-sense utilization in life. As a means of identifying this dis-
tinction, Charles Sanders Peirce used two terms from medieval logic : 'logica
utens' (logic we use although perhaps we are not aware of it) and 'logic
docens' (logic which is learned, logic as a scholarly discipline). Most of the
fundamental concepts of the latter have yet to be defined, but this is not
possible without assuming the existence of the former. In this procedure
there is no circularity, but movement from one level to another.



For formalists the point of departure is the existence of symbols, for posi-
tivists - sensory experience, and for conceptualists - a priori forms of
sensation and thought. In all such cases the point of departure is insufficiently
concrete and rich in order to derive all those concepts which are necessary
to explain the category of meaning.
Thus, for example, sensory experience - the point of departure for
empiricists and positivists - fails to offer sufficient grounds to explain the
origin of concepts and thought as a process of an objective, social character.
Even less can our models of material reality, to which our symbols refer,
be derived from or reduced to direct experience. Thus the sole alternative
for positivists is either solipsism or postulating material objects aside from

sensory experience, without any possibility of explaining the connection

between them.
Similarly one can by no means arrive at models of material objects by
positing the a priori functions of mind and concepts as purely mental entities
divorced from experience and the external, material world. Thus the neo-
Kantians merely demonstrated their consistency in eliminating the Kantian
proposition of 'things in themselves,' which figures as an ad hoc hypothesis
in a conceptualist system.
Pragmatism, in its official subjectivistic and irrationalistic guise - the
pragmatism of William James - is predicated on an overly narrow conception
of practice as individual activity, whose consequences primarily are of per-
sonal significance. (James, for example, asserts that the hypothesis of the
existence of God is true if it functions well in the life of the individual
believer.) Pragmatism in effect reduces the meaning of all abstractions to
this narrow conception of practice ("practical consequences for the life of
a particular individual"), rather than deriving them from a much richer
concept of social historical practice. In doing so, pragmatism - because
of its too narrow and impoverished cognitive foundation - cannot succeed
without a great deal of oversimplification and distortion of the true meaning
of many abstract terms.
As may be seen, the greatest difficulty for all these fundamentally sub-
jectivistic theories is their inability to explain the objective character of
language and of the meaning of linguistic expressions. Objectivity assumes a
relationship to historically given material objects: however, all these theories
avoid discussion of the existence of material objects and their properties
and relations in order to focus upon that which is allegedly "exact," "posi-
tive," "critical," or "practically relevant," and in order to avoid the bad old
On the other hand, realists - including vulgar materialists, objective
idealists of the Husserlian type - postulate material objects, objective ideas,
objective essences, etc., but go to the other extreme. With them, objectivity
takes on the aspect of absolute, extra-temporal and extra-spatial existence.
The second negative consequence of postulating objects is their too severe
differentiation from the subjective world. One thus arrives at a kind of
dualism: on the one hand the sphere of absolute subjectivity, and on the
other the sphere of absolute objectivity. And in order to make the leap from
the one to the other one must give too much emphasis to such foqus of
cognition as the direct observation of an object 'in itself,' empathy, intuition
of ideal essences etc., and these are not sufficient to explain adequately the

true process of cognition in all its relativity, temporary prejudices, and

Many Marxists, adhering slavishly to some of Engels's popular formula-
tions of the dichotomy between being and thought, have lapsed into this
objective-subjective dualism. But in his first thesis on Feuerbach, Marx was
unmistakably clear: "The chief shortcoming of all previous materialism lies
in the fact that object, reality, and the sensory world were conceived in the
form of an object of contemplation, rather than as a concrete human activity
or as practice, in a subjective manner." 1
Engels also expressed a similar idea in the following important passage:
"The natural sciences, as well as philosophy, have thus far totally disregarded
the study of the influence of human activity upon human thought .... On
the one hand they know only nature, and on the other only thought. But
the essential and most direct basis of human thought is not nature but the
alteration of nature by man: man's mind has developed to the extent to
which man has altered nature." 2
Along these same lines Lenin wrote: "The point of view of life and
practice should be the primary and basic point of view of the theory of
cognition." 3



Accordingly, the basic fact on which a consistent dialectical and humanistic

theory of meaning should be predicated is practice, activity by means of
which people transform their nature and social environment in order to
improve their living conditions.
Marxist literature discusses practice a good deal, but generally fails to
analyze it. Roger Garaudy, for example, in his treatise on cognition offers
the following 'definition' of practice: "Practice is not simply the action of the
individual man. Practice is at base production and class struggle. It manifests
itself in. all fields of social life, from the experience of scholarship to political
struggle, from industrial technology to artistic creativity." 4
This description is by no means the result of genuine analysis of the
category of practice and cannot be adopted as a definition.
Such an analysis is certainly necessary. The category of practice is a
preferable starting point for the theory of cognition because it has such a
rich structure, that it implicitly encompasses all other key epistemological
categories. Notions of experience, communication, understanding, material

object and fact, may be derived from it. The same cannot be said for any
category which other philosophcial schools take as their points of departure.
There are at least two other important reasons for which practice should
be regarded as basic epistemological category. Both are related to the general
methodological principle which holds that in the formulation of a theory
indirect knowledge should be based upon direct knowledge, that it should
proceed from direct knowledge and be tested by it.
In all its elementary forms practice is given directly and is thereby acces-
sible by means of all direct methods of study. The tilling of the earth, factory
production, ftshing, mining, forestry, child-rearing, painting and sculpting,
writing, lecturing, mountain-climbing, flying, public speaking, holding meet-
ings, demonstrations and strikes, wars and revolutions - all of these are pro-
cesses which not only occur in innumerable variations around us, but which
take up the greater part of our every-day life. In effect we know nothing in
life as directly and surely as the forms of practice in which we ourselves
participate. In this respect, the idea of practice has enormous advantages
over the category of sensory experience, which empiricists and positivists
consider the sole possible reliable basis for the theory of cognition. The
sensory experience of the individual is directly accessible only to him, for
others can not see it, hear it, or touch it. In contrast, practical activity is
always a physical process, a material phenomenon that may be directly,
intersubjectively studied. Furthermore, practice encompasses sensory expe
rience, while sensory experience - as conceived by empiricists - does not
encompass practice, but is rather conceived as a receptive, purely contem-
plative process. Thus sensory experience is considered in a context in which
it actually rarely occurs. We all make observations primarily in the process
of action, rather than under conditions of absolute rest.
And here we arrive at the second of the two reasons for founding epis-
temology generally and the theory of meaning particularly on the category of
practice. Practice mediates between the subject and object. Study of practical
activity is the only way to acquire direct knowledge of the material world,
other people, society and of ourselves as we objectively are. Even if we can be
directly aware of our perceptions, conceptions and intuitions, independently
of practical activity, this is insufftcient ground for knowledge about the
world, social reality and existence of other people. This is the reason why the
logic of their doctrine has drawn all consistent adherents of empiricism into
solipsism. Direct knowledge of the existence of material objects and society is
possible solely by virtue of practice, which is fundamentally nothing other
than the transformation of objects in a process of direct cooperation and
interaction with other people.

But this is only one component of the concept of practice. The concept
can be analysed into following six essential elements.
1. Practice is above all the transfor11llltion of the objective situation in
which man exists, i.e. the alteration, abolition, and purposeful creation of
inorganic and organic objects and the social conditions of human life. Here
belong<; material production and work in general.
2. Social cooperation is another form of practice. By this we refer to the
process by which people coordinate their activity, join their effo.ts, produce
mutual services and bring about various forms of organization and instotu-
3. Communication is that specific form of practice, which consists in
operations with signs, by means of which people come to mutual understand-
ing and stimulate one another to engage in a particular type of action.
4. Practice also includes creation of experience, i.e. the production,
selection and interpretation of observations, emotions, intuitive insights, and
motives to undertake new initiatives.
5. Another form of practice is evaluational activity, i.e. bringing about
value judgments, the selection of values that orient activity in a particular
direction and provide it with a particular purpose.
6. Practice also includes intellectual activity, i.e. the interpretation and
understanding of natural and linguistic signs, analysis of situations, and the
drawing of conclusions as a means ofidentitying the proper means to achieve
a particular goal.



The foregoing analysis furnishes the nucleus of all the epistemological cate-
gories. As we stated above it is the human effort to transform the natural and
social environment that constitutes the basis for the cognition of objects
(things, properties, relations, facts, and laws). Man arrives at knowledge of
the existence and qualities of other people, social groups, and society as a
whole through cooperation and interaction with other members of the
society to which he belong<;. Man learns the meaning of the words of his
mother tongue and the meaning of all the other symbols which are used in a
society through the process of communication with other people. It is in
practice that we acquire experience, together with all its components, such as
sensation, perception, emotion, intuition, and volition, in all their intensity
and variety. Thus practical experience is the most suitable basis to explain all

the categories of direct cognition. The origin of the concept of values (satis-
faction, moral goodness, beauty, etc.) is to be found in the selection man
makes of the available alternatives of his activity in the context of his vital
needs. Finally, all basic forms of thought, concepts, judgments, conclusions,
etc. represent, on the one hand, the concentrated practical experience of a
tremendous number of human generations, and on the other hand, rules for
practical operations, which are selected owing to their applicability in practice.
We thus arrive at six basic groups of epistemological categories, belonging
to the following areas:
1. objective reality in general,
2. society,
3. communication,
4. direct experience,
5. values,
6. thought.
It is to be immediately noted that one cannot draw a clear distinction
between the objective and subjective groups or the ontological and psycholo-
gical ones. They are all both objective and subjective in character, i.e. they
refer to phenomena and processes that exist objectively (independently of
the consciousness of any individual subject), but which are defined only in
relation to human activity and the subject who alters and acquires knowledge
of them.
All these categories are mutually interrelated and impinge upon one
another in a variety of ways. For this reason it would be extremely artificial
to arrange them in linear succession and adhere to a severe, formal order in
their presentation, explaining one concept fully before passing on to the next
in order of succession, without returning to the one preceding. For example,
it is impossible to explain completely what an object is and what our criterion
is for asserting that something objectively exists, without taking into account
conceptual thought and sensory verification; it is impossible to explain a
concept without taking into account the sensory experience on which it is
based; fmally, the very concept of experience would have to be extremely
simplified - if one did not take into account selection and interpretation
which are rooted in thought, and if one did not account for the objectivity
of experience in terms of its relation to nature and society.
All linearity (as for example that which one fmds in Hegel's classification
of judgments) would only lead to the breaking of many essential connections,
as proven by the experience of all great systems (largely built upon the prin-
ciple of linearity). Any attempt to build up a Marxist theory of cognition

on the basis of an oversimplified and exclusive formula - from thought to

being, from being to thought, from sensory cognition to thought, or from
thought to practice - is destined to betray the basic principles of dialectical
method, such as comprehensiveness and concreteness. Pure being, without
a practical relation to it - entailing a subjective and intellectual relation to it
as well - is a pure abstraction, such as Kant's "thing in itself." Conversely,
thought which is not an objective, social process - and which is not thought
about being - is, at best, the private affair of each individual, which the
theory of cognition does not deal with. One cannot get from sensory cogni-
tion via thought to practice, for practice is found at the beginning, and con-
stitutes the foundation of the entire process of cognition.
Although clarity demands that we proceed in an orderly manner, we will
not adhere to sequential order so strictly that we cannot make connections
with categories already mentioned and constantly return to them in order
to define them as concretely as possible. Our procedure will be multilinear,
although it will have a strictly determined point of departure - the category
of practice - and a strictly defined objective - the definition of the category
of meaning. In view of this method, the order of the presentation is not of
crucial importance: each of the six categories has its own advantages.
The order we have nevertheless chosen is from the category of the subjec-
tively known object to the categories pertaining to processes that are subjec-
tive in form and more or less objective in content. We have made this choice
because - other things being equal - one ought to key the order of one's
logical presentation to the order of historical genesis. It is a fact indisputably
established by anthropology, psychology, history of science and of philos-
ophy, and other disciplines, that man became aware of the world around him
before he became aware of himself. One can even say that man in principle
acquires a consciousness of himself and his subjective processes only upon
the basis of cognition of other objects: other people or natural processes.
Although the principle of the unity of logical and historical order should
not be treated as an absolute methodological requirement (in which respect
some Marxists go too far, in my opinion), adherence to the principle, insofar
as it does not conflict with some more important methodological principle,
certainly introduces more rationality and systematization into a theory than
would be the case if this requirement were totally ignored.
Accordingly in our presentation we adhere - in broad outline - to the
order utilized in enumerating the basic dimensions of practice, i.e. we will
proceed from the category of objective reality to the category of thought,
and eventually thereby to the category of meaning.


1 Marx and Engels, 'Theses on Feuerbach' The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by R. C. Tucker,
New York: W. W. Norton, 1972, pp. 107-110.
2 Engels, Dialectic of Nature, New York: International Publishers, 1979.
3 Lenin, Materialism and Empirocriticism, New York: International Publishers, 1970;
Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977.
4 Roger Garaudy, La tMorie materialiste de 10 connaissance, Paris, 1953.


Meanings of our symbols are objective in two respects. They are objective, first,
in that they refer to objects, and second, in that they are valid independe!ltly
of the consciousness of the individual, i.e. they are valid for a community of
people who are capable of interpreting them.


Object and Subject

The broadest meaning of the term 'object' is: anything that exists indepen-
dently of the consciousness of a particular individual (subject). Object, here,
is taken in the broadest sense - the 'state of affairs,' - rather than object
in the narrow sense of a 'thing'. Defmed in this way, object is clearly not just
a physical entity (thing, property, relation, or fact), but also other men and
all types of social phenomena (institutions, wars, poems), social ideas, and
social-psychological states - many of those phenomena that in contrast to
physical objects are usually considered to be a subjective process. Finally, in
a certain sense and in a certain context the term 'object' may also refer to
that which takes place only in the head of a man - his illusions, dreams, and
the distinctive elements of his perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. Given the
existence of other people, all his individual psychological states are objects
with respect to the consciousness of other men, for they exist independently
of them and thus may be the object of independent study.
Thus the absolute subject does not exist, except insofar as a particular
philosophical subject claims to itself the privilege of being the sole conscious-
ness in the universe. In that case an "absolute subject" becomes a purely
expressive sign rather than a communicable symbol, i.e. it serves solely to
express the state of consciousness of a given individual, rather than to trans-
mit a message understandable to someone else. Inasmuch as a scholarly
language requires in principle that its symbols be communicable, one must
necessarily suppose that everything that is subjective in relation to an indivi-
dual becomes objective in relation to other individuals. Accordingly even if
one adopts the view point of the positivists that solipsism is logically irrefut-

able, the fact remains that it cannot be consistently expressed in a communi-

cable language.
On the other hand, neither does the absolute object exist as an epistemo-
logical category. This is immediately apparent with respect to phenomena
that include collective psychological states. True, a social idea is an object in
the sense that it is independent of any sort of individually considered subject,
but it is not independent with respect to man generally, i.e. subject generally.
There were no ideas before the origin of men, and by the same token in the
event that human malevolence with nuclear energy would leads to the collec-
tive suicide of mankind, there would no longer be any philosophy, revolu
tionary doctrines, ballets, truth, beauty, or values of any kind.
But there are some good reasons to apply the term 'absolute object' to
material objects - things and phenomena of an organic and inorganic nature.
Objects and processes of this type truly exist, and for the indefmite future
they will exist, independently of human existence and consciousness. That is
why many realists and materialists would not hesitate to treat their objec-
tivity as absolute.
But even in this case when we take account of all the pros and cons
concerning the use of the term 'absolute object,' the counter arguments
prevail. First and foremost, an object that is in no relationship to man, an
object which man did not modify, reshape or create by virtue of his practical
activity, would be totally indeterminate for us, and would remain a pure
abstraction, like Kant's 'thing in itself.' Of course we are not in any direct,
practical relation with many objects. While we may utilize our musclepower
to bore tunnels in the mountains, change the course of rivers, transform the
desert into fertile fields, and turn fields into a wasteland, nevertheless, none
of us has ever touched a positron or subjected a piece of matter from the
planet Neptune to laboratory analysis. But in this respect one may adopt a
principle forshadowed by Marx and formulated by Charles Sanders Peirce, a
principle now universally recognized in the scholarly world. The principle
holds that insofar as certain presumed objects lack any practical consequences,
they are to be considered fictions, and the symbols that signify them should
be eliminated from scholarly parlance as meaningless. This methodological
principle is the reason why scholars no longer consider 'celestial spheres'
'entelechy,' 'absolute space and time' or 'ether,' to be objects. One cannot
derive from the defmitions of these concepts and from the propositions of
which these concepts are constituents the possibility of any practical pro-
cesses which could not be much better predicted and explained in some
other way. These objects without any relation to human practice (or to the

sensory experience that should result from that practice) far from being
"absolute objects" are not real objects at all, but at best "imaginary objects",
Le. cultural objects produced by a definite social community.
And even in regard to material objects whose existence we know with
great assurance and whose existence we would not doubt in the slightest even
in the event of the destruction of mankind (e.g. earth, water, the stars), the
fact remains that we know them only in their relation to us. In order to pro-
claim them absolute objects, we would have to exclude all their properties
since each of them contains some elements of subjectivity - in their color,
hardness, extension, in their duration. And if we were to abstract all their
qualitative and structural properties, we would also eliminate all the distinc-
tions among them. We would no longer be able to say that a particular
absolute object is granite rock, the Indian Ocean, or the star Vega, but only
that it is some completely undetermined, abstract 'something.' In the fmal
analysis both 'something' and 'thing in itself are our own human symbols
and have a certain human meaning. To paraphrase Wittgenstein's famous
proposition about the mystical inexpressible 1 (form), one might say that an
'absolute object' is "something that cannot be spoken about and which one
must be silent about."2 Our conclusion is that in epistemological terms (and
it is an open question whether it can be treated otherwise), an object is just
as relative as a subject. Something can be defmed as an object only in relation
to a subject. Depending on whether the subject is individual consciousness,
the consciousness of people belonging to a fInite social group, or whether it
is social consciousness in general, we are able to distinguish various types of


But before we proceed with the classifIcation of objects, we should resolve the
basic and most difficult problem of the theory of cognition: what does it
mean that objects "exist independently of individual consiciousness," and
what are the criteria upon which we can know whether something can exist
outside the consciousness of a given subject?
The reason for the existence of this problem is that many empiricists in
the past, including certain logical positivists (phenomenalists) between the
wars, believed that there were no theoretical or experiential reasons for the
assertion that anything existed outside individual consciousness. Already
Berkeley held the well-known view that all the qualities of things - not
just the secondary qualities, as Locke believed, but also the primary ones

(properties of space, volume and position) - were fundamentally complexes

of sensations. 'Objects' and 'matter' were nothing more than words signifying
congeries of experiential data. 'Existence' was a meaningless term unless it
meant mere presence in consciousness. "Esse = esse percipi" (to be is to be
Speaking in a similar skeptical tone, but with more caution, Hume stated
that the existence of objects could not be known directly or proven theoreti-
cally. Thus he attempted to explain the belief in the existence of physical
bodies by means of the constancy and coherence of a congeries of percep-
tions when perception is interrupted, as well as by means of the specific
quality of human fantasy that is able to extend beyond the bounds of gen-
uine cognition.



Between the wars, modern positivists and empiricists started by continuing

to defend a similar position, using different arguments. They did not hold
that it was wrong to speak about material objects, only that such propositions
were meaningless. Meaningful propositions were divided into the analytic
propositions (tautologies) of logic and mathematics and empirical propositions
describing actual or possible sensory experiences. The existence of material
objects cannot be verified by experience. On the other hand, one can conclude
nothing about 'transcendental' objects - objects beyond experience - from
experiential data, on the basis of logic (precisely because it is tautological). 3
Hence the meaninglessness of both positive and negative (e.g. Berkeley's)
statements about material objects. All propositions of this manner of speech
which leave the impression that its terms refer to objectively existing objects
(Le. propositions of a material, substantive manner of speech) should be
translated into a "formal" manner of speech, in which it is clear that the
assertions pertain to language rather than reality. Thus, for example, a realist
should not say "A thing is a complex of atoms," but rather should express
himself more precisely, as follows: "Every proposition in which there appears
the sign 'thing' is substantively equal to a proposition in which there appea~
coordinates of space and time and certain descriptive functors (of physics)."
Similarly, a positivist would have to replace the statement "A thing is a com-
plex of sensations" with the more precise and exact expression, "Each pro-
position in which there appears the sign 'thing' is substantively equal to a

class of propositions in which the sign 'sensation' appears rather than the sign
'thing.' "4
Carnap believed that a conflict between the two opposing viewpoints
could be resolved with this translation to a 'formal mode of speech'. Using
this procedure it could be shown that many theoretical disputes were merely
'pseudo-disputes' in which opposing 'pseudopropositions' were advanced
about 'peudo-objects.'
This empirical linguistic purism was directed primarily against metaphysical
speculative objects such as 'absolute spirit,' 'things in themselves,' (material
or spiritual) 'substance,' 'windowless monad,' etc., But it extended to a great
number of other objects - persons, things, past events, and even the concept
of the ego as the subject of sensory experience. All these concepts - more
precisely the words in which they are expressed - were to be eliminated by
analysis and replaced with expressions in which there appear only the flnal
elements of the analysis of such 'pseudo-objects,' i.e. sense data, logico-mathe-
matical signs and symbols which signify points in a space-time continuum.
Carnap attempted to carry out this phenomenalist plan in his early work,
The Logical Construction of the World. 6 Nearly twenty years later Ayer was
to defend it tenaciously in The Foundations of Empirical Knowledge. 7
Today even the positivists have abandoned the phenomenalist program.
It has been realised that the language of sense data is too meagre and that
even its lengthy and clumsy sentences cannot adequately translate relatively
simple expressions of ordinary language. For example there is no assemblage
of sense perceptions expressed in atomic sentences which can adequately
describe the meaning of the words 'Rembrandt's Danae,' and not only because
it is impossible to encompass the numerous sensory impressions that various
people have experienced in viewing this picture, but also because a part of its
meaning assumes its existence as a real object in one of the exhibit rooms of
the Hermitage of Leningrad, which is impossible to express by means of any
description of sensory experience. This argument can also be expressed in a
purely semantic fashion: categorical propositions about objects should be
expressed with hypothethical propositions about possible experiences. But
the logical status of these two types of propositions differs signiflcantly.
While the flrst type indicates the existence of certain objects, the second
expresses what 'could be' - and thus lacks existential meaning. An adequate
translation is impossible. 8
Although it contributed somewhat to understanding the relation between
experience and the concepts about objects, one may thus term unsuccessful
the logico-empirical manner of eliminating the problem of the existence of

material objects by translating the expressions containing symbols signifying

objects into expressions lacking such symbols.


The alternative which is open to empiricists and which they themselves in-
creasingly utilized in the Forties was to identify the conditions under which
our concept of material things arises from sensory experience.
Thus, for example, Ayer lists the following four conditions: 1. Relations
of similarity between individual sense-data; 2. A relative stability of context
in which these similar sense-data appear; 3. The fact that such sense-data
appear systematically, and 4. The dependence of such repetition upon the
movement of the observer."9
O'Connor believes that the following five major conditions determine our
use of the expressions 'material thing,' 'physical object,' 'substance,' etc. In
other words these are conditions which groups of sense-data must satisfy in
order to deserve the title 'material substance': 1. Qualities should be manifest
in close spatial-temporal proximity; 2. Members of such a group of qualities
should be linked in the course of a rather minimal period of time; 3. Mem-
bers of such a group should change together and in coordination.... Move-
ment should preserve the relative positions of the parts of the objects (local
movement). Of course there must exist certain proper connections between
the movement of visual and tactile sense-data.... If the change is qualitative
in form, the changes should be concomitant (agree with one another). 4. Phy-
sical objects should be public and neutral. They must be equally accessible
to all observers. S. Such groups of sense-data must have both visual and tactile
components. lO


The very fact that various empiricists have advanced different lists of condi-
tions that sets of sense-data are to fulfd in order to be termed material objects
(e.g. the great differences between Ayer's and O'Connor's criteria) indicates
their inadequacy and partial arbitrariness. It would not be difficult to cite
examples of words which every empiricist would agree to term "material
objects" and which nevertheless are not utilized in accordance with the
specified conditions. For example the sensory perceptions associated with
the symbol 'the planet Saturn' do not satisfy many of Ayer's or O'Connor's
conditions, or else the conditions are formulated so loosely that opposing

interpretations are possible. The sense-data obtained by observing Saturn by

the naked eye and telescope are much less similar than the sense-data obtained
by observing by eye Saturn and cert~ lesser stars. Nevertheless in the first
instance there is but one material object and in the second there are two
different ones. If one takes as context the sky as a whole, then one may speak
of its stability. But if context is understood to be the (ostensible) position of
Saturn with reference to various constellations, then one gets very large
changes indeed. Systematic repetition truly takes place here, but at least
within the bounds of the earth's surface, it does not depend upon the 'move-
ment of the observer.'
Finally, if we discount some of O'Connor's other imprecise formulations
(for example, what is Saturn's 'spatial-temporal proximity,' inasmuch as it
travels hundreds of millions of kilometers around the Sun, and travels un-
known paths in space, together with the Sun and the entire galaxy?), one
need only reflect upon the fifth condition. Is it truly necessary to touch
Saturn in order to acknowledge its status as a solid object?
All in all, the empirical explanations for the existence of material objects
cannot overcome two limitations.
First, one cannot encompass with empirical criteria the material objects
with which one cannot have any direct experience and which are known
primarily through abstract thought, and are tested only indirectly through
experience. For example empirical conditions like Ayer's and O'Connor's are
simply irrelevant for objects such as the nucleus of the hydrogen atom and
photons. They should include not only conditions for sense-data, but also
conditions that certain concepts should meet in order that appropriate
constructs may be considered material objects. But this is impossible for
empiricism. An empiricism that would acknowledge concepts as independent
intellectual forms without reducing them to sensory experience would no
longer be empiricism but rather a synthesis (or an eclectic combination) of
empiricism and conceptualism. 11
Secondly, empiricism cannot explain the fact that we possess much more
reliable and trustworthy knowledge of physical objects as 'constructed
wholes'than of the elements from which these wholes are derived. If one is
to believe the empiricists, one should know these elements - these sense-data
- with absolute certainty.
If material objects were the result of the synthetic construction out of
sensations as elemental and absolutely certain conscious elements, then our
knowledge of elements would be much more adequate and trustworthy than
our knowledge of their complex constructs. And the likelihood of error and

our uncertainty as to the possibility of identifying objects would increase

with the increasing complexity of structure. But the situation is quite the
opposite. I am able to identify my friend with a certainty that virtually
excludes the possibility of error. But if I were shown a range of colors or a
range of forms of head, hands, or body, I would be unable to identify exactly
the color of his eyes or hair or the shape of his body. In fact, consciousness
of sensations is not the point of departure for perception, but rather the
result of a special kind of analysis, which we often do not even perform.
Given the multitude of minute, barely perceptible variations in shades of
color, shapes, and sounds, the result is hardly as certain as the empiricists
assume. What is primary and decisive observation is precisely the whole, the
form, or Gestalt which we more or less justifiably believe the Gestalt of the
observed object to possess.


As the result of all the difficulties in the empirical explanation of the concept
of 'material' or 'physical' objects, today many empiricists and positivists, as
well as philosophers of various other schools, no longer attempt to reduce
them to experience, but, rather explain the existence of material objects by
means of pragmatic reasoning. They say that we usually postulate concepts
such as 'material objects' in order to obtain a more appropriate and simplified
conceptual apparatus.
In the case of Bertrand Russell, who was never a 'pure' empiricist to the
complete exclusion of realism and pragmatism, this fashion of justifying con-
cepts for material objects - by appeal to the principle of greater simplicity -
appeared four decades ago in his book The Problems of Philosophy. Let us
cite an excerpt from it:

It is easy to see what is won in simplicity when one assumes that material objects exist.
If a cat appears at some time in one part of a room and at a different time in another
part, it is natural to assume that it moved from one part to the other, passing through
a series of intermediate positions. But if this was only a collection of sense-data, it could
not have been anywhere where I saw it; thus we would have to assume that it never did
exist until I saw it, but rather suddenly began to exist at a new place .... Thus the prin-
ciple of simplicity demands that we accept the natural point of view, according to which
there truly are objects, in addition to our self and sense-data, that exist without regard
to whether we perceive them. 12

In a similar vein, Willard Quine, in his well-known article 'On What There Is,'
acknowledges that "physicalistic conceptual schemes," which claim to speak

about external objects but not about the subjective experiences of the indivi-
dual, "offer great advantages in simplifYing our communications, and are
more fundamental in a sense than phenomenonalistic conceptual schemes." 13
Thus he says:
"The physical conceptual scheme simplifies our communications about
experience because of the manner in which a myriad of scattered sensory
events are linked with so-called individual objects." Moreover he acknowl-
edges that "there is little likelihood that each sentence about physical objects
can genuinely be translated into phenomenalistic language, no matter how
complex and roundabout." Finally he provides the following definition of
physical objects: "Physical objects are postulated entities that round out and
simplify our picture of the stream of experience, just as the introduction of
irrational numbers simplifies the laws of arithmetic."14
Quine replied succinctly to the question of the criterion for something
being or not being a physical object. For him the "existence of objects" was
strongly linked to a particular language or system of concepts ('conceptual
scheme') which we are prepared to accept. If the language we have adopted
contains symbols that claim to identify certain entities, then these entities
exist to that extent. The difficulty which Quine attempts to resolve consists
in the fact that there appear in ordinary language ostensible 'names' which
do not appear to refer to any particular entities or any entities at all, such as
the word 'Pegasus.' There have always been philosophers who have believed
that something had to exist to which the word 'Pegasus' referred, for other-
wise we would not speak about Pegasus, or when we did, we would not be
speaking about anything (and that is nonsense). In order to avoid speaking in
a language whose 'ontological basis' is a world crowded with innumerable
such possible, problematic objective entities, Quine replaces names with
descriptions that contain nothing but predicates into which the problematic
entities may be resolved. IS In his opinion, everything that we say in the form
of names can be said in a language that completely excludes names. 16 If it is
assumed that this is a language of predicate calculus from symbolic logic, then
existential assertions will be expressed in the symbols of variable predicates
which are quantified, or preceded by existential operators. Such quantified
variables are called "bound variables:"
Accordingly the ontological assumptions of a theory are precisely dermed
by the selection of a range of variables that may be quantified. In a given
language, one may take as real objects all those - and only those - entities
whose signs may be substituted by bound variables as their values, so that the
expressions obtained are true. Quine expressed this in a sentence which has

been the subject of numerous disputes and misunderstandings. "To be means

purely and simply to be the value of a variable."17 Or, to quote him at

Now we have a more explicit criterion by which to decide what ontology is assumed by
a given theory or form of speech: a theory assumes those, and only those, entities which
the bound variables of a given theory must be able to signify in order for the statements
of the theory to be true. 1S

Leaving the details aSide, the essence of Quine's conclusion is that a real
object is anything which is signified by certain symbols which are the constit-
uents of the true propositions of a freely chosen suitable language.
Rudolph Carnap tried to resolve this problem in a similar manner in his
noted article 'Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology.' He drew a distinction
between two types of questions about existence and reality (the categories
'existence' and 'reality' differ somewhat in meaning, but Carnap treats them
as synonyms). The first type of question, which he termed internal, concerns
the existence of entities signified by particular symbols in the context of a
language. The second, or external type of question concerns the reality of the
entire world of objects to which the given language refers as a whole. Thus,
for example, ordinary language refers to the spatially and temporally ordered
world of things and events that may be observed. Here the internal questions
are: "Is there a white piece of paper on my table?", "Did King Arthur really
live?", and "Are unicorns and centaurs real or just imaginary?" Such ques-
tions arise in both ordinary life and in science and answers may be given to
them through empirical research. An example of an external question is: "Is
the world of things, as a whole, real?" This sort of question is encountered
in philosophy, particularly in traditional metaphysics ("where it provoked
centuries of fruitless disputes between realists and subjective idealists"). One
cannot reply scientifically to it, for it is not a theoretical, but rather a purely
practical question about the appropriateness of accepting a certain form of
Thus, according to Carnap there are two meanings of the term 'reality.'
The meaning encountered in internal questions is scientific and empirical,
which Carnap defines as follows: "To acknowledge something as a real thing
or event is to succeed in including it in a system of things in particular spatial
and temporal position so that it agrees with other things recognized as real
according to the rules ofthe system." 19 In short: "To be real in the scientific
sense means to be an element ofa system."20
The philosophical concept of reality that is encountered in 'external'

questions, according to Carnap, concerns our freedom of choice of one of a

number of alternative languages. If we select a language of sense-data, only
sensory experience will be real. But if someone "chooses to accept the
language of things, one cannot criticize him if he says that he has accepted
the world of things. But this cannot be interpreted as if it meant his accep-
tance of belief in the reality of the world of things. Such a belief, assertion,
or assumption does not exist for this is not a theoretical question. Accepting
the world of things means nothing more than accepting a certain form of
language, or, in other words, accepting rules for the formulation of statements
and for testing, accepting, or rejecting them."21
Although our decision to accept the language of things depends upon our
free choice and is not cognitive in nature, Carnap allows that theoretical
knowledge may influence this decision. The purpose for which we intend to
use the given language "will determine the factors relevant for a decision."
"Effectiveness, fruitfulness, and simplicity in the use of the language of things
can be some of the decisive factors."22
Carnap states that in its customary form the language of things functions
with a high level of effectiveness for most purposes in ordinary lifeY But
one should not conclude from this that effectiveness confirms the reality of
the world of things. According to Carnap, this fact merely makes the accep-
tance of the world of things advisable. 24


Each of the three philosophers we have mentioned (and not those alone)
seems to agree that the existence of real objects can be neither directly
known nor logically proven. And in fact if direct knowledge is taken to mean
only that knowledge which is acquired by passive sensory experience, and if
proof is taken to be strictly exact proof in the sense of modern formal logic,
these assumptions are correct. Hume's great contribution is that he resolved
this question for modern philosophy, if only by arriving at a negative result.
Since Russell, Quine, and Carnap are convinced that the use of symbols
that assume the existence of external objects cannot be avoided, they attempt
to justify it by means of such pragmatic arguments as effectiveness, fruitful-
ness, simplicity, etc. In any case positivism and empiricism have had numerous
points of contact with pragmatism. (James characterized pragmatism as
<radical empiricism,' and the pragmatic criterion of convenience has always
been acceptable to positivists.) Of late there have been more elements of pra-
gmatism in the doctrines of the leading empiricists and positivists than ever,

and nowhere is this as evident as in the case of so-called ontological ques-

tions. 25 Propositions that were once unhesitatingly proclaimed nonsensical
(for example, concerning the reality of the material world) are now considered
possible or even advisable alternatives, on practical grounds.
The other important factor with both Quine and Carnap is an increased
tolerance for realism and materialism, coupled with the undertaking of a
number of necessary steps so that with the acknowledgement of the equal
rights of the language of material objects one does not smuggle in the old
realistic metaphysics, with its profusion of various objective entities. Hence
the effort to restrict the ontological assumptions of a theory to a minimum.
This is the purpose of both Russell's theory of description and Quine's method
of eliminating names from a language and Carnap's refusal to acknowledge
the theoretical significance of 'external questions.' But one must immediately
observe that in this important effort to eliminate metaphysics, today - as
two and three decades ago - pragmatic arguments go too far as regards
material objects.
Thus, in his collection of articles entitled Mysticism and Logic, Russell
speaks of physical particles as logical constructs,26 and in Analysis of Mind he
tenns matter a "logical fiction."27 Elsewhere he has written: "Common
sense believes that when one looks at a blackboard one sees a blackboard. This
is a serious mistake."28 In spite of all his tolerance and objectivity, Quine
states that the phenomenalistic conceptual system is epistemologically more
fundamental,29 while asserting in a number of instances that from the pheno-
menalistic point of view the conceptual scheme of physical objects is merely
a "convenient myth."30 Carnap says the same thing in different words when
he categorically denies that in accepting the language of things one simul-
taneously accepts a belief in the reality of the world of things. He not only
denies the justification of such a belief (which is a logical question), but also
the very existence of such a belief,31 which is an empirical, factual question.
In reality, virtually every nonnal human being "believes in the reality of
the world of things." Hume's problem did not arise because he failed to
believe in the existence of things and other people external to his conscious-
ness,32 but rather because he did not fmd sufficient reason for such a belief.
But neither he nor any other philosopher found sufficient reason against it.
In such a situation the basic question arises of the relationship of philosophy
and science to common sense. There are numerous fallacious or unsound
common-sense assumptions and interpretations. But in all such cases we know
the reasons why we believe them and can explain how we arrive at our mis-
conceptions. We know the optical laws because of which a stick stuck into

water necessarily appears crooked. We know the laws of celestical mechanics

which explain why the Sun appears to rotate around the Earth. We also knew
about those forms of movement which are unknown to common sense and
on the basis of which we are aware of all the naivete of the common-sense
point of view (embodied in Aristotelian physics), according to which all
bodies are at perfect rest until some external force moves them. But if a
straight stick were not really straight and a crooked were not crooked, we
would not only be unable to distinguish sensory illusions from adequate per-
ceptions, but also all knowledge would be impossible - for in the fmal
analysis truth and the most abstract scientific propositions depend upon the
adequacy of certain perceptions. Similarly, we do not normally err in assess-
ing the reciprocal relations of movement,33 and for many purposes, partic-
ularly operative-practical ones, the assumption of static objects constitutes
a useful simplification.
In brief, common sense is far from being a label for the entirety of
human illusions and naive, unfounded beliefs. It is an indispensable basis
for any genuine knowledge. Science and philosophy do not proceed from
assumptions differing totally from common-sensical ones. In spite of the
critical stance of science and philosophy, their assumptions are revised
when good reasons call for it; Le. when it may be shown that common-
sensical notions are leading us to accept as true certain propositions that
are assuredly false, or to reject as false propositions that have been established
to be true.
There is no common-sensical axiom that is so firmly and generally accep-
ted as the belief in the existence of an objective world external to our con-
sciousness. Empiricists claim this belief to be 'naively realistic,' and have their
reasons for their criticism: they have drawn attention to instances of various
illusions and hallucinations where there are no genuine objects corresponding
to our experiences, or at least identical to them. But if one may distinguish
illusions and hallucinations from other perceptions and assign them to a
separate class, this argument merely leads to the conclusion that 'naive realism'
should be replaced with 'critical realism,' i.e. observations are not substan-
tively identical to observed objects, and sometimes such objects do not even
exist. 34 What additional reasons exist to call material objects 'mythical,'
'convenient formulas,' 'logical constructions,' 'fictions,' etc?
There are no such reasons. While science critically transcends common
sense, pointing out both its errors and its psychological inevitability,
positivism - which considers itself to be a scientific philosophy, utilizes a
different method: it rejects before it has found arguments, it ascribes to

itself the qualities of science in contrast to common-sensical naivete before

it has demonstrated its superiority with respect to other alternatives.
True, one may challenge the view that philosophy should take common
sense as its departure point and deviate from it only when sufficient reason
exists to do so, One might say that the task of philosophy should not be
understood so positively and optimistically, but more negatively and skepti-
cally: one might proceed from universal doubt rather than from the concep-
tion that we already know a good deal on the basis of common sense. In the
latter case the question would not arise as to whether we have sufficient
reason to abandon a common-sensical belief; the issue would be rather
whether we have sufficient reason to accept it. But in this instance skepti-
cism is transformed into a kind of dogmatism, for it generalises and gives
absolute validity to conclusions from a very limited field of investigation.
Modem skepticism - and its founder, Hume - takes into account only two
possible sources of cognition of objective reality: sensory observation (con-
ceived as passive contemplation, rather than as an integral element of material
practice), and logical reasoning (conceived as the exact, formal derivation of
one set of propositions from others in accordance to explicitly formulated
rules). One would be justified in saying only that neither of the two forms
(without claiming to be the sole ones) provides good reasons to assert any-
thing about existence external to our consciousness. Any other conclusion
would be a non sequitur.
Accordingly the first objection to the viewpoint taken by Russell,
Camap, Quine, and many of their followers is that their moderate skepti-
cism (as opposed to the radical skepticism that leads to solipcism) diverges
from a widespread and deep-rooted viewpoint, while lacking sufficient
arguments to do so. To that extent, their own viewpoint is arbitrary and
unfounded. It becomes fallacious to the extent that it may be shown that-
in addition to the two forms of cognition that empiricists rely upon solely -
there also exist others, or if it is shown that these two forms are much more
complex than empiricists treat them, consequently that, when sources of
knowledge are taken in its totality and in all its complexity, sufficient reasons
may be found for belief in the existence of material objects.
Secondly, we have seen that empiricists have converted the ontological
question about existence external to consciousness and language into a
linguistic question concerning the suitability of the use of terms and forms
of language referring to material objects. They permit a choice of various
forms of language and conceptual systems, and deny that the decision is

cognitive in character. Thus the question of the criterion of choice appears

to be not theoretical, but rather a purely practical one.
One can raise against this viewpoint all the well-known objections that
have made pragmatism untenable as a complete philosophical doctrine. 35
First and foremost, without certain theoretical considerations one can never
know whether a conceptual system is truly effective and fruitful or merely
appears so temporarily. Moreover the very concepts 'effectiveness' and
'fruitfulness' are relative and depend upon the given purpose. Since the pur-
pose for which a given language is used may be cognitive, the criterion of
choice between various forms oflanguage must be a cognitive question of the
first order. Camap, speaking about the purposes for which a language may be
used, cites only an example that makes his viewpoint plausible. He says:
"The purposes for which a language is to be used - for example the purpose
of transmitting factual knowledge - will determine the factors relevant to
a decision. Effectiveness, fruitfulness, and simplicity of the use of a language
of things may be among the decisive factors."36
But obviously the purpose does not need to be objective or social in
character - such as the purpose of transmitting factual knowledge. Other
purposes may be to advertise the products of a company, propagandize for
a church, sect, state or political party. In that instance one may deem as
'effective' and 'fruitful' - with respect to the purpose of a given subject or
social group - a conceptual system which is cognitively worthless, i.e. in
which Scientifically false propositions have the status of true ones, and vice
Thus either the selection of a particular conceptual scheme is in fact a
purely practical question, which leads to relativism and subjectivism, or
practical criteria must be supplemented with theoretical ones. If one restricts
the purposes for which a language may be utilized and if one wishes to
provide an objective scientific interpretation by means of the concepts of
effectiveness and fruitfulness, this may be achieved, in the fmal analysis,
solely by relating it functionally to the ultimate goal of knowing the objective
truth. In that case the question of the selection of the form of a language
becomes a significant cognitive question. In addition to the effectiveness and
fruitfulness of a set of concepts, the question also arises of their compatibility
with all the relevant existing knowledge and their compatibility with one
another. This means, first, that a conceptual system must have an empirical
justification regardless of its effectiveness and fruitfulness in various instances
of practical application and, secondly, that the theoretical investigation of a

given system in the framework of a metasystem must demonstrate whether

its categories are justified and necessary, whether they may be derived from
other categories or, conversely, whether the latter require the former to be
defined precisely.
The necessity for such a theoretical analysis of categories may not be
denied by appealing to an increasing utilization of the postulation method
in modern exact sciences. The postulating of certain concepts is better per-
haps than bad explanation, and the postulation method in general deserves
respect to the extent that in every theory certain concepts go undefmed. But
sometimes it is a symptom of lazy thought or the impotence of a theory that
it avoids rather than confronts problems. In other words, there should be as
few postulated concepts as possible: wherever possible the meaning of terms
should be discussed and defined explicitly.



The results of analysis of the cited attempts to defme the concept 'object'
by the empirical and pragmatic schools of philosophy may be summarized
as follows:
1. The failure to formulate an adequate phenomenalistic language demon-
strates a need in both ordinary and scientific language to utilize symbols that
refer to objects external to human consciousness, in addition to symbols
describing our experiences.
2. It is impossible to formulate a purely empirical criterion of objectivity
or, in other words, it is impossible to identify a set of general empirical
characteristics, E, so that whenever we have a symbol S which is believed to
refer to a material object, the expression "s is a material object" should be
understood as abbreviation for the more complex expression "s is an ensemble
of sense-data which have the characteristics E." A purely empirical system of
objectivity does not encompass objects of which we have no direct experience
and which we know primarily by means of abstract thought. On the other
hand, it is too weak to explain ou~ apodictic conviction in the existence of
material objects. It fails to justify the logical jump from sensations and per-
ceptions to objects.
3. The postulating of objects as the elements of effective, simple ~d
suitable conceptual schemes first of all avoids rather than confronts ontolo-
gical problems. It leads to relativism and subjectivism. But this relativism and

subjectivism is incompatible with the fact that almost everyone agrees as to

what is and is not a material object.
4. The empirical criterion of objectivity is a necessary, although not a
sufficient condition that a symbol must satisfy in order for it to be said to
refer to an object. To that extent it serves effectively to eliminate metaphy-
sics. Symbols that do not satisfy the empirical criterion, i.e. whose meaning
does not involve the possibility of a certain experience that may be en-
countered under some specified conditions, may not lay claim to objective


Uncritical realism is diametrically opposed to the skepticism of the positivis-

tic treatment of ontological questions. For realists the existence of external
objects independent of consciousness is no problem. They often extend the
field of the objective to so-called 'ideal objects' or objective ideas, essences,
and values independent of man. They fail to give an adequate account of the
sense in which ideal objects exist and how we know they exist. Thus it is
more interesting to examine what realists have to tell us about material
objects in the narrow sense. A typical example of the realistic conception
of material objects is to be found in the philosophy of George Edward Moore.
In his work Some Main Problems of Philosophy, 37 Moore defmes a material
object as "something that (1) takes up space, (2) is not a sense-datum of any
kind, and (3) is neither spirit nor an act of consciousness." Moore's basic
intent is that whatever philosophers have said, ''in ordinary life we believe
in an enormous number of examples and with enormous conviction in the
existence of objects which have precisely these three properties - and all
three thogther." (Moore does not deny that material objects also have other
properties, but considers that these three are sufficient to make their defini-
tion precise.)
We can leave aside here a critical analysis of Moore's defmition,38 for we
are primarily interested in the epistemological problem: how do we know
that the material objects which he has described actually exist. It is immedi-
ately clear from the explanation of Moore's basic intent that he locates his
basic support in the immediate commonsensical general conviction of the
ordinary man. It is from this standpoint that he has attempted to provide
evidence of the existence of physical objects. This evidence is considered to
have been formulated counter to Kant, who stated in the preface to the
second edition of The Critique ofPure Reason:

This nevertheless remains a scandal for philosophy ... that the existence of objects exter-
nal to ourselves... must simply be accepted on faith, and that insofar as anyone doubts
their existence we are incapable of opposing his doubt with any satisfactory evidence. 39

Moore's proof40 begins by his presenting a hand, which he waves, and this is
accompanied by the assertion of his first premise:
"This is a human hand."
He perfonns the same operation with his other hand, and then we obtain
the second premise:
"Here is another human hand."
Moore arrives at the following conclusion from these two premises:
"Two human hands exist."
Having arrived at an existential proposition, it is not difficult for Moore to
assert the analyticity of the propositions "All human hands are physical
objects," and to derive from the proposition "two human hands exist" the
generalization "two physical objects exist."


Moore's procedure is certainly very trivial and can scarcely be considered

a proof in the true sense of the word. If we were able to prove the existence
of a single object, in principle it would no longer be difficult to prove the
existence of two or more objects or the material world as a whole. Thus one
would still have to prove what Moore begins with in his so-called proof: when
he waves his hand and we experience a certain perception, how can one
justify the epistemological leap from the perception to the assertion of the
physical existence of that part of the body which we call the hand. Moore
himself has admitted that he does not know how one can prove propositions
such as "Here is a human hand." "If this is what is meant by proof of the
existence of external objects," he goes on to state, "I do not believe that any
proof of the existence of external objects is possible."41 In his opinion, there
are things that are known but which cannot be proven, including propositions
such as "Here is a human hand."
In fact it is illusory even to think that one can prove the existence of the
external world from a realistic position. Moore's manner of expression
merely leads one into confusion. In effect realists presuppose a direct, com-
mon-sensical knowledge of objects.

Sometimes they appeal to the findings of Gestalt psychology, as was

done by Friedrich Schneider in his presentation to the Eleventh International
philosophy Congress at Brussels in 1953.42 He asserted that the one-time
atomistic conception of sensations as the basic elements of mental life had
been outdated in modem psychology and cited Wolfgang Metzger, who
branded as mythical the thesis of pure, simple sensations as material qualities.
According to Metzger, we have no "sensations of place, position, direction,
movement, color or tone" (from which the given would be composed and
objectivized); what we perceive instead are directions, positions, and the
movement of object, of colored and audible bodies."43
But one may raise the objection that the fact that certain wholistic mental
processes cannot be broken down into their component elements (as Gestalt
psychology maintained) still does not imply anything as to the possibility
of the direct knowledge of material objects. Had Metzger expressed himself
more clearly, he would have had to say that we usually experience percep-
tion of localized colored and audible bodies, rather than an aggregate of
sensations of position, color, tone, etc. It is not for psychologists to tell us
what lies outside perceptions and mental life itself. That is a fundamental
epistemological question. Realists reply to this with a thesis that is axiomatic
in character: there are no fundamental differences between perceptions
directed at an object and the object itself (provided we are not dreaming or
hallucinating). Insofar as we are alert and 'normal,' an object is that which
we are directly aware of in an extrospective observation.
There is actually one significant similarity between neorealists and posi-
tivists. Both reduce experience to sensory perception, thus significantly
narrowing the possible sources of cognition of objects. Phenomenalism, so
characteristic of positivists, also crops up among numerous realists, parti-
cularly among the group of 'new realists' in the U.S.44
Inasmuch as they proceed from the same experiential basis and utilize
the same logic, the differences between the realistic and positivistic concep-
tion of objects are much more linguistic than fundamental in nature. Realists
apply the term 'object' to what is in fact the content of consciousness, or
perception. In his well-known work A Refutation ofIdealism, Moore - argu-
ing against Berkeley, divides perception into the conscious act, which is
subjective, and the content of perception, the object. He insists that the
relationship between consciousness and the object is external rather than
internal and that an object is not affected in the least by being made the
object of perception. However since he introduced the object into perception
and considered it to be one of its elements, he actually made the relation

between them internal. The content of perception has in fact been projected
by him into reality to be the object. In order to be found in perception, the
object must have been taken from it.
And so at least with respect to the so-called inspective (Moore), prehensive
(Whitehead) or existential realism (perry, Holt, Marvin, Spaulding, Pitkin,
Montague), the positivists (Carnap, Frank, Ayer) were partially right in saying
that phenomenalism and realism are fundamentally two alternative languages
for the description of the same empirical experience. Each of them is faced
by the problem of how to differentiate material objects from sensory illusions.
This problem can be resolved only by establishing a criterion for differentia-
tion. When this is done, realists can assert that we always directly observe
things whenever the conditions laid down by this criterion are present. Other-
wise we are faced by sensory illusions. On the other hand, positivists can
assert that we are always directly conscious only of our senses, and under
the conditions envisioned by the given criterion we can draw conclusions
from our senses about the existence of objects.
In any case, even if. we overlook all the other shortcomings of realism, the
fact remains that it cannot lay the theoretical foundations for its basic thesis
of the actual existence of objects external to human consciousness. Every
attempt of this type (as, for example, Moore's "proof' of the existence of
the external world) entails a vicious circle, for it assumes what is to be ex-
plained, i.e. our direct knowledge of material objects.



A materialistic theory of cognition should explain both direct and indirect

cognition of objects. The first exists in everyday life: we have direct knowl-
edge of trees, stones, other people, and our own bodies. The second exists
in science: knowledge of objects such as electrons, genes, and celestial galaxies
is acquired indirectly.
Sensory experience as it is ordinarily understood, i.e. as disinterested,
passive sensory contemplation, as the purely receptive experience of certain
sense-data, is insufficient to explain how we can have direct knowledge of
objects. As opposed to this (relatively) receptive experience, such as watching
a movie, the sole basis for the direct cognition of objects is dynamic, creative
experience such as we experience in work, in the process of practical activity,
no matter how simple, e.g. taking a book from a shelf. If we term this second
form of experience practical experience, it may be said to contain at least

four elements not encountered in the case of purely receptive experience.

These are:
1. Consciousness of a goal,
2. Consciousness of the means of attaining the goal,
3. Consciousness of action,
4. Consciousness of the results of action.
(1) What is consciousness of a goal? In a comprehensive perception (or
conception) in which a number of elements are found in a functional relation-
ship and comprise a (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.) field F, we carry out
the selection of element 0" pinpoint it by means of the symbol S" and
decide to transform it into O 2 Thus the purpose is the transformation
0, ~ O2 , which we refer to for ourselves and others by means of the expres-
sion S, ~ S2, where S, and S2 are objective symbols and the sign -+ refers
to the operator.
In the case of the taking of the book, S, could be "Laland's Philosophical
Dictionary on the shelf' and S2 could be "Laland's Philosophical Dictionary
in my hands," while S, ~ S2 could mean (in brief) "Taking Laland's Philo-
sophical Dictionary from the shelf," which is the goal of my action.
(2) Consciousness of the means of attaining the goal is constituted by
a rule or set of rules of which we are directly aware at a given moment, and
which is expressed in a symbolic manner. For example in order to take a
book from a (relatively high) shelf, one must climb onto a chair or ladder.
There are various ways in which consciousness of such a rule emerges. Let
us mention the three basic ones:
(a) It may be the result of previous, concentrated personal experience.
In that case we remember that whenever one must attain a certain type of
goal, one must carry out a certain operation or set of operations.
(b) It may be acquired by verbal learning and remembered in the form of
a set of symbols, i.g. in the form of a sentence similar to the following: "If
you are bitten by a snake, bind the portion of the body above the bite."
In this instance we know what one must do in connection with a given goal
and in a given situation even though we have no previous experience.
(c) Finally consciousness of the mode of attainment of a goal may be the
result of independent thought. In that case we formulate a rule for action
on the basis of our knowledge of the modes of successful attainment of
similar goals in different situations, or of different goals in similar situations.
Or we happen to know a general (symbolically expressed) rule which may
be applied in all cases of the same type as ours, and derive from it a plan of
action applicable to our case.

(3) Consciousness of action is characterized by certain introspective

and extrospective observations that never manifest themselves in the case
of purely receptive experience. On the one hand we directly perceive that
we are exerting energy, that we are making an effort, or that by virtue of
our own strength we are moving in space (either our whole body or just
some of its parts). On the other hand, we similarly feel directly that we
are overcoming resistance or that we are attempting to overcome a force
opposing our own. Empirical philosophers almost always forget such dynamic
elements in experience. Max Rieser drew attention to the role of the direct
perception of force in the struggle against idealistic epistemology in his
paper at the Eleventh International Philosophical Congress in Brussels.
He believes that the basic fault of idealistic epistemology is that it attempts
to apply the introspective method to the cognition of the outer world.
But the outer world can only be known by means of the extrospective
method, and the basic fact which is uncovered by this method is the existence
of force. "The extrospective world possesses a terrible amount of force
which fills our life either with fear or satisfaction. A world whose vision is
created by means of the introspective method is lifeless. It lacks force ....
Such a world fails to explain our experience." He goes on to say, "Idealistic
epistemology truly cannot explain the existence of force in the world, and
this is a serious argument against it, for man has a direct consciousness of
force - for example when he walks. This direct consciousness of inherent
force is just as real as the self-consciousness of thought which Descartes
pointed to." 45
(4) Consciousness of the results of action encompasses two basic elements,
one descriptive and the other normative. On the one hand we constantly
observe the effects of our actions and register every change in our flow of
observations, and particularly those changes relevant to an isolated element
o and which pertain to its transition from 0 1 to O2 On the other hand,
we constantly evaluate these changes by comparing them with our established
goal. If we are satisfied we continue to act in accordance with the previously
adopted rule of action. If we are not, we either supplement the original rule
with a specified new rule, or merely revise it, or we correct the goal itself,
or fmally we cease further activity.
Particularly important from an epistemological point of view is the phase
of practical experience that might be termed "consciousness of successful
practical action" or "successful practical experience."
It consists in the simultaneous presence in our consciousness of the follow-
ing basic elements:

(a) We remember perception 0 1 from the past or, in other words, experi-
ence an image which is pinpointed by the objective symbol S 1
(b) We remember the decision to modify 0 1 in such a way as to obtain O2 ,
This decision is symbolized in our consciousness by the symbolic expression
S1-+ S2.
(c) We know directly or remember that we have carried out the operation
symbolized by means of an operator-+.
(d) We directly experience the observation O2 ,
Or, to return to our example, successful practical experience involves
my knowing, along side with the direct observation of Laland's Philosophical
Dictionary in my hands, that I saw that book on the shelf a few moments
earlier, that I decided to take it from there and for that reason approached
the shelf, drew over a chair, climbed upon it, and took the book.
What is then, a directly known object? A directly known object is what
I am directly aware of in the course of a successful practical experience. Or in
other words (assuming that we know the meaning of the term "symbol" and
the term "signify"): a directly known object is that which is signified by an
objective symbol in the process of a successful practical experience.
The question immediately arises as to what we have actually gained by
introducing the concept of practical experience. In what way is our definition
of the directly known object better than the one realists provide when they
say that an object is something I am directly aware of in extrospective obser-
vation? The answer is that by introducing the concept of practical experience
we can successfully eliminate all common sensory illusions, hallucinations,
and dreams. In passive, purely receptive sensory observation we are aware
of a certain succession of impressions but we are unable to be sure whether
these impressions have any sort of objective basis, i.e. whether the mechanism
of their successive appearance has an external cause - physical objects -
or an internal one - the physiological condition of my organism, a mental
disorder or psychological disturbance.
In dynamic, creative, practical experience, we purposefully introduce a
modification by our action, by exerting effort and using energy, and all these
phenomerta are directly observable. The essential thing is that we attempt to
modify our experience on the assumption that it is also determined by exter-
nal factors, rather than on the assumption that it is merely the expression of
certain immanent, inner regularity. In order to take the book in my hands I
approach and touch the shelf. I do not exert effort to awake from sleep only
to slumber once more, or to replace one hallucination with another.
The next significant factor is that we do not always succeed in bringing

about intended modifications of our stream of experience; otherwise we

would still be able to defend the immanentist point of view: we are created
in such a way that we can modify our experience on our own, falsely believing
that some external factors affect us.
From the standpoint of immanent philosophy, it is very difficult to
explain the fact that while in many instances we succeed in foreseeing and
intentionally transforming our experience, in some instances our desires
and needs are frustrated. One would have to resort to an ad hoc hypothesis:
there is a limited discrepancy between thoughts, desires and experience.
The structure of our psychic life is allegedly such that only certain types
of thoughts and desires are causally related to certain types of experience.
There are limits to our influence upon the course of our experience.
For those who adhere to the immanent position it is an unfortunate fact
that they must explain the most diverse and specific cases of failure and
frustration in the same stereotyped manner, while the materialistic assump-
tion of the existence of material objects with which we interact permits
quite definite and concrete explanations. This is nicely demonstrated by the
following two examples.
I need Laland's Philosophical Dictionary. I go to the bookshelf and take
a book which looks like that book. But I am disappointed. It is not Laland's
Dictionary, but Dewey's Experience and Nature.
A second example: Coming home at night, I turn on the light switch in
the hall, but instead of the expected light, I am still surrounded by complete
In both cases the immanentist is forced to give the same explanation. My
mind was so constructed that choosing to "take Laland's Dictionary from
the shelf' and "turn on the lights in the hall" was unable to result in the
expected change in experience. The sole possible modifications of experience
were to see Dewey's book in my hands and to see light in the bedroom or
kitchen. It is obvious that there is no satisfactory explanation here. The real
explanation has yet to come: why did my intentions and acts fail to have the
desired effects upon experience? To each such question a materialist - after
varying amounts of examination - can give a quite defmite response. The
experience acquired as the fmal element in the series [the desire to take
Laland's dictionary from the shelf - consciousness of the way to fulfil the
desire - consciousness of activity (going to the shelf, reaching out, grasping,
and taking the book) - consciousness of the outcome of action] fails to
correspond to the experience that I expect, because at the place where I
expected to fmd Laland's Dictionary I found Dewey's work. My failure in

practice may be explained either by my bad memory, or by someone's

misplacement of the two books which have a similar appearance, or by my
error in observation and interpretation of the sense-data I obtained. That
which I concluded on the basis of the inadequate data of my sense of
vision did not correspond to the material object which was located at the
given point in space.
Similarly another conscious series [the desire to light the hall - con-
sciousness of the fact that the light would tum on if I flicked the switch -
consciousness of approaching the place where the switch was located, and
consciousness of the hand movement and effort to turn on the switch] did
not lead to the expected result - perception of a lighted hallway - because
no material change occurred. Either the light bulb had burned out, or the
switch had failed, or a circuit was broken. The cause of the fact that the
expected experience did not occur does not lie in my mental constitution
- that may be determined by undertaking a number of practical steps.
In most cases I will observe the desired lighted hallway if I simply change
the burned out light bulb with a new one.
Of course anyone who obstinately defends the viewpoint of immanent
philosophy can think up countless additional hypothesis. For example one
can say that after the change of light bulb the discrepancy between my
desire to obtain light and my actual experience was merely temporary, and
that now the perception of light occurs not because I have carried out a
simple, practical operation on a material object that serves as a light source,
but rather because the previous inner discrepancy between my desire and
my experience has spontaneously disappeared.
In other words one cannot absolutely prove that material objects exist,
and neither can one absolutely deny that everything that we experience
in practice is an immanent process that does not depend on any transcendent
conditions. The heart of the matter, however, is that only the first point of
view permits us to provide a clear-cut, simple, convincing, and mutually
coherent explanation of each individual case - successful or unsuccessful
- in our practical activity. The second viewpoint must resort to a limitless
number of quite unconvincing ad hoc hypotheses that test our tolerance to
the utmost. When we find ourselves in such a situation, even in the empirical
sciences, we believe we have quite enough good reasons to choose one of
the two opposing viewpoints and to reject the other. As a matter of fact
even here we do not operate with absolute proofs. We believe that the
individual propositions and theories of physics, chemistry, and biology
are true not because we have absolutely all the reasons to be convinced,

but rather because we have sufficiently good reasons. One can oppose each
generally accepted theory with another that similarly succeeds in organizing
all the experiential data and that skilfully succeeds in integrating each new
datum by means of additional hypotheses and modifications. By this very
fact it cannot be completely rejected. But nevertheless scientists will not give
it serious consideration precisely since its power to explain new phenomena
is so insignificant that it constantly requires the addition of supplementary
hypotheses. It is for precisely such reasons that anti-Copernican and anti-
Darwinian theories were unable to maintain their influence over time.
In the field of epistemology the crucial test for an evaluation of particular
doctrines - phenomenalism, imrnanentism, and other forms of idealism, on
the one hand, and materialism on the other - is successful practical activity
(precisely because there is such a thing as unsuccessful practical activity).
When one carefully analyzes practical experience, one necessarily comes to
the conclusion that under certain conditions we directly apprehend material
objects themselves, and not merely our sensations and perceptions.
One can never make a leap from mere sensations and perceptions to
objects. But it is possible to make the transition from practical experience to
objects, for the very reason that the practice upon which we have proceeded
is both objective and subjective. Practice is precisely the interaction of the
subject with something external, something existing independently of it. When
the subject becomes aware of this interaction, when his consciousness has
become so analytic that it has polarized into consciousness of itself and con-
sciousness of whatever is offering it resistance, threatens it, and which it must
overcome and model purposefully, at that point we say that it has become
capable of direct cognition of objects. Here, then, there is no unjustified
logical leap from subjective mental states to assumptions of objective entities;
what we have, rather is a breaking down of original, concrete, diffuse con-
sciousness, in which elements of subjectivity and objectivity are intertwined,
into direct consciousness of objects, on the one hand, and perceptions, ideas,
images of imagination, on the other.
It stands to reason that this separation of the two components cannot be
carried out fully. There are always subjective elements in our cognition of
objects. The objects of our cognition correspond only relatively well to the
objects that are fully independent of our consciousness. But we have already
stated that objects in the latter sense cannot be subjected to scholarly or
philosophical investigation. One cannot even talk about them without modi-
fying them and projecting them into the symbolic form of our language.
In addition to the distinction of 'object in itself and 'object of cognition,'

it is important to note one more distinction, i.e. the difference between the
'directly known object' and the 'indirectly known object.' Until the present
we have spoken only about the former, for cognition of these objects does
not assume a highly developed apparatus of discursive thought. We become
directly conscious of them in the process of practical activity.
We shall return to the latter only after an explanation of the basic cate-
gories of thought. Direct cognition of an object is the conception of the
object which we hold in everyday life. TIris is not a concept in the true sense
of the word, for it contains individual elements that vary from man to man
depending upon their apperceptions and concrete conditions of practice.
Indirect cognition of an object represents generalization and correction of
individual and variable conceptions. Here and only here do we begin to deal
with the true, scientific concept of the object. But nevertheless, without the
former we wouldn't have the latter. The entire edifice of our knowledge of
the objective world is founded upon our direct practical knowledge of earth,
water, fire, stone, animals, plants, and other people.



We previously pointed out that all objects may be classified in several groups
with respect to their level of objectivity, i.e. the extension of their relation
to the subject (a relation which must always be included in the concept of
Thus physical objects have the greatest level of objectivity - and here
we are referring to inorganic objects, astronomical, physical, and chemical
processes, organic bein~, and life phenomena in general. In brief, this classifi-
cation includes all objects and phenomena studied by the natural sciences.
Physical objects are defined in relation to consciousness of society in general,
by which we mean the totality of human communities in historical space
and time. Thus physical objects are not practically definable and knowable
solely for the members of a particular social group and in a limited time span.
Of all objects they are the most constant and most reliably known. In com-
parison with other objects they tend to undergo more practical testing of a
greater variety, under different historical conditions, during relatively long
intervals oftime.
In the category with a somewhat lesser degree of objectivity are spatial
social objects - other people and their actions, social institutions and all
those social events that have a physical behavioral aspect. There are among

these objects some which are defmed in relation to social consciousness in

general, without regard to class, race, nation, or a particular epoch (e.g.
acts of work, speech, sexual life, etc.). Nevertheless, in most cases social
objects are specific, historical phenomena accessible to the cognition of a
restricted community in a limited period of time. For this reason the social
objects of one era are generally not immediately accessible to the people
of the next era, who have only indirect knowledge of them, by drawing
conclusions on the basis of their remnants. (For example the architectural
and other monuments, paintings, sculptures, archival and other written
documents, musical scores, antique tools, instruments, clothes, and furniture
represent merely the remnants of a very specific totality of social life.) Even
indirect objective data about the social objects of several thousand years ago
are extremely sparse, while most of the types of physical objects of that time
still today have the same chemical, physical, or biological structure, and
in some instances even now we are capable of studying them as individual,
qualitatively defined objects (for example, planets and stars).
But in spite of their lesser permanence and spatial and temporal limitations,
the social objects at issue here have a characteristic in common with physical
objects - they exist in both space and time. Other people are first and fore-
most bodies with complex physical, chemical, and biological structures which
occupy a place in the space-time continuum. The same may be said about
all other social objects in which people participate - from building houses
and governmental sessions to theatrical performances.
All objects which belong to one of the two types we have cited, i.e. which
exist not just in time but also in space, may be characterized as rruzterial
Thus matter consists of all objects that exist in space and time.
The third group of objects is comprised of collective mental phenomena
common experiences, feelings, ideas, value judgements, interpretations
of symbols, etc. To a great extent the phenomena dealt with by social psy-
chology fall into this group of objects. Typical examples of this type of
objects are 'class consciousness,' Freud's 'libido,' Durkheim's 'collective
ideas', public opinion, etc. These objects exist independently of any sort
of individual consciousness, however, because they are mental phenomena,
they exist solely in relation to a social group, as identical elements in the
consciousness of individuals belonging to that particular group. We are here
by no means referring to hypostatized mental entities existing external to
or prior to their being experienced in the consciousness of actual people.
These are not ideas in the Platonic sense, Moore's or Russell's sensibilia,

Hussed's ideal meanings, Hartman's or Scheler's objective values, Bolzano's

truths 'per se,' or Hegel's concepts. As may be gathered from discussion
below about the criteria for the existence of objects, hypostatized objects of
this sort cannot have that type of objectivity which is sometimes attributed
to them. Some of them, like the above-mentioned 'sensibilia,' allegedly have
the same status of objectivity as physical objects - these are conceived as
aspects of spatially and temporally given objects. Others, like the Platonian
ideas and Hussed's meanings are asigned an even higher level of objectivity;
they are construed as absolutely objective and unchanging - not just existing
independently of any relation to man and society, but having a being outside
of space and time. For the existence of objects of this type no sufficient
theoretical argumentation has been provided. The only kind of social psy-
chological phenomena that one can meaningfully characterize as objects are
invariant elements in the mental life (in actual processes and dispositions)
of all the members of a community or society. These objects differ from
material social objects in that they are given in time, but not in space.
For this very reason they cannot be observed directly and, according to
many empiricist philosophers, they are known to us only through inference
by analogy, on the basis of our own subjective experiences. Inasmuch as
these nonmaterial social phenomena are also temporally highly variable and
ephemeral in comparisQn to material objects, in most cases their existence
is restricted to very brief periods of time - and their objectivity is justifiably
considered considerably less than in the case of material phenomena and
processes. But nevertheless this is not sufficient reason to consider them
purely subjective, as opposed to the other types of objects, which are allegedly
solely worthy of being called objective.
In accordance with what has been said about the relativity of the concept
of subject, even phenomena of individual mental life cannot be regarded
as purely subjective. Under certain conditions they may be classified in a
fourth group of objects. Even the most extreme cases, as for example the
experience of an illusion, of a hallucination, or of a dream, or the construc-
tion of a fantastic concept and the private meaning of a symbol which is
initially not understandable to others, all this can still be the object of study
by some other subject. One can conclude certain things about a mental
experience from the behavior, facial expression, movements, and speech
of someone who is hallucinating. Under certain conditions one can draw
reliable conclusions about the mental structure which someone has attached
to a given symbol according to his use of words and symbols and all other
external reactions. If this were not so, individual psychology would not

exist as a field of scholarship, and psychiatrists would not be able to help

their patients.
Thus, our preliminary classification of objects according to level of objec-
tivity appears as follows:


material objects mental objects

physical material social individual mental

objects social mental objects
objects objects

The criterion of the level of objectivity we used to classify the four groups
was the level of reliable, verifiable knowledge about a given type of object
or phenomenon. We have seen that this capacity is increased by the following
1. The existence of the objects in space as a rule offers the possibility
of direct intersubjective cognition, while objects that exist in time only offer
at best the possibility of indirect cognition (Their structure may be grasped
through introspection and communication.)
2. The longer the duration of an object in time the more it can be known
by people belonging to various generations with differing practical needs,
perceptions, and methods of investigation, which means, as a rule, the possi-
bility of a broader and more comprehensive verification.
3. Constant and recurrent objects, i.e. those objects that have relatively
costant structures, offer significantly greater possibilities of reliable knowledge
than variable individual objects.


The criterion for dividing all objects into material and mental objects was the
characteristic of existence in space, which applies to the first two groups only.
Let us offer some explanation concerning this fundamental distinction:
1. As mentioned above, it is fallacious to equate the material with the
objective and the mental with the subjective. In view of this one must con-
sider as imprecise the definition of matter as "objective reality that exiats
independently of individual consciousness." Not only is this so broad that

it offers no basis upon which to draw a distinction between matter and

objective-idealistic, hypostatized notions of spiritual essences and values,
but it also extends to social mental processes. Thus one arrives at the absurd
question of whether matter embraces thought as its special case (rather
than its physiological substratum). And in fact, if matter is everything that
exists independently of individual consciousness, then thought, feeling,
observations, and even the hallucinations of other people are matter -
but this of course is nonsense. One need only recall that the forms of the
existence of matter are space and time. Thus nonspatial phenomena - all
mental processes - cannot be characterized as matter, although they do have
a material basis.
2. The opposite of matter is often taken to be such categories as 'thought,'
'spirit,' 'cognition,' and 'consciousness.' But each of these categories is too
narrow to encompass all nonmaterial processes. 'Thought' fails to encompass
even all the categories of intellectual cognition (such as observation and
intuition). 'Spirit' and 'cognition' one-sidedly take account only of intellec-
tual, cognitive processes, to the exclusion of emotive and volitional processes.
Finally 'consciousness,' though it is the most comprehensive of all the four
considered categories, excludes the broad field of unconscious mental life
(instincts, drives, unconscious desires and motives, etc.). Thus it is best to
counterpose 'mental' to 'material.' ("Mental" is here used as a synonym of
"psychic. ")
3. The following differences separate material from mental objects.
(a) First, as already stated, the former have a spatial configuration and may
be directly localized in a space-time continuum by means of four coordinates.
The latter may be specified only by means of a temporal parameter. They
may be localized in space only indirectly - by determining the places in space
where the material processes that serve as their substratum are carried out.
(For instance the thinking of a man is carried out in the outer layer of the
brain - the cortex.) Strictly speaking this is not the localization of mental
processes, but rather of corresponding material ones. This is the ftrst essential
difference JJetween mental and material objects.
(b) The second essential difference lies in the fact that in a sense material
objects exist independently of nonmaterial ones, while the reverse is not
the case. Collective ideas, feelings, notions, and value judgments manifest
themselves only where material objects exist, above all people who belong
to a particular community and certain forms of the material life of that
community. In other words the existence of nonmaterial objects is a function
of the existence of material ones.

(c) The third essential difference lies in a very specific way in which
nonmaterial objects develop. They tend, namely, to have their content and
structure correspond as close as possible to the qualitative and structural
qualities of material objects. This is a higly complex process which sometimes
takes place by means of the construction of ideal objects that have only a
remote possibility of corresponding to the structure of the material world.
On the other hand while as a rule material objects tend to change indepen-
dently of human mental life, an essential feature of practice is that material
objects that enter human history are compelled by human being:; to change
in accordance with objective social ideas and with consciously formulated
4. The need arises here to define and delimit the terms 'matter,' 'exis-
tence,' 'reality,' and 'being.'


We have already seen that 'matter' refers to all objects that exist in space
and time. The meaning of the term 'matter' generally corresponds to the
expression utilized by many philosophers - 'external world' or 'physical
world.' As far as we are concerned, the 'physical world' has a more narrow
meaning; it refers properly to all physical objects and is a synonym for
the term 'nature.'
'Existence' is a broader term than 'matter,' inasmuch as it also encom-
passes all mental processes. It is not just rocks and houses that can be said
to exist, but also observations, conceptions, fantastic images, desires, inten-
tions, etc. But in a temporal sense it is a much narrower concept than matter.
It encompasses all material and mental processes to be found in a limited
interval of time. Existence differs in each new point in time. A man who has
just died ceases to exist, but he continues to be a material object. Precisely
because of its temporal qualities existence has not just a general meaning
but also an individual one. Conversely, matter is impersonal and is invariant
in all the transformations of individual material objects.
'Reality' is a broader concept than 'matter,' as is evident in the fact that
it is often accompanied by the predicate 'material.' This implies that there
is a reality that is not material, but conversely one never says 'real matter,~
for the opposite category implied by this expression - 'unreal matter' - is
absurd. Thus everything that is material is real. But the converse is not true.
All mental processes are real, regardless of whether they are treated as an

object of cognition or as subjective processes of cognition. But as we have

stated above, they cannot be said to be material.
Thus far the categories of reality and existence overlap. There is a clear
distinction between them in that reality is not restricted solely to that which
is actually given at a particular point in time. It refers also to the sphere of
the potential in the material world and the sphere of mental dispositions.
This distinction is clearly evident if the question arises of the status of a
natural, social, or psychological law which at a particular point in time is
not exemplified in any actual natural or social phenomenon. For example
on the basis of Weber's law a source of light must be intensified by 1/100
of its original strength in order for the difference to be perceived. 1lrls law
says that under specified conditions the existence of a particular phenomenon
will result in the appearance of another. It differs from an actually existing
object in that at a given moment no single phenomenon manifesting itself
according to the law need exist. It merely serves to express a relationship
that exists in phenomena if the necessary conditions obtain. But it is never-
theless real in that it assumes that at the point in time t 1 these conditions
are just as temporarily absent as they are temporarily present at another
point in time t 2 If the conditions under which a law exists as a regularity
of certain phenomena have permanently disappeared, that law ceases to be
real. But in the interval between two manifestations of its actual existence
in phenomena it is real, even though it does not actually exist. In this sense
the economic laws of feudal society have disappeared - ceased to be real
- while the law of value is real even it at a certain point in time there is
no merchant on earth selling goods in accordance with it.
Laws are obviously a specific type of object, precisely because they
constantly shift from the sphere of existence to the sphere of possibility,
and vice versa. While they are in the sphere of existence they in no way differ
from any other individually taken relations between material or mental
processes. The essential difference between a lawful relation, e.g. the spatial
relationship between a falling body and the earth, and a non-lawful relation-
ship, e.g. the relationship between a falling body and DUrer's picture of the
Apostle Paul in the Munich Picture Gallery lies in the fact that the former
relationship remains real even when it ceases to actually exist, i.e. it has
the property of becoming existent again as soon as the necessary, conditions
reappear. Whenever we raise a body in the air and then let it go it will come
into the same relationship with the earth, while its relationship toward
DUrer's painting will always differ.
The laws of mental life may be termed dispositions. Thus a disposition

is the property of a certain set of organisms (or an individual organism) to

experience a certain mental process whenever certain conditions obtain. The
term 'law' is ordinarily used only when one speaks of human dispositions of
man in general as a psychological being - but in principle there are no differ-
ences between these two concepts. On the one hand, one may speak of
human dispositions in general, and on the other hand one may speak of the
laws regulating the menta11ife of particular human communities and even of
a single individual. (This is one of the types of laws of the individual which
scientific research has more or less ignored so far.)


In connection with dispositions we encounter a rather puzzling type of object

- the logical forms (concepts,judgments, conclusions, etc.) and mathematical
objects (number, set, point, line, etc.). It is obvious that these entities are
not to be understood as actual men tal occurrences in either the personal or
social sense. A mental object is a real intellectual operation - e.g. the act of
adding the numbers 74 and 23 - at a particular moment t. But the question
arises: what sort of objects are 74 and 23, not to mention the relationship of
addition itself? It is obvious that at a given moment no one in the entire
world may be thinking about the number 74. At that moment, then, it would
not be an element in any mental object, be it individual or social. And neither
could it be considered a material object, for material objects have quantitative
properties and relationships but not numbers. Numbers are human invention.
In what sense then is the number 74 an object?
It is an object primarily in the sense that it is a symbol, i.e. a material
object whose unique property is that in the minds of a person or persons,
under certain conditions, it constantly instigates a mental process - in our
case the idea of a set of 74 identical elements. Here the numeral 74 is a
material object: a more or less complex configuration of ink or - if pro-
nounced - a structure of sounds. It could not be considered a symbol were it
not constantly related to an objectively existing disposition in each literate
person to associate with it, under certain conditions, the idea of a set of 74
identical elements.
Along the same lines one may apply the term "object" to aI-J form of
thought, e.g. the concept of a house, It is obvious that this concept is an
object quite different from a house as a material object in space and time or
from the observation of a house as a mental object that is real at a particular
point in time. The concept of a house is relatively independent of the one or

the other. Even if all the houses on earth were destroyed in a catastrophe the
concept of a house would not disappear. People would in fact rely upon it
to reconstruct their homes. It wbuld only disappear if the people disappeared
along with their houses. But as long as there exist intelligent beings who
retain in their minds the concept of a house, this is real, even if at a particular
point in time it is not actually given in anyone's consciousness. Once again
we are concerned with a symbol, i.e. a specific material object which is
associated with an objectively existing disposition to experience an idea under
particular conditions.
The concept is obviously an object for it is independent of the conscious-
ness of any individual subject. However, not only is it not strictly localized
in space, unlike all material objects, but neither is it specified in time in the
same way as ideas and perceptions. This is not to say that it is outside space
and time or iliat it has an ideal being, such as the Husserlian logicists assert, in
opposition to the psychologists. Even concepts have spatial and temporal
parameters of a type, although they are completely different from those
encountered with all other objects. All forms of thought are determined in
space and time in an indirect manner - by means of the forms of thought of
the members of a particular historical society which exists in historical space
and time. In this sense our concepts have a down-to-earth character and are
related to a particular epoch in the development of human thought. The con-
cept "a7retpov" is related to Ionian philosophy in the fifth century B. C. The
concept of "Bolshevik" is related to twentieth-century Russia. Concepts
arise, develop, and disappear like all other objects, and consequently it is
inappropriate to speak of them having an ideal existence or validity. Con-
cepts are quite real, but are not always actually existent.


Thus far it appears that reality is the most comprehensive category whose
meaning can be expressed as the totality of all objects and subjects. But a
difficulty arises here. Thus far we have taken account of perceptions and
representations merely as mental operations, and concepts and judgments
only as mental forms, i.e. as dispositions related to particular symbols. Now
the question arises of whether one may also speak of the objects of percep-
tions, representations, concepts, and judgments as objects that are always and
invariably real. A large number of the objects of experience and thought are
certainly real. But we have established that the level of objectivity of the
objects of our experience and thought varies and declines to the extent that

one utilizes less exact modes of thought, that practical verification is less cer-
tain and conclusive and to the extent that objects are more variable and given
only in time and not also in space. This decrease of the level of objectivity
is continuous, but nevertheless there exists a kind of threshold of reality,
beyond which we encounter unreal, imaginary, and fantastic objects, which
- we are certain -lack any correlate in material reality.
For example, while such objects as the Elbe River, beryllium, the Old
Vic, and the Antarctic ice cap are real, one may be sure of the unreality of
the imaginary characters and objects of mythology and literature, such as
Antigone, Dante's hell, Soames Forsythe, as well as the presumptive objects
of unverified scientific and quasi-scientific theories, such as the heavenly
spheres, the elixir of life, flogiston, ether, vital spirit, etc. Here belong also
the supposed correlates of inapplicable logical and metaphysical categories
such as a second order predicate calculus whose completeness and consistency
has been proved, the Absolute Idea, the First Cause, and monads. Finally,
beings supposed to correspond to religious notions of God, the devil, immortal
souls and the angels are typical examples of fantastic objects.
In all such cases we are dealing with symbols related to completely real
dispositions of imagining certain objects - in other words these concepts
themselves are completely real. But the things to which these concepts refer,
which they signify, do not exist in reality. This of course does not mean that
they are absolutely unreal: like all other oppositions, the opposition between
the real and unreal is a relative one. The relativity of the opposition means
that, even with the most fantastic of concepts, we are dealing with certain
thoughts comprised of elements of ideas of real objects. All religious concepts
are projections of certain human ideals,46 and these ideals are merely modifi-
cations of certain real tendencies and phenomena that are too undeveloped to
satisfy human needs. In all religions God is created in the human image; He is
a kind of supreme ruler whose attributes are obtained by magnifying, extra-
polating, and modifying human characteristics.
Various transitional cases are to be found between these extremely fantas-
tic and real objects of thought. Thus for example so-called ideal objects are
in fact the supposed correlates of abstract concepts as results of rational
exploration of possibilities. One method of such exploration is analysis and
separation of a single element from the context in which it is given in reality
(e.g. mathematical objects - points, lines, planes; ideal physical objects -
the mathematical pendulum, inertia, free fall. Another such method is extra-
polation of the central tendency of a real process and assuming an ideal
boundary toward which the process tends (e.g. absolute truth, the all-round

personality, and a society in which the opposition between human essence

and existence has disappeared, in which each individual is rewarded according
to his needs). A common method of such rational exploration is also synth-
esis, construction of an ideal object out of various elements of real objects
(e.g. ideal female beauty, the ideal landscape, the ideal society of various
utopians, etc.).
A special class is comprised of objects described by scientists but whose
existence has yet to be confirmed - the atoms of antimatter, cancer-causing
viruses, Pronin's snowman, etc. Many objects have passed through a period
in which they were described but were not yet discovered, such as Priestley's
chemical element which unites with other elements during oxidization,
Leverrier's Neptune, Mendeleev's eka-boron and ekaaluminum, Dirac's
positive electron, Planck's quantum of energy, Einstein's curved space,
etc. Such objects of thought belong temporarily to an indeterminate sphere
- in the course of time some are fmally verified and become real objects,
and some are excluded from the field of reality.
The question arises as to whether we should consider as a special type of
objects (unreal objects) those constructs of thought which we know to lack
any correlate in objective reality. This is an old question that has troubled all
realists from Plato to Meinong and Russell: can one think of anything that
does not exist in some way? As soon as something becomes the object of
thought it can no longer be identified with pure nonbeing. Thought without
content, thought that does not intend an object cannot be thought.
And one must truly acknowledge that whatever is the object of thought
must somehow be. But this is a significantly different mode of being from
what we have dealt with heretofore. We have noted that material objects
actually exist in time and space, while mental objects exist in real time. The
laws of the material world and the forms of thought and experience lack any
actual, permanent existence, but they are permanent as a possibility and a
mental disposition related to certain symbols. Under specified conditions
they are exemplified in material and mental processes and in so doing they
are not just real, but they actually exist, at least during short time intervals.
It is a distinctive feature of unreal objects of thought (when they are un-
real) that they never exist actually, even for the briefest period of time. They
are solely,as the content of a concept (or else of judgment, idea, orimage of
fantasy) or as the meaning of a symbol. While the corresponding form of
thought (and particularly the linguistic symbol to which it is related) exists
at least temporarily, the product of thought never actually exists in either
time or space. Its being is completely dependent upon the existence of

conscious individuals and their mental processes. Accordingly we are con

cerned here with a particularly immanent mode of being - in a sense outside
time and space, but nevertheless indirectly in them.
And yet, some of these unreal objects of thought and experience satisfy
the basic condition for consideration as objects - in a special way they are
independent of any individual subject. Even if I had not been born - other
people would know the meaning of a point, line, mathematical pendulum,
differential, and classless society. Accordingly one may speak about unreal
objects as the constituent elements of being. It is important however, to make
it perfectly clear that these unreal, ideal, fantastic objects by no means exist
'in and of themselves' - in a partiuclar sphere of being. They are completely
dependent upon the existence of conscious beings who are able to imagine
them under certain conditions, in connection with particular symbols.


Following the above discussion we can see more clearly the distinctions
between the terms 'state of affairs,' 'object,' 'reality,' and 'being.'
Here the term 'state of affairs' is taken in the broadest sense as anything
that a subject can experience or imagine. In this sense even the contents of
individual acts of hallucination or visions may be states of affairs. 'Objects'
are those contents of thought that have an intersubjective, social character,
i.e. those which exist independently of any individual subject.
The distinction between the categories 'reality' and 'being' is that being
is a much broader concept, in that it also encompasses unreal objects. One
might say that reality is the totality of all objects and subjects47 which
actually or potentially exist in time and space or at least in time.
The term 'objective reality' is narrower than reality per se in that it ex
cludes the subject to which all objects and other subjects are related. (An
analogue is a system of reference abstracted from the observer.) Thus while
reality includes myself and all other people, objective reality includes all
other people without my consciousness.
One can draw a similar distinction with the term 'being.' We have estab
lished that in addition to everything that comprises the meaning of the term
'reality,' the term 'being' also includes all those contents of thought and
experience lacking correlates either in the world of things or in mental life.
Thus 'objective being' would encompass the totality of all subjects and
objects - both real and fantastic - except for my own self and the quite

individual, unique objects of my thought and experience. 'Being,' on the

other hand, would encompass everything - all actual and potential objects,
all real and unreal ones, all subjects aside from me, and me myself, including
all the contents of my experience, imagination, will, and thought.


Inasmuch as we shall later come back to a discussion of experience and forms

of thought, we shall reserve the end of this chapter for an analysis of the
meaning of the category 'material object.'
In comparison to all other objects material objects are obviously of funda-
mental significance. They are an essential condition for the existence of both
mental processes and logical, mathematical, and various other unreal objects,
without being necessarily conditioned by them.
Thus far we have discussed material objects in general terms, without
drawing important distinctions. But there exist various categories of material
objects - things, classes, facts, structures, properties, relations, processes.
There are two ways to explain the meaning of these terms. One is to
utilize one category to explain the next, and to explain the few terms that
remain with reference to everyday language terms whose meaning is relatively
clear. The other method is to correlate the categories of material objects with
the corresponding linguistic categories on the following model: ''The material
object type x is everything signified by the adequate linguistic symbol type
A symbol is said to be adequate when it refers to a real object. When the
given symbol is a sentence, then to call it adequate is to say that it is true.
Neither of these two methods is quite satisfactory: in both cases we
assume more than warranted clarity in the terms that constitute the definiens.
Unfortunately it seems that there is no alternative method to resolve this sort
or problem. In any case we shall utilize both methods.
Thus, for example, we may say that a fact is (1) that which is signified by
a true sentence, and (2) a relationship between two or more things, between a
thing and its property, or fmally, the activity of a thing.
Structure is (1) anything signified by a system of constant relations among
symbols, provided the symbols and relations among them are adequate.
Alternatively, structure is (2) a system of constant relations among things or
A class is (1) anything signified by the extension of an adequate term.

Alternatively, a class constitues (2) a set of things sharing at least one com-
mon property or relation. (We are assuming here of course that a 'set' may
contain just a single element.)
We cannot univocally derme the category process by means of its linguistic
correlates. Processes are sometimes expressed by means of names (e.g. 'light-
ning,' 'football match,' 'growth'), sometimes by means of description (e.g.
'the evaporation of water at temperatures above 40 Centigrade,' 'natural
selection by means of the survival of the fittest,' 'socialist revolution through
armed struggle against the invader'), and sometimes by means of sentences
(e.g. 'It is thundering'. 'Bears are dying out in our country'. 'The water level
of the Danube is rising rapidly.) Processes are distinguished by their dynamic
character. Things are usually stable and relatively constant, and in the case
of facts we direct our attention merely to whether something objectively is
or is not, leaving aside the primarily static or dynamic character of whatever
there is. In the case of processes we are concerned with something that is
taking place and changing in time. Of course even things are processes in
a sense - they are only relatively constant, and the larger the time interval
we take into account the more obvious are their changes, both quantitative
and qualitative. But we draw a distinction between the meaning of words
such as 'pencil,' 'stove,' 'wood,' etc. and words such as 'lightning,' 'rain,'
and 'football match.' In the first case the stress is upon spatial givenness
and the permanence of a certain entire structure of properties, while in the
second case the accent is upon activity in time and variability.
We are thus left with three fundamental categories: 'thing,' 'property,'
and 'relation,' and like anything else that is fundamental, these are the
most difficult to explain.
A thing is anything signified by an adequate name (in a symbolic language
- by an individual constant) and exists relatively permanently in space
and time. Here the term 'thing' obviously has a technical meaning that is
broader than the meaning of the word 'thing' in ordinary language (though
less broad than the meaning of the term 'res' in Descartes' phrases 'res extensa'
and 'res cogitans,' where it functions as a synonym for substance). As an
epistemological category 'thing' encompasses not only dead things but also
living beings, and even people (when they are reified, "reduced to bodies
that behave in a regular, predictable way", devoid of innovative, creative
Each thing is a concrete, individual totality of characteristics, which -
given all the nonessential modifications - represents a relatively permanent
unity. As opposed to certain properties and relations, a thing is actually

existent and localized in both space and time. It can also have certain poten-
tial characteristics, or it can exist potentially in certain relations that are
not presently existent, but at each point in time it is independent of them,
i.e. it would be a thing even without them. If these potential characteristics
and relations fail to manifest themselves, the given thing does not become
either more or less of a thing than it was previously, it simply undergoes
certain modifications, i.e. it becomes a somewhat different thing. Its indi-
viduality can change, although it does not have to.
Property refers to everything signified by an adequate predicate in ordinary
language, i.e. a one-term predicate in symbolic language. 48 In contrast to a
thing, a property is not an object that can exist independently in the material
world. Colors, forms, magnitudes, and other qualities exist only as the con-
stituent elements of things. Thus properties are not concrete wholes, but
only abstract factors of objects. Abstracted in this way, properties can be
imagined, conceived, and one may speak about them separately, but they
do not exist as isolated properties in the material world. Thus they can be
localized in space and time only in terms of the things of which they are
factors. At times this sort of localization can be carried out easily. When
we say that a man is swarthy, we are referring to both his hair and eye color.
But when we say that he is honest, we are most defmitely not referring to
any of his parts. Moreover when we observe a person in a particular time
interval it may be that we fmd nothing that would permit us to attribute to
him such a particular property, even though on the basis of past experience
we are sure that he has that property. But if we extend the interval of obser-
vation and vary the conditions in which a particular person is to be found,
it may be that at a particular moment, under certain specific conditions,
the person may behave in a manner which we term honest. Of course if this
does not take place, we will say that the property has probably disappeared,
that the man has changed, or that our initial evaluation was probably faulty.
Here we are confronted by properties that need not be actually existent,
given in a particular point in time and localized with respect to a particular
part of the given thing. Here we are referring to a thing's possibility or dis-
position, under specific conditions, to react in a particular manner. This
manner may be strictly specified and singular, or it may encompass several
various types of behavior, all of which share a common characteristic. In any
case we are confronted here with so-called 'dispositional properties,' which
may be specific or general. So-called 'essences' are usually dispositional
properties: philosophers term them 'essences' because of their constancy
and necessary manifestation whenever the appropriate conditions are met;

accordingly they determine the constitution of a thing, its form (form is

actually essence - eidos).
In material reality the general exists primarily in terms of properties.
Things are always individual. Houses in general, or chairs in general, are
not things but sets of abstract, constant properties that do not exist in
and of themselves, but rather in individual objects - in concrete houses
and chairs.
All that remains is to derIDe the category 'relation.' In ordinary language
it is difficult to derIDe unambiguously the category of linguistic phrases to
which it corresponds. In order to signify relations we primarily use preposi-
tions and conjunctions, but virtually any other word may serve this purpose.
The cases of nouns, verb tenses and persons, and the degrees of adjectives
and adverbs serve to express the most diverse sorts of relations. In symbolic
language the picture is quite clear: a relation is anything signified by a multi-
term predicate.
Relations differ from things in a manner similar to the way properties
differ froffi things. They do not exist independently, but only as connections
among things. To this extent relations are abstract factors rather than con-
crete wholes, and may be localized in space and time only by means of things.
We derIDe laws to be those relations that need not be actually existent but
which manifest themselves regularly under certain conditions and thereby
assume an aspect of constancy, generality and necessity. We see, then, that
not just properties, but relations as well have a general character.
The distinction between relations and properties represents a particular
kind of difficulty. If we say only that the former represent connections
among things and the latter the characteristics of these things, or that things
have properties and enter into relations, we have failed to make much pro-
gress. To reduce properties to relations would constitute an interesting
approach to explanation. Are not all the properties of a thing ultimately
structures - i.e. systems of relations of their component parts with respect
to other things? What does it mean to say that a thing has a particular color?
It means nothing more than that the structure of its particles (system of
internal relations) is such that of the white light which it obtains from a
light source (a relation toward an external object) it absorbs all the other
light waves except those having a certain frequency and which are reflected
toward the observer (a relation toward another external object).
What does it mean to say that the Earth's equator is a circular line? It
means that all of its points exist in a certain relation (equidistance) from
a point in the center.

This sort of analysis and reduction may be performed relatively simply

with respect to mathematical properties - everything may be reduced in
the final analysis to relations among symbols. But in the material world this
analysis cannot be carried out fully - although there are no boundaries
which could not, in principle, be crossed. For example in the case of the
colors of things we must assume certain particles that are structured but
which also have their qualitative properties. These properties may be further
broken down into structures of even smaller parts, but there is no end to the
process of division. We always obtain relations among parts of things, which
are endlessly divisible. Wherever there are objects there are also properties.
One might even say that the term 'property' always expresses in a concise
way a system of relations among objects of a lower level of complexity
than the one in which the property was observed. Aside from being an
abbreviation, it is often an expression of our ignorance. For example we
say that light is found both in the form of waves and particles (although
this sounds absurd to us), because we do not know the structure of the
photon. If we ever fmd out we will probably establish that behind this
confusing property lies a relatively easy-to-understand structure of particles
that are even more elementary than the photon.
But the fact that wholes may be divided into parts does not imply that
only the parts are objective, and not also the wholes. Similarly the fact
that properties may be analyzed and expressed in terms of relations does
not imply that properties should not be considered objects. The process
of analysis is worthless without its opposite - synthesis. We have defined
objects in relation to the subject. This means that a part of the defmition of
the object is the point of reference from which the subject (conditioned by
its practice) observes the object - and that point of reference usually depends
upon a practical purpose. When we are interested primarily in knowing how
an object is structured, i.e. when our practical purpose stimulates certain
analytic, 'micro' preoccupations, we know objects first and foremost as
dynamic systems of relations. But when we are oriented in synthetic
and 'macro' terms, objects present themselves to us as relatively constant
wholes, as 'things' that have certain properties.
Thus in our process of cognition relations always coalesce anew into
properties and properties resolve themselves into relations. But one may
not reduce the one into the other without a remainder. The consequence
of this thesis for logic is that one may not give primacy either to the
Aristotelian attributive or to the neo-Aristotelian relational approach to the
problem of forming judgments and conclusions.

In modem philosophy there have been attempts to derive all other cate-
gories of objective reality from the category of events, as fundamental. This
idea derives from Whitehead, who gave the following meaning to 'event':
''The basic fact for sensory consciousness is an event." 49
"What we perceive is the specific characteristic of a place in the course
of a period of time. This what is meant by 'event.' "50
"We perceive an individual factor in nature and that factor is that which
occurs then and there ... This individual factor ... is the primary concrete
factor that may be distinguished in nature. These primary factors are what
are understood as events." SI
Bertrand Russell accepted Whitehead's thesis of events as the primary
elements of the world, although he criticized the meaning which Whitehead
attributed to the term 'event.'52 Russell concisely set forth his own defmition
of events in The Analysis ofMatter:
"Science concerns itself with groups of 'events' rather than 'things,' which
have changing 'states.' "
"Thus I shall assume that the physical world should be constructed of
'events,' by which I mean, in effect, entities or structures that take up a
field of space-time which is small in all four dimensions. 'Events' may have
a structure, but it is convenient to use the word 'event' in the strict sense
as the meaning of something which, if it has any structure, is not a space-
time structure, i.e. it has no parts that are external to each other in space-
With both Whitehead and Russell the concept of 'event' differs from the
customary common-sense understanding of the term (as an actually existent,
dynamic object). In other words it is a technical term, and should be much
more precise than it is. Techni~al terms, by means of which the new meanings
of terms are introduced into language, are meaningful only to the extent to
which they are significantly clearer and more precise than customary com-
mon-sense terms - otherwise they would only serve to increase the existing
confusion in ordinary language. The defmitions which Whitehead and Russell
provide are not such as to permit us in individual cases to distinguish an
'event' from something which it is not. Descriptions such as "the character-
istic of a place in the course of a period of time" or "that which occurs then
and there" are extremely indefinite for all material objects take place in some
then and there, at some place or in some time. "A small field of space-time in
all four dimensions" is a highly relative concept. In a sense a 'small' field is
the flame of a match, and in another sense the flames of a bombed city, and
in cosmic terms, the explosion of an entire planet, etc.

But the basic objection to the conception of events as the ultimate con-
stituents of reality (or nature) is that the concept 'ultimate constituents'
is logically untenable. If events lack their own structure, they can not be
qualitatively distinguished, and one can not explain the diversity of the
things that are constructed of them. If events have a structure, as Russell
acknowledges, then further analysis must reveal the even simpler elements -
that which is structured.
By all accounts, no attempt to take a single category of material objects
as fundamental has any chance of lasting success - whether this be done with
events, with things, as Tadeus Kotarbinski attempted with his 'reism,' or
with relations (relationism).

After a general discussion of objects, which is an essential basis for the
resolution of any theoretical-cognitive problem, we need to concern ourselves
in more detail with three special types of objects for an explanation of the
category of meaning. These are symbols, objective experiences, and concepts.


1 Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-philophicus, 6.522.

3 "The analytical character of logic reveals that all deductions are tautological: the
conclusion always says the same or less than the premise: there is only a modification of
form. One may not make deductions from a statement about one phenomenon to other
phenomena. Hence the impossibility of any metaphysics that would pretend to conclude
from experience toward the transcendental, that which is beyond experience." (Rudolf
Carnap, L 'ancienne et la nouvelle logique, Paris, 1931, p. 35.)
4 Carnap,LogischeSyntaxderSprache, Wien, 1934, pp. 227-8.
5 Ayer defined phenomenalism as the view that something that a person says in speak-
ing about physical objects is something that refers in the final analysis to sense4ata
(Ayer, 'Phenomenalism,' Philosophical Essays, London, 1955).
According to Berlin, phenomenalism is the doctrine that holds that eveIY proposition
about material objects can be totally translated into a set of propositions of the sense
perceptions of genuine or possible observers (Berlin, 'Empirical Propositions and Hypo-
thetical Statements,' Mind, July, 1950).
6 Carnap,Der Logische Aujbau der Welt, Wien, 1929.
7 Ayer, The Foundations of Empirical Knowledge, London, 1947.
8 This structure was developed in detail in I. Berlin's article, 'Empirical Proposition
and Hypothetical Statements,' Mind, July, 1950.
9 Ayer,op. cit., p. 259.
10 O'Connor adds to these conditions two other factors which are not necessary but

determine to an extent our decisions as to what we consider material objects: 1. The

degree to which a sensory structure agrees with what Gestalt psychology calls the law of
pregnancy, i.e. to be simple, regular, stable, and symmetrical, and 2. Utility. (O'Connor,
John Locke, London, 1952, pp. 84-5.)
11 One variation of this type of inconsistent empiricism is to be found in Russell's
The Problems of Philosophy, London, 1912. In it Russell states that material objects
are entities one arrives at by drawing conclusions based on sense-data and univeIWls.
12 Russell, The Problems ofPhilosophy, pp. 23-4.
13 Quine, 'On What There Is,' Semantics and the Philosophy of Language, ed. Linsky,
University of Illinois, 1952, p. 204.
14 Ibid., p. 205.
IS In order to reformulate the expressions containing names into expressions that do
not have them, Quine utilizes Russell's theory of description. This theory, which Ramsay
termed the 'paradigm of philosophy' (Ramsay, The Foundations of Mathematics, Lon-
don, 1931, p. 236), was developed in three of Russell's works: Principia Mathematica
(Vol. I, pp. 66-67, 173-76, London), Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (Lon-
don, 1919, pp. 172-80), and The Philosophy of Logical Atomism' (The Monist, April
1919, pp. 209-222). Russell considers to be descriptions such complex expressions
as: "The author of Waverley," "the present king of France," or "the spherical quadratic
cupola on Berkeley College," which ostensibly signify certain objective entities. Since
many such expressions are actually descriptions of entities that in fact do not exist (for
example, "the present king of France"), Russell devised a way in which such ostensible
names could be analyzed and reformulated into so-called incomplete symbols, i.e.
symbols that do not signify any objects at all. For example the sentence, "The author
of Waverley was a poet" may be translated into the sentence, "Someone wrote Waverley
and was a poet and no one else wrote Waverley."
As Quine demonstrates, 'Pegasus' and all other names can ftrst be translated into
descriptions (e.g. "the winged horse captured by Bellerophon"), which may be further
analyzed and translated into 'incomplete symbols'. Whenever one has nouns of unclear
meaning that are unsuited for analysis, these may nevertheless be expressed without
analysis by means of a predicate or an artificially constructed verb, in place of 'Pegasus':
"is Pegasus" or "thing which Pegasizes" (Op. cit., p. 195). It goes without saying
that this latter procedure, which Quine himself termed 'trivial' and 'artiftcial' did not
encounter much enthusiasm on the part of logicians.
16 Ibid., p. 200.
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid., p. 201.
19 Carnap, 'Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology,' Revue internationale de philosophie
11 (Bruxelles, 1950), 22.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid., p. 23.
22 Ibid., p. 24.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid.
2S Empiricism and positivism reject 'ontology' as a special philosophical discipline but
admit that every philosophy entails some ontological questions, as for example - what

objects are acknowledged to exist. A relative novelty in these schools of thought is an

acceptance of pragmatic criteria to solve these questions.
26 "I consider the existence of particles of mathematical physics to be logical construc-
tions, symbolic fictions" (Russell, Mysticism and Logic, New York, 1918, p. 128).
27 "Matter which is a logical fiction ... " (Analysis of Mind, London, 1921), p. 306).
In his work Philosophy, he says "Matter is a convenient formula to describe that which
takes place where it is absent. "(Philosophy, New York, 1927,p.159).
28 The ABC of Relativity, London, 1925, p. 213.
29 Quine,op. cit., p. 204.
30 Ibid., pp. 205-6.
31 Carnap,op. cit., p. 23.
32 "One may justif"Iably ask: What reasons lead us to believe in the existence of bodies?
But it is useless to inquire whether bodies exist or not. This is something we must
assume in all our conclusions" (Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature, London, 1882,
Vol. I, p. 478.
33 Einstein's mechanics demonstrated that even the common-sensical geocentric
hypothesis is not the simple error that it appeared to be in classical mechanics.
34 'Common sense' itself is something dynamic, transforming itself over time and
incorporating some elements of science. Thus in civilized countries laymen no longer
believe the earth to be a flat plane, or the sun to be a round circle, or the stars to be
miniature lights attached to translucent heavenly spheres. They are aware that matter
is composed of atoms, that lightning is an electrical phenomenon, and that life can
originate only from live cells. Thus common sense itself has evolved from naive realism
toward critical realism.
35 Pragmatism no longer exists as a school of philosophy. Certain of its principles have
been incorporated in various other schools, particularly positivism.
36 Carnap op. cit., p. 23.
37 G. E. Moore, Some Main Problems of Philosophy, London-New York, 1953, ch.
38 First of all it could be criticized for being obscure. By definition a material object
is something dynamic. Although not specific, time is necessarily one of its necessary
characteristics. Moreover, Moore conceives of 'sense~atum' in a very unclear manner
and extends it to all colored surfaces, sounds, etc., regardless of whether we actually
see and hear them or not. It is unclear in what sense material objects differ from sense-
39 Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the Second edition.
40 G. E. Moore, 'Proof of an External World,' The Proceedings of the British Academy,
Vol. 25, p. 29.
41 Ibid.
42 Friedrich Schneider, Die Bestimmung von Kennen und Erkennen als Grundproblem
der Erkenntnistheorie, Actes du XI-eme Congres International de Philosophie, Vol.
II, Amsterdam, 1953, pp.131-137.
43 Wolfgang Metzger, Psychologie, 1941.
44 The chief representatives of the New Realism are a group of six philosophers (Holt,
Marwin, Montague, Perry, Pitkin, Spaulding), who published a collective work entitled
The New Realism.

45 Max Rieser, A Methodological Investigation into the Epistemological Assumptions

of Idealism, Actes du XIeme Congres International de Philosophie, Vol. II, Amsterdam,
1953, p. 154.
46 "Religion is a fantastic realization of a human being, for the human being does not
possess genuine reality." (Marx and Engels, Early Works, (Kultura, Zagreb, 1953, p. 73.)
47 We have seen that every subject may be understood as an object for other subjects.
48 In a symbolic system predicates can be either one-tenn or multi-tenn. In the fonner
case they signify properties (e.g. 'f(a),' which can mean "The ink is blue"), and in the
latter case they signify relations (for example "f(a, b)" which can mean "This ink is
better than that").
49 Whitehead, The Concept of Nature , Cambridge, 1920, p. 52.
50 Ibid., p. 15.
51 Ibid., p. 75.
52 "In Whitehead's view the different events that constitute a group, whether those
comprising a physical object at a time or those that comprise the history of a physical
object, are not logically self-sufficient but rather only 'aspects' which imply other
aspects in a sense that is neither simply causal or inductively derived from observed
correlations." Russell goes on to assert that this viewpoint is not only impossible for
purely logical reasons, but also empirically useless. (The Analysis of Mind, London,
1954, Vol. II, p. 247.)


At the very beginning we saw that symbols play a dominant role in our
entire life. Above all we cannot even think without language, and words
and other linguistic expressions are symbols par excellence. At the present
level of development of science, and particularly the most advanced sciences,
we barely come into direct contact with the phenomena which we study.
The facts upon which scientists build today in most cases are statistical
data, photographs, diagrams, and indices in various instruments - or in other
words a variety of symbols which must be interpreted. For the philosopher
facts are the propositions of specialized scientists - in other words, symbols.
Art is also symbolic in character. Every work of art is a complex of symbols
- words, colors and forms, musical tones, or movements of the human
body. In order for us to enjoy art, we must be capable of interpreting these
symbols. In addition, religion is completely symbolic in character, from the
movements in religious rites and ceremonies to the words from the pulpit
or from a theological discourse. A particular religious emotional and intel-
lectual mood may be generated only in those who are prepared to interpret
these symbols. Even in ordinary life most of our actions are symbolic in
nature - whether we are dealing with societal, group, or personal symbols.
Customs are typical symbols. Moreover each established formality in behavior
is a symbol - greeting, assigning honours, adhering to certain rules of the
game in flirting, wearing black as a Sign of mourning.
A question arises: what is common in all these various objects that would
permit us to group them nevertheless in a single category and call them all
symbols? What are the common characteristics of linguistic signs, numerals,
photographs, diagrams, material phenomena such as the wavering of the
pointer on the marks of the scale of a measuring device, paintings, songs,
novels, symphonies, architecture, ballets, the bowing of a Moslem priest,
the drumming of an aboriginal, the wearing of rings by husbands and wives?


Every symbol is first and foremost a material object - which is often trivial
in itself. For some natives of Polynesia the greatest literary and scientific

works are strange dabs of black ink on white paper. The pictures of modern
art do not by any means impress one with their beauty. All the objects in the
pictures of Bernard Buffet are two-dimensional, ugly, and deformed; the
people are elongated, sad, thin, ,grey and black. The man in the street, not
knowing their artistic and monetary value, would not wish to hang them in
his apartment. Various customs and rituals appear meaningless in and of them-
selves, and in view of the fact that they usually do not have any practical
purpose, they appear to the observer who does not understand them to be
completely useless waste of time and energy. By the same token the five-
pointed star on a cap or a swastika are apparently meaningless signs, like the
many others that are worn in an atavistic desire for self-adornment. But
nevertheless, from 1941 to 1945 for many Yugoslavs an encounter with a
man with one symbol or the other on his hat meant life or death.
Even such symbols as Bach's monumental Passions, Handel's and Haydn's
oratorios, Beethoven's and Bruckner's symphonies, and Wagner's operas mean
little in and of themselves, as mere auditory phenomena, apart from the
spiritual atmosphere in which they were created and in which they may be
interpreted. If there are conscious beings that have a sensory apparatus diffe-
rent from our own, they would be capable of registering only a portion of
the sound waves that are emitted from the orchestra and the voices of the
soloists and choruses in the performance of these works. For them, the object
in question would be something quite different from what it is for us; one
may be sure that they would find nothing in the works that inspires us so.
Finally, in order to reach this conclusion, we do not need to resort to such
hypotheses. By far the great majority of people in the world would consider
it a punishment to have to attend a concert of serious music; most would
surely prefer to listen to the singing of birds and the rippling of a stream.
The fact that symbols - in spite of being largely trivial as material objects
per se - nevertheless play such an enormous role in our life, may be explained
only when one takes into account the relations they assume with respect to
the subject and other objects.
In order for a material object - a thing, word, picture, tone, or movement
- to be a symbol, it must exist in a specific relation toward a subject. We
have already seen that every object per se exists in a relationship toward a
subject who is in some manner aware of it - by means of observation, imagi-
nation, thinking, projecting, etc. But in addition to these general cognitive
relations of the subject toward a symbol as a material object, the subject
must also be in a specific relation toward the material object as a symbol. He
must be able to interpret it, to understand its meaning. In other words, he

must have the mental disposition upon observation of the object to imagine
or experience another (more significant) object to which the former object
An analysis of this specific relation of a symbol to the subject who inter-
prets it reveals two additional relations that are of special significance.
The first of these is the relation of a symbol toward what the given subject
or interpreter associated (imagined, felt, discovered) with the observed
The second is the relation of the symbol toward the other object which it
represents. Further analysis would allow us to make additional important
distinctions. Thus, on the one hand, a symbol is an individual, existent
material object, strictly located in space and time. On the other hand, it be-
longs to a particular type of symbol. In this sense one may distinguish the
individual numeral 5 which I just mentioned from the numeral 5 in general.
Consequently one may draw a distinction between the relation which the
interpretor has toward a concretely given individual symbol and toward that
type of symbol in general. There may be a very significant difference between
the two. One may be enthralled by Mozart's "Magic Flute," but be completely
unmoved when one hears a particular performance of it. Or the very reverse
may be true.
Similarly one may draw a distinction between the experiences which a
symbol arouses in an individual subject, in an entire group of subjects at a
particular period of time, and the mental process which it tends to arouse
in various periods of time in all human subjects who are prepared to under-
stand it.
Nevertheless these distinctions among various types of symbols can be
disregarded when we define a symbol in general. What is of essential impor-
tance is; first, a more precise description of the type of mental experience
which is logically related to symbol, and second, a more precise defmition
of the character of the object which the symbol stands for. In these two
respects there is an important difference between a sign in general and a
symbol as a special type of sign.


A number of philosophers have ignored this distinction. Thus, for example,

Ralph Barton Perry wrote, in A General Theory of Value, that "every datum
may be a symbol if it means something or operates as a sign." According to
Perry every natural phenomenon - a monument, written or spoken word,

picture, or recognized object - is a symbol if it "directs our expectations or

interest toward something other than itself."l
Similarly Ogden and Richards, Korzybski, Susan Stebbing, and Charles
Morris have all failed to draw a sufficiently clear distinction between sign and
symbol. According to Ogden and Richards, who consider primarily spoken
symbols, "A symbol is for he who listens a sign of an act of reference,'" or
in other words a sign by means of which attention is brought to a certain
Korzybski dermes a symbol as a "sign that stands for something."3 Every
sign that means something is a symbol in his view. If a sign represents nothing,
it is not a symbol, but rather a meaningless sign. Susan Stebbing dermes 'sym-
bol' in similar terms, merely refining the definition by adding that a symbol
is a "sign consciously designed to stand for something."4 Similarly, neither
does Charles Morris sense the essential difference' between sign and symbol,
for he defmes symbols as signs of signs. 5
We are not stating that an object is a symbol merely by virtue of the fact
that it "means something," that it "directs our expectations or interests
toward something other than itself," or that it points to or represents another
object. These are all characteristics of numerous signs that by no means can
be considered symbols. For example, a ring around the moon is a sign that
rain is going to fall; it directs our attention toward something other than
itself, but by no means is it a symbol. If, when driving, we encounter a road-
Sign with a curved line on it, this is a sign of a curve in the road. This drawing
on the roadsign represents and stands for another object, and was even con-
sciously designed for this object, but still it is not a symbol, but rather an
ordinary sign.
It is often believed that all words are symbols, whatever their usage. Susan
Stebbing says, "A word is a special type of sign that is called a symbol."6
Whitehead says, "A word symbolizes a thing.'" But words are often not used
symbolically, or the situation is such that they function only as ordinary
signs. For example when a new first-grade teacher calls the roll and the pupils
stand up one by one so that he can see and become acquainted with them,
their names function as ordinary signs; the names serve merely as substitutes
or signs for concrete persons. Even animals, for example a dog, are able to
understand a name, insofar as the name functions as an ordinary sign. When
one speaks the name of his master in the room, a dog pricks up his ears and
looks around. He quite understands that the name stands for his master. What
he can never understand is the use of a name as a symbol- for example, in a
discussion of a man whose presence or absence is immaterial. He is incapable

of imagining the set of essential characteristics of the man who bears the
name and by means of which he is distinguished from all other people. And
this is why even if a dog had (as he does not) a vocal mechanism, he would
not be able to speak.
Finally to defme a symbol as a higher-order sign, as a sign of signs, is
highly imprecise. Many symbols, in mathematics and logic for example, are
in fact signs that stand for other signs - the words of ordinary language. But
this is not the basic reason for which we consider them symbols. This is
evident from the fact that among natural phenomena there are numerous
cases in which one can function as a sign for another, which itself is a sign for
a third one, while the first phenomenon is still not considered a symbol. For
example clouds are a sign of rain, and rain may be a sign that the harvest will
be good. But nevertheless clouds are by no means a symbol.
Really, the essential characteristic of a symbol is that it always refers to
what is general and constant - to a form of thought, perception, or feeling
on the one hand, and to a form of the object which is thought of, perceived,
or felt, on the other. This is the basic difference between those types of signs
which we consider symbols and all other signs. Most signs indicate an existen-
tial thing or event and evoke reactions in us similar to those which would be
evoked by the thing itself. When I hear the sound of the doorbell which indi-
cates that someone wants to enter the house, I rise and start to open the
door, just as if I could see through the door the very person who was standing
there. Thus it does not matter here whether the sign has a one-to-one relation-
ship with the object indicated (which Susan Langer insists upon).8 The
relation may be one-to-many (for example, a constant headache is a sign or
symptom of a number of illnesses) or many-to-one (there are usually many
signs or symptoms that one is ill). What is essential is that signs stand for or
indicate actual existential objects which can be localized in time and space.
For this reason that which is experienced by a subject who interprets a sign
will be, at best, merely a representation (Le. a more or less vivid consciousness
of something concrete and existing) which is permanently associated with the
perception of the sign. In response to a bell it is normal for me to experience
only the impression that someone wishes to enter. That someone exists in
the here and now, before my door - nothing else concerns me. Whatever his
character and other qualities or his personality, such associations do not
normally occur in this situation.
But the sound of a bell may also be a symbol. For example in the 1912
Overture by Tschaikowsky one hears, quite clearly, the sound of church bells
in the swelling sound of the orchestra in the fmale. Here this sound has quite

a different function. As a sound, church bells merely signal the beginning

or end of a church service. This is the concrete object to which it refers as
a sound and whose image we associate with the perception of the sound.
As a symbol, in this musical work the sound of church bells signifies the
triumph over the enemy and, perhaps, over evil in general. Thus it evokes
in us a very complex mental experience comprised of various elements of
thought and feeling. In addition to the fact that in our individual inter-
pretation we are able to associate what we hear with certain images and
perceptions and experience certain highly personal, unique feelings, what is
essential for this symbol, if we are capable of interpreting it, is that it arouses
in us the experience of a very general structure of thoughts and feelings -
one might even say a universal human constant.
Certain musical aestheticians have attempted to call this general structure
of thoughts and feelings which a musical symbol arouses in us a musical idea
- but this is not a particularly good solution. In addition to being indeter-
minate (Locke termed 'ideas' perceptions, while later 'ideas' were to be con-
ceived as synonyms for concepts, and Hegel called "Idea" the totality of
concepts, etc.), it is also encumbered by an overly intellectual significance.
We also witness a tendency toward over-intellectualization in the case of
Susan Langer, when she says that music and other symbolic forms "exhibit
the logical form of their objects," 9 and that it is "not merely the expression
but also the formulation and representation of emotions, feelings, mental
tensions, and decisions - the logical image of the life of the senses." 10
Here the term 'logical' serves to signify the generality of structure. But
the only general structures which should be termed 'logical' are those that
represent the conditions of the determination of truth. Art is most defmitely
not an area in which one would make assessments as to truth as the basic
value, for art has distinctive values of its own.
Accordingly it is sufficient to state that musical symbols signify general
forms of feeling and nondiscursive thought that could not be adequately
expressed in words. This conception of meaning in music is diametrically
opposed to traditional musical aesthetics. In its inability to apply to music
the theory of reflection (as with literature and representational arts) tradi-
tional musical aesthetics attempted to view the essence of music as emotional
catharsis and the expression of the composer's feelings, which then resonate in
the audience and evoke similar feelings. But the mere expression of concrete
feelings, although always present in music, is insufficient to convert a set
of tones into a symbol with permanent, general, and objective meaning.
Moreover, extraordinary and intense feelings may be expressed in numerous

ways lacking any connection with art and by no means leading to the creation
of symbols.
On the other hand, the emphasizing of general forms of feeling and nondis-
cursive thought as the objects signified by musical symbols must not lead
to the idealism encountered, for example, in the famous text of Richard
"What music expresses is eternal, endless and ideal: it does not express
the passion, love, or craving of such and such an individual in such and such
a situation, but rather love or longing in itself and it does so in the endless
diversity of motifs which is the exclusive and distinctive characteristic of
music, and foreign and inexpressible for any other language." 11
The forms of the objects signified by arts lack an "eternal, timeless and ideal
character." If objects in general are given only in relation to the subject, to
man, than this is even clearer with respect to such objects as forms of thought
and feeling. Most artistic symbols are the general structures of the emotional
and mental life of men in a particular epoch. This is the sole means of
explaining the fact that certain works of art that had enormous, tumultuous
success with contemporary audiences are later completely forgotten or are
remembered for some mere details. The only works that survive the centuries
and ages are those whose symbols have universal meaning, for in expressing
the thoughts and feelings of the authors and their classes and nations, these
symbols simultaneously signified certain universal forms of mental and
emotional content. Examples of this are the symbol of sacrifice for others in
Bach's St. Mattew's Passion, the symbol of struggle with fate in Beethoven's
Fifth Symphony, the symbol of solitude in Schubert's song The Old Organ-
grinder from the Winte"eise cycle, the symbol of motherly love toward the
child in the Madonna's of various great painters, the symbol of loyalty in
the character of Solveig in Ibsen's Peer Gynt, the symbol of the passage of
time in the skull which Hamlet holds during his famous monologue, etc.
The term "general forms of feeling" of an object is sufficiently clear if
one takes into account the fact that form always means a set of elements
which remains invariant throughout all alterations of conditions, situations,
and contexts.
But we must explain what is meant by nondiscursive thinking as opposed
to discursive thinking.


This distinction may be illustrated nicely by comparing so-called 'reflective'


poetry with science. In Do/ap, the famous work by the Yugoslav poet Rakic,
the poet expresses the idea of the purposelessness of life, the futility of all
effort, and the empty rat race of life leading to the grave as the essenc~ of
human existence. But although he uses words, he does not express discursively
this universal thought that may be found at the heart of a general structure
of feeling. He constructs an image that has a deeper meaning and which
accordingly is a symbol, although an artistically nondiscursive one. The
image is that of a horse that time and again moves in a circle and draws an
irrigation wheel.
Philosophers and essayists have set forth their meditations on the same
theme, in more or less logical form, on innumerable occasions. For example:
life inevitably ends in death; man treads an eternal circle, driven by forces
greater than himself, and bears his burden from the day he emerged from
the void to the day he returns to it and no effort can spare him from his
fate. Accordingly every effort is in vain.
In both cases we utilize symbols to signify the position of man in the
world, a situation which is objective and experienced in an identical way by
such a large number of people, independently of any individual subject.
In both cases we utilize words. But in the first case, the poem, we tend to
conceive the entirety of the situation simultaneously, without breaking it
down into its individual components, utilizing a metaphor and calling upon
our powers of direct, intuitive understanding and imagination.
In the latter case we have still retained certain metaphors. For example,
instead of saying that "Man bears his burden from the day he emerged from
the void to the day he returns to it," which still represents an artistic symbol,
one might say: "Man does his duty, as imposed upon him from birth to
death," which is a discursive, scientific symbol. But even so the second
text taken as a whole is discursive. Here the situation is analyzed into its
constituent elements. There is an obvious tendency to avoid images and
to utilize words in such a way as to express concepts that are linked into
judgments which lead to a particular conclusion. Symbols such as these
do not address our intuition and feelings, but rather logical thought.
A particularly important characteristic of discursive thought is to break
down objects into constant, structural elements that have independent mean-
ing, and then to line up the symbols that refer to each element, one after
the other, until one arrives at the conceptual whole that is adequate to the
given object.
What characterises discursive symbols, then, is that the form of the sub-
jective experience that they arouse is always a concept, and that the object

they signify is always something general and constant, i.e. an abstract general,
constant property, relation, or structure of a certain class of things.


A very common misconception among philosophers and logicians is that

every thought is discursive and that the symbols of thought are either dis-
cursive or meaningless. One after another modern empiricists and logical
positivists have advanced the view that the symbols of metaphysics, ethics,
aesthetics, and literature do not signify anything, but have only an expressive
function. This is the natural consequence of narrowing the ontological
basis of their philosophy. If the sole objects are individual things or events,
then the sole symbols that 'signify' something and have an extralinguistic
meaning are the words and propositions of empirical science, and perhaps
also verifiable, true propositions of ordinary speech.
Logical symbols are, then, symbols referring to language, whereas all
other symbols would merely express feelings. Carnap said, "The purpose
of a lyrical poem which repeats the words 'sunshine' and 'clouds' is not to
inform us of certain meteorological facts, but to express the feelings of the
poet and to arouse similar feelings in us ... Metaphysical propositions - like
lyrical poems - have only an expressive function, but not a representational
one. Metaphysical propositions are neither true nor false, for they state
nothing ... Like laughing, poetry, and music they are expressive. They
express not temporary feelings but rather permanent emotional and volitional
dispositions." 12
The concluding Carnap sentence is correct, but it requires two addenda.
First, nondiscursive, artistic and other nonscientific symbols express not just
permanent emotional and volitional dispositions, but also reflective ones
as well. Secondly, if we are confronted by social symbols and not just those
meaningful to a single individual, these dispositions are intersubjective and
common to all the members of a social community.
What then is the fundamental distinction between scientific and literary
In both cases the symbols are related to certain intersubjective permanent
dispositions to observe, imagine, conceive or feel something. Why does
Carnap, like many before him (including Ogden, Richards, and Korzybski)
believe that in the former case there is an object that is signified by a symbol,
while in the second case there is no such object? Because verification by
sensory experience is taken as the sole criterion for the existence of an objeC"t.

Thus the word 'cloud' in scientific language signifes an object because a

cloud may be seen. When the word 'cloud' is utilized in literary language
as a symbol that signifies misfortune, 'misfortune' is not an object because
it can be neither seen nor touched.
The difficulty with this empiricist reasoning is that mere verification is
an insufficient criterion to ascertain the existence of anything. This was
seen even by those empiricists who were sufficiently consistent to derive
the solipsistic or moderately skeptical consequences from the acceptance
of such a criterion of existence. In this manner Hume came to the conviction
that we believe in the existence of material objects, other people, and our
own bodies on the basis of instinct and other irrational factors. Accordingly
we are unable to know solely on the basis of sensory experience that the
word 'cloud' in meteorological language represents the real object - cloud.
But if we include all of practical experience in the criterion of objectivity
then the field of objects becomes far broader than the sum of experienced
material things. In that case the word 'cloud,' utilized as a metaphor in a
lyric poem, does not only serve to express the subjective feelings of the poet
and to stimulate similar sentiments on the part of all who become acquainted
with the poem, but rather signifies the general form of all such possible
sentiments. The association Of the word with this form turns the word
'cloud' into a symbol. Accordingly the form per se, is something objective,
something that exists relatively independently of the subjective experience
of any isolated individual. Each form of feeling, like the form of observation,
is a thought, although not a discursive thought or concept. Each form is
something general (in the individual), something abstract (in the concrete),
and something constant (in the variable). Thus form may be experienced in
feeling, in the sensory image, but may be understood only in thought. The
interpretation of each symbol involves these two elements: first it expresses
a form, something objective, second, this form is conceivable only in thought.
In the case of the interpretation of scientific, discursive symbols, immediate
sensory-emotive experiences may be omitted. While I read the formula
a2 - b 2 =(a + b) . (a - b), I experience a sensory perception, but this is not
the interpretation of the symbol, but only the perception of the symbol
as a material object. Interpretation consists exclusively in understanding a
general relation among concepts (the difference between the squares of any
two numbers is equal to the product of their sum and their difference). In
some cases of scientific symbols the very interpretation may include also
sensory and emotional elements. For example the interpretation of the
formula a 2 + b 2 =c 2 consists not only in the understanding of a general

relation among concepts, but may also include a sensory image - that of a
right-angle triangle above each of whose sides a square has been constructed.
The interpretation of the symbol 'atom' also may include both elements
- the conceptualization of the essential characteristics of a type of material
particle and the experience of the sensory image (model) which represents
pictorially the structure of this type of particle. One might say that the ideal
of scientific knowledge is associating the general with the specific, and the
understanding of the general as the concrete, which calls for the association
of concepts with images incorporating the greatest abundance of details.
Furthermore there can be no question that the interpretation of scientific
symbols, and particularly of complex symbols - sentences and sets of sen-
tences constituting a theory - can be accompanied by intense emotional
reactions. The theories of Copernicus and Galileo in the fifteenth, sixteenth,
and seventeenth centuries, and those of Darwin and Marx in the nineteenth
aroused such a storm of sentiment and such vehement reactions that one
can hardly think of any work of art to compare with them.
On the other hand a work of art always has an expressive character. By
observing or listening to it we have, above all, a visual or acoustic experi-
ence of the symbols themselves - letters, tones, movements, shapes, or
colors. This is still not interpretation since when a person goes no further
than passively perceiving the symbols without troubling himself with their
meaning, we say that he has failed to understand the work. Interpretation
begins only with a visual or acoustical image of what the symbol means,
i.e. with experiencing a more or less powerful emotion which the symbol
expresses. But even so we have not yet arrived at what is deepest and most
essential in the meaning of the symbol - the object which is designated.
As we have seen, the object referred to by the symbol is usually the concept
of something general (essential or typical). This is often called an 'idea,'
which is, to be precise, always a constant structure of human reflective and
affective life. This structure, designated by a symbol, can only be understood
in intellectual terms - ,although at issue here is so-called nondiscursive think-
ing, a direct, nonconceptual, simultaneous understanding of the whole. Thus,
Urban 13 cites the example of one of Ibsen's symbols in Peer Gynt in order
to demonstrate the great cognitive value this nondiscursive understanding
may havet When Peer peels the onion to reveal the hidden, inner essence,
but winds up with nothing after removing all the layers, there arises in him
the painful knowledge that he, Peer, is like that, and this symbol (according
to Urban better than any intellectual exposition) points to the social nature
of our ego. After we remove all the layers of social ties and relations with

other people, nothing remains except emptiness. People who are incapable
of forming a firm social bond become as empty as Peer Gynt. One may
interpret in this way Engels' famous statement that one may learn more
from Balzac's novels about social conditions in France in the early nineteenth
century than from all the tomes of the historians, statisticians, and economists
of the time. 14
Thus non discursive symbols do much more than merely express and evoke
feelings: they also have a cognitive meaning, designating objects which we
comprehend by means of nondiscursive thinking.
Accordingly it is in the nature of all symbols - and not just those en-
countered in science and philosophy - to have a dual relation: toward the
objects which they designate and toward the forms of mental life which they
Urban termed this dual relation "bi-representation," 15 which is not the
most felicitous term, for different relations are here at issue. The relation
of the word 'Mars' to the concept of Mars differs significantly from the
relation of that word to the fourth planet with respect to distance from
the Sun. Accordingly it is inappropriate to utilize the same word - 'repre-
sentation.' In fact the term is not appropriate to refer to either of the two
relations. Even with a symbol such as a landscape, still life, or portrait we
could speak of representation only if we took an individual natural scene,
a particular person, or group of apples, carrots, or fish literally as the object
deSignated by the symbol. In fact the object of a symbol is always something
general and constant, a form, which is not represented pictorially but referred
to or designated. It is even less suitable to say that a symbol 'represents'
the corresponding form of mental life. It is not clear how the word 'father,'
'pere,' 'Vater,' 'padre,' and 'otac' all represent the same concept. Thus it
is much more correct to say that they all express that concept.


Having thus determined what a symbol is, it remains for us to inquire into
the specific features of linguistic symbols. Ernst Cassirer has shown in great
detail that symbols are not utilized solely in the field of the exact sciences,
but that language generally, as well as mythology and religion are completely
symbolic in character. 16 Of course we are primarily interested in the theory
of logical meaning, and accordingly we shall dwell primarily upon the symbols
encountered in science and common speech, while touching upon other types
of symbols chiefly in contrast to them.

The signs encountered in mathematics, logic, and the exact sciences are
in fact symbols in the strict sense of the word. In philosophy the concept
of the symbol has long had this narrow range; it is for this reason that the
logic which utilizes such symbols to express its forms has adopted the title
'symbolic logic' (as if all of logic and science were not symbolic). Languages
comprised of such signs, artificial languages as opposed to ordinary, natural
languages, are still termed "symbolic" languages (as if all languages were not
symbolic in character). It is characteristic of this type of symbol to refer to
very generalized structures of objects and to express very abstract concepts.
The connection of such signs with material reality is indirect. They usually
express only the form of ordinary language, replacing entire sets of words.
But since the words of ordinary language refer directly to material things and
processes, it follows that mathematical and logical symbols indirectly refer to
the forms of the material world. For example the expression (x)fx :> (3x)fx
stands for a multitude of expressions of ordinary language in the following
form: "If each thing of a type has a property, then there exist some things
of that type that have that property." If all the concrete propositions which
may be substituted for the symbolic expression are true, then we can say
that the given symbol refers to a general structure of the material world.
Otherwise we say that the symbol refers to an unreal object. Many such
symbols typically do not refer to real objects, but may be utilized in cognitive
operations so that the final results are symbols whose references are real.
Thus, for example, the objective structure of human thought is not such
that most people, when faced by a complex hypothetical proposition would
conclude that the proposition as a whole is true - merely because its ante-
cedent is false. It follows then that the symbol for implication P) does not
refer to any sort of real object. But nevertheless when we use it, the final
result will be symbols which express true propositions.
A second characteristic of mathematical and logical symbols is closely
related to the foregoing one: these symbols are far more creative and, one
might say more conventional in character than others. In other words, it
does not occur, as with ordinary language, that we first have objects before us
and then build the symbols. The reverse is true: before we know whether a
structure exists in the material world we construct the symbols that designate
it and lay down the rules for their use. Of course we do not do so arbitrarily,
as the conventionalists assume. These symbols must be applicable to the
symbols of ordinary language: their function must be one of the conditions
for knowing objective truth.
It is interesting that Cassirer, after justifiably arguing against reducing all

symbols to those of the exact sciences, went to the other extreme and con-
cluded that these mathematical-logical signs are not true symbols. This
paradoxical point of view is explained by his argument that in all genuine
symbolic relations there must exist a similarity between the reference and
the symbol, while this similarity is nonexistant in this caseY Urban agrees
with this, arguing that with genuine symbols there must exist an intuitive
relation between them and the objects which they stand for. Thus these con-
ventional, substitutional signs are allegedly merely operational signs rather
than true symbols. 1s
Many symbols are truly similar to their designated objects. There may
be a similarity of shape, color, perspective, projection (as with sculpture,
pictures, drawings) or, most commonly, there is a similarity of structure (as
with diagrams, maps, and illustrations. But the argument as to the necessary
similarity of symbols and designated objects will hardly hold up even in
the case of applied art. It is difficult to say in what sense musical symbols
are similar to the emotional and reflexive structures they refer to. Such a
similarity may be found in programmatic music, but it is difficult to fInd
it in so-called absolute music. The interrelationships are too complex to
be characterized merely as similarity.
As to discursive symbols one may state with certainty that there is no
similarity at all. Onomatopoeiac words play too small a role in any developed
language to justify devoting serious attention to the similarity between signs
and objects. Most words bear no similarity to their designated objects.19
What similarity is there between the word 'square' and the rectangle with
equal sides and right angles, or the word 'cat' and the variety of affectionate,
cunning animals one fInds about the house? Thus mathematical and logical
symbols are by no means in a special position with respect to all other lin-
guistic expressions. They are all chosen to designate their objects not because
they bear any similarity to them, but because of a convention or a custom
or a specific, internal law of development of the symbolism itself. (Linguistics
determines such laws for language.)
Moreover there is a principle of the effective construction of linguistic
symbols according to which the most suitable expressions for use as symbols
are those which are quite trivial and lack any intuitive meaning - in other
words those expressions that are not associated with any objects similar to
themselves. In this way a language will have the necessary generality and
elasticity, its words will be able to enter into the largest number of combi-
nations, without being restricted by narrow boundaries, without being
applicable only to similar objects. When a sign develops into a symbol, for

example, when a painting is made on the basis of a photograph, or a scientific

model on the basis of a commonsense description, a process of intentional
distortion of the initial objeet, of its simplification and increasing departure
from it, usually takes place. This is the key to understanding modern art,
which is essentially symbolic in character. Accordingly, Susan Langer jUstifi-
ably asserted that "a structure cannot include anything as a part of the symbol
that should in fact be part of the meaning." 20
We thus see that there is no reason for logical and mathematical signs not
to be considered symbols. The similarity between a symbol and its objects
is not an indispensable condition for a sign to be considered a symbol -
otherwise we would have to deny the obvious symbolic character of every
developed language.
In pointing out the essential characteristics of linguistic symbols that make
them different from most or all nondiscursive symbols, we might first note
precisely this lack of similarity with the references, which strongly reduces
the role of intuition in the process of interpretation.
Second, the individual elements of language have a relatively independent
fixed meaning. Thus it is often (but not always) possible for the same word
to have the same meaning in different contexts. This is almost never the
case with the individual colored elements of a picture, the fragments of
melody, the movement which is an integral component of a ritual, etc. This
is why language has a vocabulary, while nothing similar is to be found with
any other symbolic form.
Third, language has established syntactical rules for combining elementary
expressions to form complex expressions which are meaningful. In art,
mythology, and ritual there are at best the rudiments of such rules.
Fourth, in language it is always possible to replace a word without altering
the meaning of a complex expression. This is possible in view of the fact
that an equivalent expression exists for nearly every word - whether the
replacement is a single word (synonym) or group of words (defmition).
It thus follows that the meanings of individual words in language can be
explicitly expressed (defined) in terms of other words, so that anyone can
learn them with a good memory and a minimum of effort. This is not possible
with artistic and other symbols. With these symbols one may only seek,
through close contact with the given form of symbolic activity, to penetrate
deeper and deeper into the world of its implicit meanings. This is why one
needs more time and general culture to understand the 'language' of music
or painting than any spoken language.
Fifth and finally, language is unique in that it can speak about language

itself, and also about a language that discusses another language, etc. This
means that language can encompass a highly complex hierarchy of linguistic
levels, which increases to an ext!aordinary degree its expressive power (par-
ticularly for the purposes of abstract thought). This sort of structuring is
lacking in other symbolic systems. For example one may paint a picture of
an interior scene which includes a picture in its decor. For amusement one
might include a picture with that picture. But the possibilities along these
lines run out very quickly, for more than technical reasons. Moreover there
is no justifiable reason for such an act - it is pointless. This is not at all the
case with language, where with the construction of various linguistic levels
one easily arrives at an articulation that is invaluable for the purposes of
scientific research and logical accuracy.


1 R. B. Perry,A General Theory of Value.

2 Ogden and Richards, The Meaning of Meaning, London, 1923, p. 205.
3 Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity, New York, 1950, 3rd ed., p. 78.
4 Susan Stebbing, A Modern Introduction to Logic, London, 1953, p.13.
5 Charles Morris, Signs, Language and Behavior, New York, 1946, p. 25.
6 Stebbing,op. cit., p. 13.
7 Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 263.
8 Susan Langer, Philosophy In A New Key, New York, 7th Printing, 1965, p. 46.
9 Susan Langer, ibid., p. 183.
10 Ibid., p. 180.
11 Richard Wagner, "Ein gliicklicher Abend," cited in Langer, Philosophy in a New
Key, pp. 179-80.
12 Rudolf Carnap, Philosophy and Logical Syntax, English edition, London, 1935,
13 Urban, Language and Reality, London, 1951, second impression.
14 Engels, Letter to Margarita Harkness.
15 Urban,op. cit., p. 356.
16 "Contrary to common belief the philosophy of symbols and symbolic forms is
not concerned primarily and exclusively with scientific and exact phenomena, but
with all vectors of the function of symbolization in its attempt to comprehend and
understand the world. It is essential to study this function, not just in the field of
scientific phenomena, but also in the non-scientific spheres of poetry, art, religion, etc.,
not just on the level of concepts, but also at levels below the conceptual." (Cassirer,
Die Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, Vol. III, p. 16.)
17 Cassirer,op. cit., pp. 5,375.
18 Urban,op. cit., p. 406.
19 Cf. Russell, 'On Propositions, What They Are and How They Mean,' in Logic and
Knowledge, Essays 1905-1950, London, 1956, p. 303: "The 'meaning' of pictures is the

simplest type of meaning, for pictures look like what they mean, while words as a rule
do not."
20 Susan Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, New York, 1955, p. 65.


One of the most important elements of meaning is the relation of symbols

to experience - taking experience to mean not just the sensory perception
of material objects but also consciousness of all other indirect and concrete
mental events (emotions and sentiments, impulses, mental images, etc.).
Experience differs quite basically from thOUght - both discursive, indirect,
and nondiscursive, direct, intuitive, - in its concreteness, qualitative givenness,
and its basically receptive character. It always represents consciousness of
actually existing, concrete, whole, and qualitatively determined objects,
whether material or mental. It is always limited in extent to impressions that
are received and registered and to immediate sensory-affective reactions to
these impressions. As opposed to experience, thought is always consciousness
of something general, constant, and abstract - of a structure. Moreover it is
essentially active and creative; it explores the vast world of possibilities, and
its constructions constantly transcend the given and experiential.
In the previous chapter we stressed that every symbol occupies a certain
relationship to the forms of mental life of the subject who is capable of
interpreting it. We saw that an object is a symbol to the extent that upon
perceiving the object the subject has a mental disposition to imagine or
experience another, more significant general object to which the first object
refers. In both symbolic relations - the symbol's relation to the interpre-
tation by the subject and its relation to the designated object - experience
plays an extremely important role.


We experience symbols as material objects: we perceive letters, movements,

pictures, tones, etc., regardless of what they signify. This is a purely receptive
element in a complex experience elicited in a subject by a symbol. While not
a sufficient condition of the symbolic function, it is a necessary one. True,
today the blind read books and the deaf and dumb converse. In and of itself
the lack of one or more of the senses is not a barrier to the perception of
symbols or to communication. Primary symbols can be transformed in such
a way as to arouse experiences of quite different qualities but which are

similar in general structure. Thus the perception of a written word as a set

of indentations or raised marks on paper is qualitatively very different from
the perception of a set of black or colored marks different from the color
of the paper. Similarly the perception of the spoken word as a set of move-
ments of lips is different from the perception of a set of spoken sounds.
But in all four cases the signs used have an identical linguistic structure. This
is what makes possible the indirect perception of symbols wherever their
transformation into analogous material objects of another type is possible.
But in all cases in which this sort of transformation is impossible and where
no indirect experience is possible (in the absence of direct experience) the
symbolic function disappears and no sort of communication is possible. Thus
the blind cannot enjoy pictures and the deaf and dumb cannot appreciate


But the role of experience in communication may not be reduced merely

to the purely receptive perception of symbols themselves. Interpretation,
while significantly broader than experience, is based upon it. This is directly
evident in the symbols encountered in everyday life. The words 'radio,'
'ashtray,' 'book,' and 'river' immediately evoke the representation of the
objects which we have encountered innumerable times in direct experience.
For the present it is not important whether my representation has more or
fewer elements of image or abstraction, i.e. whether it is closer to perception
or a concept. The essential thing is that the representation is the result of
repetitive, concentrated experience through the separation and retention
of certain elements and the ignoring of others. Symbols of a higher order,
i.e. those encountered in science and art, usually lack this direct and simple
relationship to experience. We usually have never experienced the objects
they refer to, either because we were not at a place or at a time where those
objects could be perceived (e.g. the ichthyosaurus or the Battle of Jena) or
because they are simply not real objects (e.g. Orpheus and Euridice, absolutely
empty space, perfect gases). But an analysis of our interpretations of such
symbols demonstrates that the idea of the objects to which they refer always
and inevitably contains experiential -elements. At this point we cannot engage
in a discussion of the various ways in which experience is modified and
transformed. This is a problem of the transition from experience to thought
and a problem of the genesis of concepts, which we shall discuss in the
following chapter. At this point it is essential to stress that the meaning of

all symbols is directly or indirectly rooted in experience. The idea of an

object referred to by a symbol contains or at least indirectly assumes an
element of experience isolated from the experiential context in which the
object usually appears. This element is generalized, extrapolated or trans-
formed by some other mental operation. We imagine ichthyosauruses and
plesiosaurs on the basis of sense-perception of paleontological data and by
analogy with other reptiles. We imagine the Battle of Jena on analogy with
battles in which we have participated or which we have seen at the movies.
Absolutely empty space can be understood only by extrapolation from the
act of emptying or removing objects from a restricted field of perception.
Experience is the basis of even highly abstract mathematical and logical
concepts, at least partially and even if only very indirectly, after a long
process of modification and adaptation to the purpose of our theoretical
work in a given field. Thus, for example, the experience of measuring parcels
of land after the floods of the Nile led the Egyptians to create geometry.
Euclid's Elements arose from the need to introduce a degree of order to
the multitude of experiential perceptions about various spatial figures,
surfaces, and volumes. By means of abstraction the concept of number
arose on the basis of experience with classes of similar objects - pairs, triads,
quartets, etc. Experience with cartography led to Gauss's studies of curved
surfaces, which later was the point of departure for Riemann. And in another
field of mathematics Gauss's pioneering work was directly determined by
practical experience: the problems of classifying knots led him to take up
topology. Moreover the theory of equations with partial derivatives developed
through the study of heat diffusion, and experience with radio broadcasting
in World War II stimulated mathematicians to develop the field of nonlinear
differential equations. 1
The case is similar with logical categories. Aristotle's theory of syllogisms
developed out of experience with biological classifications into genus and
species. They very terms 'genus' and 'species' point unequivocably to their
empirical origin. The revolution that developed in logic in the nineteenth
century and the development of relational logic were stimulated to a large
extent by the experience that the logic of the genus and species was inappli-
cable to many other relations - not just mathematical ones, but purely
empirical ones such as spatial, temporal, and familial.
How does this apply to the most abstract categories of modern logic, such
as logical constants, which logicians usually consider a priori conventions,
fictions, and incomplete symbols (inasmuch as they do not signify any
objects)? There can be no doubt that the logical constants of disjunction,

conjunction, and implication can be defined perfectly well with concepts

that contain no experiential elements. But either we cannot understand these
concepts, with the result that the cited constants remain inexplicable, or we
relate them to concrete concepts directly based upon experience. Along
these lines Russell wrote:

How does one learn the word 'or'? One cannot show a child examples of 'or' in the
sensory world ... But nevertheless 'or' has a certain relationship to experience, pertain-
ing to the experience of choice ... 2 A disjunction is a verbal expression of indecision
or, if a question has been posed, the desire to make a decision. 3

In any case the concepts of conjunction and disjunction derive historically

from the concepts of 'logical addition' and 'logical multiplication of classes,'
(Leibniz,) which, in turn, were created on analogy with ordinary arithmetical
additional and multiplication. Finally there can be no doubt that these two
arithmetical operations developed through generalizing and abstracting
elements of direct, practical experience with counting and bracketing material
objects of the same kind. It is a long way from counting bananas to logical
conjunction but an element of direct experience has remained a component
up to the present: if it is true that I have two bananas in my left hand and
one in my right, then it is true that I have two plus one in all - i.e. three
Classical empiricist logicians who have exaggerated the significance of
inductive logic have not erred in making a point of the connection between
experience and thought, but rather in presenting the connection in an over-
simplified manner. For Mill all mathematical and logical categories were
simple generalizations of experience. But of course no simple generalization
of experience could lead to concepts such as implication or complex numbers.
The logical process by which one proceeds from experience to abstract
concepts is far more complex and, more creative. It entails a host of other
logical operations in addition to generalization and is carried out according
to its own, relatively independent laws.
On the other hand the contentions of the a priori school as to the inde-
pendence from experience of mental forms would not be erroneous if it is
kept in mind that this means merely relative independence of any individual
or group experience. But the contention of independence becomes untenable
when it is interpreted in the sense of absolute independence from huma~
experience in general. An analysis of these forms reveals direct elements
of experience. A study of the history of cognition reveals that these forms
have changed and that the cause of these changes was always a discovery

of an experiential character or successfully applicable in experience. The

concepts of space, time, causality, and matter unquestionably underwent
a profound revolution: the forms by which we experience the world today
are significantly different from those at the time of the Stone Age or the
ages of Euclid, Aristotle, and Newton or even the time of Cuvier, Faraday,
or Maxwell. It is true that these forms have not been forced upon us by
empirical scientists and that we are at liberty to ignore their new experience
and to think in terms of old forms; it is similarly true that in a certain sense
we are free to construct new forms and to select from them those which will,
inter alia, introduce the greatest order in the chaos of experiential data. But
our freedom is restricted to a great extent by the purpose of cognition. If
we want the conclusions of our thought process to be objectively true, if
we want to behave rationally and if our practice is to be successful, we will
select those forms which are applicable in experience. Thus experience is
the source and constant regulator in the transformation of mental forms.
On the one hand it offers material for the construction of new forms, and
on the other it is the criterion for the selection of some and the elimination
of others.
The a priori school contends that logical forms participate in each segment
of experience as something previously given. This argument is correct in the
psychological sense and in the context of a relatively high level of human
intellectual development. Each and every perception is an interpretation -
this is something which the empiricists never wanted to comprehend. But
even if one conceives of this in a static manner, in a slice of time, one must
not lose sight of the dialectical interrelationship between forms of thought
and sense-data. The former interpret, classify and modify the latter, permit-
ting us to perceive what we would not otherwise perceive - the permanent
form of the whole, relations, structure, and apparently trivial details. But each
act of applying these forms is a kind of test and of a challenge - they are
always reconfirmed to the extent that they orient us to successful practical
experience, and if this is not the case, these forms undergo a crisis which
sooner or later inevitably leads to their elimination and replacement by
more adequate forms.
Moreover mental forms that are a priori with respect to experience at
moment t are a posteriori with respect to experience in the preceding moment
L 1 . One might accordingly get the impression that we are faced with the
old problem of which came first - the chicken or the egg. In the interval
t experience is preceded by the logical forms of interval L 1 : they are con-
structed, applied, and verified on the basis of experience from the interval

t -2. This experience is preceded by the forms of the interval t -3, etc. Here
we are faced with only an apparent regression ad infinitum. In modern
anthropology it is believed that in his initial phase of development man did
not think discursively and in abstract concepts. Various nondiscursive mental
structures - instincts, customs, conditioned reflexes, and symbolic mythical
forms functioned to select and organize primitive raw experience. Thus with
the increasing enrichment of language, man accumulated enormous practical
experience, which formed the basis for the transformation of habits and
conditioned reflexes into concepts.
Accordingly while at a higher, discursive level of human intellectual
development mental forms and experience are interlinked and precede one
another in alternation, in a genetic sense experience is ultimately primary
and mental forms are secondary.


Experience is usually taken to mean something quite subjective, variable,

and unique, at least with respect to certain of its elements. The obvious
reference is to the experience of one man - individual experience.
If one maintained that experience can be understood solely in individual
and subjective terms, arguing that ultimately experience is the basis of mental
forms expressed in linguistic symbols, one would arrive at an irreconcilable
difficulty: how can one fashion an intersubjective language on the basis of
purely subjective experience? Schlick has described this situation in detail
in his critique of immanentist positivists.4
Let us assume that two subjects are observing the same object - a lamp
on a table. Since they are not located at the same point, they observe the
lamp from differing angles and distances. For the two observers neither the
shape nor the color is the same - the subjects' vision and sensitivity to color,
and the lighting vary in the two cases. As Avenarius said long ago: the way
the observer sees the lamp depends upon the organization of the entire body,
and particularly the nervous system. This led Schlick to conclude: "In a com-
plex which various persons signify as one and the same object one will never
find an element that would be absolutely equal in quality, intensity, and the
like." But if one assumes that various persons do not experience identical
elements but rather similar ones, it follows that the reality presented to one
person is never presented to another person. In other words each being has
his own individual world for himself into which nothing extends from the
worlds of other beings. Everyone is Leibniz's 'windowless monad.'

In such a situation there could be no possibility of interpersonal commu-

nication. If a number of brilliant individuals were able under such conditions
to create a language on their own,. all their symbols would have a totally
subjective, personal meaning, based upon their own unique experience,
different and totally isolated from the experiences of other people. No one
would be able to learn a single word from anyone else, translation from
one language to another would be' impossible, and no one would be capable
of understanding anyone else.
But the fact is that people communicate with one another and under-
stand one another with more or less success, that children learn from adults
a large number of words even at an early age, and that translation from one
language to another is quite possible and ofter extremely successful. In
other words it is a fact that there is intersubjective language and intersubjective
symbolic forms in general.
How can one explain this fact?
To assert that language has an intersubjective character thanks to certain
a priori structural mental forms common to all people is untenable in light
of the foregoing discussion of the variation of mental forms and their rooted-
ness in experience.
Accordingly a solution is to be sought in the hypothesis of intersubjective
elements in experience itself. This certainly is the most plausible assumption
(and later we shall see that it is justified). If there exists in the higher forms
of mental activity something invariant, objective, and inherent in the entire
social community, then it is natural to assume that its origins lie in the most
elementary experiences: there is no bridge from pure subjectivity to objec-
tivity. If human experience were disparate, then the meaning of its symbols
would also be disparate. But this is not the case (and we shall dwell upon
this later in some detail). Let us assume, then, that there exist relatively
identical, invariant elements of consciousness in every individual subject,
although they are independent of any isolated individual subject, but not
of the general subject, which in this case is the consciousness of people in
a given social community. Accordingly these elements of consciousness are
objective. We shall term the set of such invariant experiential elements under
conditions c and in the period of time t, "objective experience te ."
Before we discuss more thoroughly the idea of objective experience, it is
important to distinguish two senses of the term "objectivity" with respect to
mental processes, and in contrast to material processes.

According to the first of its two senses objectivity of experience means its
intersubjective, social character. The experience of the individual subject is
viewed in the relationship of the simultaneous givenness toward the experi-
ence of other subjects belonging to the same social group under given condi-
tions and in a given period of time. Then it can be established that some
invariant elements exist in the experiences of all the subjects of the group.
We call the totality of such elements objective experience, as it is independent
of the existence and of the consciousness of any individual subject. For
example the hunger of a concentration camp prisoner did not cease to exist
with the death of any of the individual prisoners; the aesthetic enjoyment
of the visitors to Modigliani's commemorative exhibition did not cease merely
because one visitor was offended by the overly elongated, angular shape of
his pointed faces.
In the second of its two meanings objectivity means the objective ground-
ing and correspondence of experience as a subjective process to certain mate-
rial or mental objects. The more adequate a perception in the sense that its
elements correspond to actual features of the object, the more objective it is.
For example objective experience is the perception of an object as red when
it genuinely reflects light waves of 687 millimicrons in length. The experience
of a daltonist to whom t~e same object appears to be gray is subjective.
The difference between these two meanings of objectivity is best seen in
the next example. The perception of a group of travellers standing on a
platform looking at an approaching train is objective, first of all, in the sense
that it is the perception of the entire group of subjects, and is objective,
secondly, in the sense that it is relatively adequate to an actual object - an
approaching train.


What in experience can be objective? Is it not true what Schlick and so many
others say: if all subjects differ from one another in terms of culture, previous
experience, desires, etc., how can one and the same experiential element be
the same with even two subjects in the same situation at the same time?
In fact one may concede that all the experiential elements of two subjects,
taken in their full concrete givenness, are qualitatively different. There is no
criterion to evaluate the qualitative identity of two experiences in all their
individual details. One must acknowledge that truly no one can enter into
another's consciousness to see what is actually taking place there. But in
order to explain the origin of a language which is objective and social in

character, we need not assume a qualitative identity of human experiences.

What is essential in the concept of objective experience is structural identity.
Even if the experiences of people belonging to the same group differed from
one another to the same extent as the musical sounds of Franck's violin
sonata differs from the corresponding notes on sheet music, from the grooves
cut on a record, and from sound waves represented on a screen by means of a
cathode oscillograph (and the divergences are surely not so great), this would
surely not rule out arranging and structuring these experiences in the same
manner as the. various material forms of Franck's composition.
Accordingly what we have termed 'objective experience' is actually the
assumption of an invariant, objective structure of the subjective experiences
of a group of individuals. Our next step is to cite the reasons that bear out
this assumption.



One must dwell for a moment on the basic fact that is incompatible with the
subjectivistic conception of experience. This is the fact that by means of
language people successfully communicate with one another. How do we
conclude that their communication is successful, i.e. that some people
genuinely understand the spoken or written signs of others? Is it not possible
that in fact no one understands anyone else, and that in fact this is merely
not noticed at all times because the mental processes of various people pro-
ceed along parallel lines? Is it not possible that we are so accustomed to
misunderstanding other people that we no longer even take note of it (like
the air we breathe)? We merely are surprised when the misunderstandings
exceed certain proportions and so express our disappointment in our wives,
friends or relatives, or in the ideas and ideals in which we once believed.
Cannot many human misfortunes - meaningless marriages, quarrels with
people around us who are probably no worse than we, and in the final analysis
wars and revolutions (as one semanticist once discovered) - be explained by
misunderstandings and the lack of a correct interpretation of symbols?
Misunderstandings unquestionably play an important and often tragic role
in our life. In relationships between individuals belonging to the same social
group misunderstandings are determined by the subjective elements of mean-
ing that vary from man to man. In relationships between groups and entire
societies the causes of misunderstanding are the distinctive group elements
of meaning that vary from group to group.

But nevertheless the fact that in spite of all, people generally understand
one another is proven primarily by the phenomenon of practical cooperation
between individuals, groups, and entire nations. We use certain symbols:
words, gestures, facial expressions, and others react to them in the manner
we expect or in the same way we react when they use the same symbols.
In the many bakeries of the world there exist various types of bread, various
prices, various types of packaging (or none at all), but universally the same
thing happens: if one pronounces one of a number of words such as 'bread,'
'Brot,' 'du pain,' 'hleb,' one will obtain the required product, and the fact
that one is permitted to leave without complaint shows that one has correctly
understood how much to pay.
I can never know with certainty whether someone viewing burning wood
along with me is experiencing the event in absolutely the same way or in
more or less different way. There is no way of carrying out the qualitative
comparison of experience. One cannot have direct experience of the experi-
ence of others. But one can nevertheless know something about it indirectly.
First of all in the presence of a wood fire others behave as we do. They
are careful not to approach too closely, and if they accidentally touch it,
we are able to conclude - by their haste to terminate the contact, by their
facial expression, and perhaps by their outcry - that they are experiencing
the same level of pain we would feel in the same situation. At a certain
distance from fire others behave as I would: if it is cold, by various gestures
they express their sentiments of pleasure. If it is hot, they try to get as far
away as possible, or if they must remain, they begin to get red, sweat, loosen
their clothes, and in a variety of ways try to cool themselves. The verbal
behavior of others is a particularly reliable key to the world of others' experi-
ences (although this can be extremely deceptive, as anyone knows who has
dealt with insincere people). When two men point their fingers at a stove
and both say 'fire,' merely on the basis of agreement in this single case one
cannot yet know whether the same experience is referred to by the same
word. Perhaps to one of them the word refers to the stove or the stove
opening or the color of the fire, the burning wood, the movement of the
rising air, etc. But the use of the word in various situations and contexts
progressively eliminates the possibility of various misunderstandings. If
both use the same word for a conflagration (when there is no stove and
when neither wood nor coal is burning) and for the burning of alcohol
(which burns blue rather than red), as well as for the flaming of a match
(which is too weak to cause visible air movement around it), one may draw
the irrefutable conclusion that their experiences - regardless of qualitative

differences in details - have an identical structure. It is precisely that which

is structurally invariant that is associated with the symbol of fire.
Thus we encounter two types of elements in experience: constant and
structural elements; those that may be recorded and transmitted by language,
and those that are incommunicable and esoteric, having quite distinctive,
subjective qualities. Louis Rougier wrote, along these lines:
"In short what may be transmitted from one individual to another is
the order of perceptions which we experience under particular conditions:
this is what we shall term their structure." 6
Schlick wrote, ''We always understand one another insofar as the internal
order of our own perceptions is common. We are not referring to the 'quality'
of these perceptions; all that is required is that they may be organized in
the same manner into a system in order that we may classify them in the
same manner." 7
On this subject Schlick wrote in even greater detail in the Manifesto of
the Vienna School:
In a scientific description one may learn only the structure of objects (the formal order)
and not their essence. What unites people in language are structural formulas: in them
is manifest the content of cognition which is common for all human beings. Subjectively
experienced qualities (red, joy) are only experiential acts; they are not cognitions. Thus
in the science of optics what counts is only what can in principle be understood by a
blind man. 8

Thus this objective structure of experience is not something of which we can

be directly conscious, which can be directly known. This is something which
must be concluded or understood indirectly. The elements of our personal
experience that have an interpersonal, social character may be verified solely
by analysis of human behavior and, above all, the use of symbols - by
comparing our practice with the practice of other people and by inference
by analogy.
Thus the argument for the existence of objective experience lacks the
character of an immediately clear and certain proposition (axiom). It should
be characterized as an hypothesis necessary to explain certain facts. In our
case it is essential to assume the existence of objective experience in order
to explain the possibility of human cooperation. In order for the members
of a society to be able to cooperate, to attain certain goals one must assume
that there are structurally identical elements in what these people perceive,
feel, and desire.
It is particularly important to understand that objective experience is not
a special entity existing external to individual experience. A skeptic could

justifiably call such a Platonic conception speculative, departing too far from
sense data, and thus subject solely to pure faith. But the arguments of the
skeptics against the conception of objective experience outlined here (iden-
tical structural elements in the framework of individual experience) do not
carry much weight. Thus, for example, everything that follows from the quite
proper objection that man can never enter someone else's head in order to
see what happens, to compare his own experience with that of others and
to identify common elements - is that objective experience is not directly
perceptible (and this was admitted at the outset). If in his argumentation the
skeptic goes beyond this to affirm that we can speak of constant properties
only for things that are directly observable and which can be compared
directly, this methodological demand would lead to the rejection of many
valuable scientific propositions that have been verified in practice (particularly
in modern science), and consequently it must be considered fallacious.
We are not in a position to observe electrons directly. But if we are able to
conclude something about the general, constant properties of electrons from
observations of the configuration of minute droplets of steam in a Wilson
chamber, then we are similarly able to propose an explanatory hypothesis
about the general and constant properties of human experience on the basis
of observation of human communication and cooperation. In all such cases
whether the hypotheSis is to be confirmed or refuted depends upon further
observation and testing.
In fact all of scientific knowledge has an indirect character. Even in
the case of directly knowable phenomena the only way to profound and
concrete knowledge is by way of other phenomena that are more easily
controlled and which occupy a constant, lawful relation to the former. This
holds true for nearly all quantitative study, and provides the basis for the
use of jnstruments.
Thus, for example, we perceive temperature directly as a quality. But in
view of the fact that qualities assume only a few relationships to one another
- equal to, more than, less than - we are unable to get far with direct,
qualitative study of this phenomena. But in measuring it we utilize indirect
methods of cognition. We observe a constant relationship between variations
of temperature and changes in the height of a column of mercury and estab-
lish a one-to-one correlation between levels of intensity of temperature and
units of height of the mercury column in the thermometer. Similarly when
the engineer looks at a pressure gauge, what he is fact sees is the position
of a needle on a scale, but he can justifiably be assured that he knows the
pressure of the steam in the boilder at that moment.

Nevertheless our indirect knowledge of the objective structure of the

experience of other persons is possible because there exists a constant,
regular, homologous correlation between mental states and corresponding
physical activity - movements, gestures, physiological reactions, mimicry
and, at a higher level of development, the spoken and written word (Le.
symbols in general). Here words can have a dual role - both symbolic and
nonsymbolic. In their nonsymbolic role words serve chiefly as the expression
of subjective mental states. In this they playa role similar to all other physical
activities that are associated constantly with experience. We treat them as
signs, on the basis of which we can conclude something indirectly about the
subjective state of the person using them. (For example the exclamation
'ouch' usually expresses the feeling of pain.) In their other, symbolic function
words can designate a general mental structure. For example the word 'pain'
does not express a concrete feeling of pain, but rather designates that which
is constant and structural in each concrete feeling of pain. Terms of this
type ('despair', 'joy', 'desire', 'elation', 'love', etc.) presuppose acquaintance
with the objective structure of the experience of many people. And this
acquainatance is acquired indirectly by comparing the behavior of other
people with our own, and inferring that since under certain conditions other's
bodily reactions are similar to ours, then there is also an analogy between
mental processes that are correlated with those bodily reactions.
Accordingly why should we consider that we know more about unobserv-
able electrons on the basis of observable droplets of steam than we know
about unobservable experience on the basis of observable bodily and com-
municative behavior?
Admittedly philosophers who have treated the problem of the objective
existence of manifestations of the spiritual life of other people 9 have pOinted
to the essential difference in regard to the possibility of indirect knowledge
of physical and mental phenomena. With the former there is always the
possibility - at least in principle ~ that one day direct observation will
be possible with significantly improved instruments and technology. On
the other hand, even in principle mental phenomena cannot be observed
This argument need not be adopted. In principle we cannot directly
observe a temperature of 6000 c on the Sun. This also holds true for all
phenomena that take place either too far away in space or in a past period
of time (e.g. historical events and geological phenomena) or under conditions
that human life cannot tolerate.
But even if we accept the foregoing proposition it is still irrelevant to

our problem. We do not believe in the truth of our propositions about

electrons or the chemical make up of stars because we hope to be able to
observe them directly some day, but because we are satisfied with the
testing we have subjected them to by means of indirect observation.
Our hypotheses of the mental states of other people may be verified in
a similar manner. For example each act of successful communication and
cooperation among people and each successful prediction of a distinctive,
nonautomatic, consciously directed reaction of an individual confirms the
general assumption of the existence of an objective structure of experience
common to all the members of a society. Of course as with any form of
verification, here too the only cases of significance are those that cannot be
explained by any other assumption, and so one cannot take as confirmation
of the existence of identical elements in experience those actions that are
identical with various people, and thus easily predictable, because they are
regulated by identical unconditioned or conditioned reflexes. Surely, an
enormous number of human actions are not regulated by instinctive or
reflex mechanisms, but rather are the result of the more or less intelligent
adaptation to a new situation. When someone resolves a task in the expected
manner, this is new confirmation that we have a relatively identical mental
structure, which of course encompasses what we have termed 'objective
experience'. (Mental operations of an identical structure that proceed from
essentially different sense data would of course lead to divergent results.)
If we wish to know a particular objective structure of experience (for
example how a social group experiences a revolution in its country) we apply
the same method as with any other scientific investigation: after general
background information about the subject of investigation we gather and
classify the data pertaining directly to the subject; on the basis of analysis
of them we propose a hypothesis; we deduce various possible consequences
from it; and then we try to gather new facts that will confirm or deny our
Preliminary investigation necessarily includes study of the origin of the
given group, its economic, legal and political position, the social stratification
it falls into, its cultural level, traditions, customs, and mentality. These data
provide us with indications of the mental reactions that may be expected
of the group.
The task of the next phase is to search through existing documents and if
possible, conduct surveys and interviews to gather data about the behavior
of people in the period under investigation. Data derived from self-analysis
and introspection can be of great benefit in this stage. Although necessarily

skewed by the subjective wishes and interests, they may yield certain objec-
tive elements. Nevertheless the practice of people at the time of the event
under investigation will be most reliable in indicating how it was truly experi-
enced. Regardless of what opponents of the revolution later state about their
feelings and sympathies for the revolutionary cause, it is quite likely that
they experienced it as a repulsive, harmful, dangerous, chaotic, and reckless
event and that their general attitude affected their selection of observations:
they took note of what accorded with their attitude and failed to note
whatever was opposed to it.
Of course such studies are specialized in character (belonging to the field
of social psychology), and it is not necessary here to discuss details. All
that is necessary is to establish that these studies are possible and that their
results in principle should have as much scientific validity as the fmdings of
any other investigation of other objectively existing phenomena. One can
only classify them as more or less likely hypotheses, but all empirical gen-
eralizations fall into that category. Like any other hypotheses these are tested
by continued observation of the behavior of the researched subjects to see
whether this behaviour agrees with what may be deduced from the hypothesis
of the general structure of their experience over the past.
It goes without saying that social-psychological studies of this type are
much more complex- than any others, and the possibility of error due to
the involvement of such a large number of factors is much greater. But the
difference is one of degree rather than one of quality.



It follows from our defmition of object in general and objective experience

in particular that it is relative in character in many ways. We always have
in mind the objective structure of experience of a group of people (the
first relationship), under given conditions (the second relationship) - at a
particular period of time (the third relationship). For example at the time
of the Yugoslav Revolution of 1941-1945 the objective experience of
the Chetniks was diametrically opposed to the objective experience of the
This use of the term 'objective' may appear unsatisfactory. How can
two contrasting experiences be objective? Can this relativity of the term
'objective' be avoided in some way? Is there not, ultimately, an absolute
objectivity that would serve as a criterion to assess the greater objectivity

of one experience in comparison to another? In answering this one can

say that in science absolute objectivity external to all relationships cannot
exist but this nevertheless does not prevent us from speaking of levels of
objectivity for cognition generally and experience in particular.
The absolute objectivity of material objects (their existence 'per se')
can only be a philosophical principle that cannot be further analyzed or
supported. In science, as in ordinary life, we always encounter relative
objectivity. But it is always an open question whether the objects are
truly what they appear in all details. We can be absolutely sure only that
certain individual events occurred and that certain relations existed among
If the objectivity that concerns us in science is always relative it remains
for us to determine more exactly the character of that relatively. A cognition
- in our case cognition of the structure of experience - can be objective
to society as a whole. In that case cognition consists either of the structural
elements inherent in the experience of each individual (universal social
experience) or of the elements given in the experience of each individual,
normal man under normal circumstances (general to social experience). There
are few human experiential elements that can unreservedly be said to have
a universal social character. Everyone probably experiences the sensations
of 'hunger and thirst, the feelings of sympathy and antipathy, and certain
basic perceptions (hot, cold, pain, etc.). There are many more experiential
elements that have a general social character (color, sound, smell, tactile
perceptions, joy, sadness, sexual drive, 'the love of children, etc.). With all
major historical events nearly everyone experiences certain structurally
identical elements. In the course of war these would include insecurity,
fear, hatred of the enemy, a sense of separation from loved ones, grief
over the sudden loss of relatives and friends., etc.
In addition to objectivity in relation to society as a whole, we also have
various levels of objectivity in relation to various social strata and groups,
beginning from the broadest (classes, religious communities, and nations)
to more or less restricted groups such as professional and logical groups,
on to the most elementary social group - the family. One can speak in
fact of a continuous transition from objectivity to subjectivity and the
If one could analyze completely the consciousness of a particular subject,
one could locate in it certain universal elements that are taken over from
the entire society, and then sets of structurally identical elements common
to all the members of certain social groups, proceeding from the largest to

the smallest, until one encountered the experiential elements which are com-
pletely personal in character and which could not be encountered in any
other man.
This analysis leads to the natural assumption that the first elements are
the most objective (that this is the maximum possible objectivity), and that
the transition to smaller groups entails more and more relatively subjective
elements until one ultimately arrives at the completely subjective elements
of the experience of the individual - those completely individual to him. This
would constitute a kind of natural state prevailing while consciousness deve-
loped spontaneously, before the division of labor into physical and intellec-
tual. Prior to this differentiation no one could observe and think more objec-
tively than another: each individual can be treated as a unit and the level of
objectivity can be dermed by quantitative measures - the counting of heads.
The larger the number of people who observe or think alike, the more objec-
tive the result of their conscious effort. But the dividion of labor has given
some individuals and groups a privileged status over others. Now (with the
advance of the division of labor) a few professionals dealing solely with
cognition are presumably in possession of more objective knowledge than
most of the society. Thus qualitative measures of objectivity appear in addi-
tion to quantitative ones. Now one must say that only when conditions are
otherwise equal does the number of people who have undergone the same
experience or drawn the same conclusion playa role in assessing the objec-
tivity of this conscious function. Otherwise, qualitative factors - knowledge
and particularly the capacity to make accurate observations or form conclu-
sions excluding emotions, desires, or personal, familial, national, or class-
interests - come to playa significantly greater role. An individual can be
more objective than all the rest of mankind once he transcends his own per-
sonal limitations and the limitations of the collective human subject. For
example, Aristarchus asserted that the Earth revolves around the Sun dis-
regarding all the leading thinkers of the time, most notably Aristotle, who
subscribed to the notion that the home of man was the center of the world.
Of course it is often difficult to assess these qualitative factors. The true
extent of a thinker's intellectual power, knowledge, ability to disassociate
himself from personal and collective desires, interests, and emotional needs
is something that is seen only after the fact - for the unfortunate Aristarchus,
only after two thousand years. It is only subsequent testing that can establish
the objectivity of someone's knowledge. Yet in many cases we can distin-
guish qualitative differences in objectivity on the basis of prior experience.
For example an already tested level of objectivity in the past history of an

individual or collective subject certainly affects our expectations of its objec-

tivity in the present and future. Also, objectivity depends upon disinterest
(in fact the one is often confused with the other). A judge or a carefully
selected jury are expected to be more objective than two parties to a court
case because by the large they are disinterested. However, if a judge is related
to one of the parties by blood, ethnic group, class, or race, he is apt to be less
objective than a judge who is not so related. Other things being equal, a scien-
tist will normally make more objective observations of a natural or social
phenomenon than a layman.
Thus far, utilizing two criteria to evaluate the degree of objectivity (quali-
tative and quantitative), we have in effect assumed two differing meanings of
the term 'objective.'
As mentioned above, the first meaning of the term is: x is objective
(experience) when x exists independently of any individual subject.
The second meaning is: x is objective (experience) when x is relatively
adequate to material object y.
When we treat all subjects as equal (with respect to their cognitive capaci-
ties) there is a natural harmony between these two meanings of objectivity.
Every subject has personal limitations - the distinctive physical and phy-
siological state of the organism, temperament, intellectual and affective
orientation, shortcomings in knowledge, biased needs and interests, com-
pletely individual traits of character, differing backgrounds, etc. All of this,
commonly termed the 'personal equation,' plays a role in the selection and
processing of experience and creates illusions and subjective error. The greater
the number of subjects we take into account, the more effective is the exclu-
sion of the purely personal factors that create these illusions and distortions.
And the greater is likelihood that whatever is invariant for all subjects is the
result of the action of a particular external structurally adequate material
This is the situation when it is assumed for cognitive purposes that all
subjects are equivalent - that each is restricted in its own way, but these
limitations are no greater for one than for another. One gets a fundamentally
different picture when one takes into account the objective state of things.
Adherence to certain rules of observation, the exclusion of personal or group
desires and interests, and special knowledge about the field of phenomena
where we have a practical relationship in the given case - all these elements
introduce great differences in the cognitive power of individual subjects, so
that the experience of the individual is often more adequate than the inter-
personal experience of large groups. For example the professional botanist

is able to identify immediately the difference between two plants which may
seem identical to a layman even on close insection. A musicologist can iden-
tify differences between Furtwangler's and Toscanini's interpretations of
Beethoven's symphonies that completely escape the ear of a nonprofessional
Thus there are significant discrepancies between the two meanings of the
objectivity of experience. In order to avoid the confusion that can arise from
such a situation, it is a logical imperative to introduce two terms in place of
the present one. The term 'objective experience,' is of fundamental signifi-
cance to explain the origin and the possibility of the existence of an inter-
subjective language. This term will refer to the existence of structurally
identical elements of experience within a particular social group independent
of the consciousness of the individual subjects. For the second meaning of the
term 'objective experience,' in the sense of a relatively high cognitive value
and independence of those subjective factors that lead to experiential errors,
we shall utilize the term 'adequacy to the object,' or just 'adequacy'.l1 Thus
we shall distinguish 'objective experience,' which is the condition for the
existence of language and communication and, on the other hand, 'experience
adequate to the object' ('adequate experience'), which is the condition for
the effective application of language in the process of human practice.
Accordingly we shall distinguish the level of the objectivity of experience
from the level of the adequacy of experience to the object (Le. the level of its
cognitive value).
The criteria of the level of objectivity will be primarily quantitative. We
shall state that a structure of experience is the more objective the more valid
it is for a larger number of subjects, under a greater number of conditions
(taken disjunctively), and for a longer period of time.
The quantitative increase of each of these factors (and the increase in the
'field' of each of these basic relations) increases the independence of a parti-
cular experiential structure from given individual subjects. The experience
of the bombing of Belgrade on April 6, 1941 is more objective than the ex-
perience of two lovers on a picnic.
It could be objected that it is impossible to make comparisons. Can one
thing be just as objective as another? Does the latter 'exist more' than the
former? This argument is convincing when one talks about objectivity in the
ontological sense. Yet one can only speculate about ontological questions in
the style of good old traditional metaphysics. The concepts of object and
objectivity must be understood epistemologically if one is to remain in the
domain of science. In that case A is more objective than B when one knows

about the existence of A with more assurance and with greater support than
about the existence of B. In our example many more factors are available to
identify the general structure of the experience of a quarter of a million
Belgradians than there are to identify the experience of two lovers. The pro-
bability of conclusions concerning a phenomenon is a far greater if that
phenomenon does not vary with varying conditions and can be studied over
a long period of time than if we carry out our investigation under a particular
set of conditions and over only a brief period of time.



So far we have analyzed the concept of objectivity and objective experience

while leaving aside the role of language. Now it should be emphasized that
language not only serves the external expression of objective experience but
also affects its very formation. Consciousness is largely diffuse in its prelin-
gual, rudimentary phase of development. The sole constant, clear-cut ele-
ments in it are related to a small number of everyday practical relations to
objects. The first elements of language - the cries which coordinate the
practical activity of a community of people - function to organize objective
experience. Without language the few identical elements in the experience of
the individual members of a community exist in isolation, without connec-
tion. Moreover in the history of the consciousness of an isolated individual
the identification of similar elements and individual, temporally successive
states is greatly impeded because there is always one complex, indivisible
context after another. There is no means by which a single element or rela-
tion can be taken from its context and identified, so it is very difficult to
perceive whether at a later moment, in a new context, that same element or
relation has reappeared. It is impossible to remember that element without
previous selection and identification - precisely the role that language should
perform. The connecting of a sign to an element of experience which is of
particular significance to us and which we somehow remember having ex-
perienced before under certain circumstances carries with it the all-important
separation of that element from its context. In this manner we in effect make
the transition from a diffuse, unarticulated, original consciousness to an
articulated consciousness, in which the initial distinctions are made between
the identical and the diverse, the constant and the variable, and the general
and the individual. The separation of one element of experience and its iden-
tification by means of a sign not only facilitates recognition when it reappears

but also represents a kind of underpinning or criterion for noting relations

and connections of other elements of experience to it. Around this other
elements of experience crystallize and there is a selection of those elements
that are somehow relevant (similar, kindred, constantly related to it) from
those that are not. In this manner a rudimentary classification, sifting out,
and ordering of chaos is carried out.
lt might be said that the organizing role of linguistic symbols in the
formation of objective experience is to establish multiple correlations. The
nature of such correlations may be expressed more exactly in the following
We shall identify an individual belonging to society A as being Aj. His
experience at moment t may be signified as class K(Aj/td, whose members
are individual elements of experience ail hi. Cj, etc. During the interval of
time T(tn - tt> we shall have a series of successive experiential states of the
given individual. These can be expressed as the class of classes K(Ai/1). The
role of a symbol S is to correlate the constant elements of a particular type
that repeat in several different, successive experiential states: S can be related
either to a single experiential element ai (for example blue, red, warm, hun-
gry) or to a single group that is connected by a constant relation. In the
former case the symbol S 1 establishes a correlation between individual cases
of a that repeat (a\ in t 1 a~ in t 2 a~ in t 3 , etc.). In the latter case S2 estab-
lishes a correlation not only between at a~. ~, etc., but also between ai as
a whole, hi as a whole, c as a whole, etc. By means of such complex units
and by adding new symbols which are then associated, one may construct
entire structures that will be increasingly complex.
So far we have remained within the bounds of individual consciousness
K(Ai/1). A series of successive experiences of all the individuals of com-
munity A in the period T would comprise a class of classes of classes K(A/1).
The social role of a symbol lies in the fact that it correlates and coordinates
the constant elements in the experience of the individual members of a com-
munity, i.e. ai with aj. ak. am, and so forth. Thus a becomes an invariant
element in the experience of an entire community.
Symbol S may be said to express the constant elements of the objective
experience of a given group of people A in period of time T. In some cases
the specifications A and T are lost, for as we saw above there are universal
experiences that are not temporally restricted (e.g. hunger, love, various
perceptions, etc.).


Linguistic symbols can express objective experience directly and indirectly.

In the former case a sign is related to a certain experience without any inter-
mediaries. These are descriptive symbols (for example 'light,' 'dark,' 'water,'
'stone,' 'bird'). But there are also symbols lacking a direct and constant
relation with experience. What is expressed by the words 'truth,' 'justice,'
'courage,' 'photon,' and 'irrational number' cannot be perceived in any direct
way nor experienced directly. And yet these words are related to experience,
although the connection is a distant and indirect one. The role of intermediary
is played by a symbol or a whole series of symbols that may be ranked
according to the level of abstraction. Thus for example, by means of other
symbols (numbers and numerical operations, etc.) the symbol 'irrational
number' indirectly expresses an experience that is encountered in the attempt
to measure certain magnitudes - for example in the attempt to measure the
diagonal of a square whose sides have the magnitude of the unit of measure-
ment. The experience of unquantifiability is indirectly expressed by the
symbol of an irrational number. In a similar manner certain perceptions
occurring during the emission of light energy are indirectly expressed by the
symbol 'photon,' and perceptions with respect to inheritance (e.g. similarity
of traits between ancestors and descendants) are expressed by the symbol
Insofar as a symbol does not directly or indirectly express an objective
experience, it cannot be understood, and accordingly does not succeed in
fulfilling its function in social communication. In this connection it may be
said that each symbol that has a meaning expresses at least indirectly the
objective experience of a certain group of people and accordingly may be
considered communicable, i.e. capable of transmitting a conscious message
from certain people to others. When we encounter a new symbol, the surest
way to test its communicability is to attempt to translate it into ordinary
language. Words in common speech already have a meaning that, globally
speaking, is invariant not only under the transformations of subjective experi-
ences, but also under the transformations of the distinctive forms of ordinary
language in various countries. The ordinary language is the product of a long
history: the meaning of its words are the generalized and crystallized experi-
ence of an enormous number of human generations. By translating a symbol
into the words of ordinary language an essential relation is established with
objective experience, allowing other people to understand it. Thereby its
communicability is confirmed.


1 See Louis Rougier, Traite de 1a connaissance, Paris, 1955, pp. 67-8. Georges Bou-
ligand, Les aspects intuitifs de 1a rnathernatique, Gallimard, 1944.
2 Russell, An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth, London, 1940, p. 73.
3 Ibid., p. 85.
4 See Moritz Schlick, Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre, 2nd edition, Berlin, 1925, pp. 207-
5 Ibid., p. 208.
6 Louis Rougier, Traite de la connaissance, Paris, 1955, p. 182.
7 Moritz Schlick, Enonces scientijiques et realite du monde exterieur, A.S.J. no. 152,
8 Moritz Schlick, Wissenschaftliche Weltauffassung. Der Wiener Kreis, Vienna, 1929,
9 For example John Wisdom, Other Minds, Blackwell, Oxford, 1952.
10 By 'general' was meant what is common to the species as a whole, without regard
to individual deviations.
11 Experience cannot be said to be true or false. Something is true if it is not just
empirically verified but also conceptually, theoretically grounded.



The transition from experience to thought is one of the knottiest problems of

epistemology .
It should immediately be stressed that experience and thought do not exist
in pure form, as two polar opposites, and that there are elements of each in
every conscious experience. As mentioned above, experience refers to the
direct awareness of certain contents, an awareness brought about by certain
external or internal stimuli (material objects or states of the organism). It is
comprised of elements of perceptions, emotion and volition. In thought, the
emotive and volitional elements are excluded (or tend to be excluded). The
perceptive elements with greater practical significance stand out and by
linking and dividing them new abstract conscious contents - concepts - are
created which cannot be encountered in direct experience. We call the opera-
tion with such abstract conscious contents 'thought.'
These two forms of conscious life are closely interconnected. Pure experi-
ence does not exist, since it is influenced by the results of previous thought.
These exercise a selective role, focusing closely our attention upon certain
elements and steering it away from others. They ensure that observations
assume a particular emotional color and are associated with a particular
impulse to action. On the other hand, experience has not only served histori-
cally as the foundation for the building of all mental constructs, but also in
every real mental process experience constitutes a continual interference in
the mind of the individual. Cettain specific experiential contents - represen-
tations, emotions, and desires unique to a given individual - are constantly
being connected to abstractions. 1 Thus thought constantly objectivizes
experience and permits us to interpret as an optical illusion the image of the
broken stick in water; to continue to perceive the true colors of objects even
in semi-darkness; and to avoid considering objects to be smaller when they are
distant from us. And conversely experience always tends to subjectivize
thought: an emotion or preconception can dictate a conclusion and even the
premises from which it is to be deduced. A man who has had bad luck with
women will develop a whole theory about female worthlessness, and a man

who has lost property during a revolution or who may lose it in the future
will usually be predisposed to find innumerable reasons to find fault with
ideas of radical social change.
There is a continuous transition between experience and thought, with
an undifferentiated, diffuse, direct consciousness at one pole, and a highly
structured system of abstract, invariant elements of thought at the other pole.



What remains to be explained is the criterion used to select and abstract

elements of experience. There are certainly many invariant elements of
consciousness that are part and parcel of the objective experience of a com-
munity but which are never made part of our concepts. One must include
among these all sensory illusions of a general character. We all see that an
object grows smaller the further away from us it is, but we nevertheless think
that it retains its dimensions. When one end of an object is located in an en-
vironment of one density and the other end is in surroundings of a different
density, we see the object as crooked, but we nevertheless think that the
object retains its shape.
Why do we ever think in a manner contrary to what we perceive? Because
in these cases our perceptions orient our practice incorrectly, and upon that
basis we wrongly expect a certain experience in the future and direct our
activity accordingly. But the expected experience fails to take place and our
practice proves unsuccessful. Seeing a mirage in the desert, we rush toward it
in the expectation of water and shade. But our expectations quickly prove
misleading, and our haste in vain.
In many cases the question is more complex. Certain constants in our
experience (and more than that - constants in the objective experience of
an entire society) prove successful instruments for prediction and planning
practical activity in a limited field of experience. We all see that within the
bounds of our horizon the earth is a flat plane. For our daily practical needs
- for walking, building a house, laying railway track, for measuring short
distances, etc. - this assumption is of full practical value. It only begins to
orient us incorrectly in our predictions when we engage in practical action
over long distances, for instance, in taking long trips. Similarly every day we
see that the sun moves from one end of the sky to the other while the earth
appears to rest. The findings of our observations serve us faultlessly as the
point of departure for a number of exact predictions - regarding the alter-

nation of night and day, the succession of the seasons, the eclipse of the sun
and moon, etc. But in a broader field of experience this assumption reveals
itself to be untenable. Thus for example in order to explain the revolution
of the planets and sun around the earth our predecessors had to assume the
existence of invisible, rotating crystal spheres to which they were affixed.
But this assumption was contrary to experience: there is nothing to be
observed in any way similar to such spheres, while the phenomenon of
gravitation, by which Newton explained the revolution of the heavenly
bodies and of the earth itself around the sun, is to be observed every day, at
least in its empirical manifestation of weight. Moreover Ptolemy's hypothesis
implied that a pendulum should oscillate continuously in the same plane.
But Foucault demonstrated that the plane of oscillation shifted slowly -
the magnitude of which could be predicted faithfully on the basis of the
Copernican hypothesis.
In contrast to the first group of elements of objective experience, which
quickly proved to be based upon sensory illusions and accordingly were not
used as elements for the formulation of concepts, the second group encom-
passed cases that in a restricted field of experience were able to serve as
practical instructions for action, and were for a time included in the body of
utilized concepts. But at a later level in the development of cognition these
were found to be incongruent with new sense-data (and inconsistent with
respect to other concepts). Then they were eliminated from our repertory
of concepts. (They were sometimes said to be an 'appearance,' while the
'essence' was quite different.)
Accordingly the abstractions with which one deals in thought are the
elements of objective experience that are not only invariant for a society
but also effective instruments for predicting our practical experience.


The root of all abstractions is to be found, in effect, in useful habits. This is

the key that explains the separation and establishment of the first constant
elements from undifferentiated experience. Constants in consciousness were
preceded by constants in behavior - unconditioned and conditioned reflexes.
A characteristic of every living organism - when it still lacks even the rudi-
ments of consciousness similar to human consciousness - is the capacity to
adapt to conditions of the outside environment. The results of previous
adaptation by an entire species to certain constant external conditions are
transmitted to descendents in the form of so-called unconditioned reflexes.

Moreover even the most primitive types of organisms are capable of learning,
i.e. able to acquire habits associated with certain, specific external conditions
(conditioned reflexes).
In 1912 the Russian physiologist Metelnikov published a number of essays
which revealed that paramecia were capable of developing conditioned
reflexes. Ordinarily a paramecium is unable to distinguish nutrients from
particles of coal, sulpher, or paint - it absorbs them all: after ten or twenty
minutes it simply ejects all indigestible matter. Metelnikov combined the
lipstick he offered with an additional stimulus - a 1% solution of alcohol was
added to the environment. The protozoa gradually took less and less lipstick.
Biologists termed this form of 'learning' without any mental capacity 'biologi-
cal memory.' The protozoa is capable of 'remembering' the connection with
alcohol (or any other stimulus, as for example light rays of a particular color)
for a number of days.
In conditioned reflexes of this kind we find the prototype of all the com-
plex and differentiated habits of higher forms of life. In all such cases the
central fact is the establishment of a constant, triple connection between an
organism, a practical objective, and a condition for the attainment of that
objective. In the cited example with the paramecium the objective practical
goal was to avoid the absorption of harmful matter and to separate food from
the matter that was not food (this of course does not imply that the para-
mecium is aware of the objective in the sense of the consciousness of higher
forms of animal life or man). The organism itself is not capable of carrying
out this selection, but the fact that harmful matter always appeared together
with alcohol permitted it to make the selection. In Pavlov's famous experi-
ments with dogs the practical goal of the dog is to take food. Realizing the
constant connection between the giving of food and a certain, specific stim-
ulus, e.g. the ringing of a bell, permits the dog to make predictions: it expects
to obtain food even though it does not see it, and accordingly secretes saliva
and stomach acids.
Human habits have a similar structure. Certain practical objectives exist,
as well as a condition by means of which to attain the objective. When I
come home at night, I customarily turn a switch (condition) in order to get
the light (objective). When I pass through my home town, where everything
is familiar, I customarily, without thinking, cross streets in the center only
at particular places (condition) in order to avoid being run down by a vehicle
or being fined (objective).
Parallel to the conditioned reflexes of animals and of those fields of human
activity that are performed more or less automatically and unconsciously.

one fmds similar patterns of action directed by conceptual thought in higher

spheres of activity. Concepts (principles, logical rules, and mental forms
generally) are first and foremost conditions for attaining certain practical
objectives. Here too the formation of a mental form at the elementary level
is preceded by the formation of a useful habit. We had the habit of breathing
much prior to discovering the concept of breathing. The concept of breathing
came about through the gradual establishment in the consciousness of individ-
ual members of an entire society of certain identical elements observed in an
action which figures as a condition in the triple relationship - organism -
condition - maintenance of life. These elements are, for example, observa-
tion of the expansion and contraction of the chest, the inhalation of air, the
increased need for air when we move at a faster pace, dizziness if we attempt
to hold our breath, the absence of breathing among the dead, etc. Conscious-
ness of the constant characteristics of our habit of breathing - at least in the
present case - does not help us to perform the habit better, it at least helps
us to understand it better as a phenomenon, regardless of the specific condi-
tions in which it is given in our experience. These specific conditions are,
for example, a normal proportion of oxygen in the air, a normal (healthy)
condition of the muscles and nerves that operate the movement of the chest,
etc. An understanding of a habit permits us to understand what should be
done to maintain it under modified or abnormal conditions. This is the point
at which conscious activity differs fundamentally from all reflex mechanisms
and instinctive habits. Animals are capable of performing extraordinarily
differentiated practical actions in an instinctive manner, on the basis of un-
conditioned or very primitive conditioned reflexes. But they are incapable
of carrying out a much simpler operation in order to ward off a change in the
established conditions in which their activity is carried out. There are birds
capable of exerting extraordinary effort to fashion nests underground in
which to lay eggs. When the young are born, the mother brings them food
and feeds them through an opening. But if the young are removed and placed
beside the nest, the mother will continue to flutter around the opening, will
fail to notice her young and will leave them to die of hunger.
Organisms possessing a highly developed nervous system and increased
capacity for learning are equipped with an ability to take note of modifi-
cations in conditions. They acquire conditioned reflexes of a higher order.
Reactions differentiate depending on changes in conditions. In order to
attain the same objective, the animal is now prepared to react in one way
in certain conditions, and in another manner in changed conditions. Its free-
dom to carry out practical actions and its adaptiveness to the environment

is significantly greater, but it is still restricted by a determined mode of

behavior. An animal nevertheless repeats the same structure of action and is
incapable of creativity, of bringing about innovations. This also applies to
people who behave conventionally and exclusively according to customs and
established traditions. It is known in advance how one should act in certain
conditions. If a completely new situation arises, the subject will continue to
attempt to act in the accustomed manner or will be thrown completely off
Rational behavior, i.e. behavior guided by concepts, proceeds along the
same lines, although the level of freedom and adaptiveness is qualitatively
greater. A concept contains identical elements of objective experience that
are not just effective instruments for predicting future experience, but are
also invariant in various transformations of the given conditions. The birds
we spoke about have no concept of their young, and behave totally indiffer-
ently to them under even slightly altered conditions. A dog trained to eat
only after the ringing of a bell has no concept of food, for if we bring him
the same food without the ringing, he will not eat it. His lack of appetite is
a consequence of the limitation of his experience in connection with food to
a single relation - the ringing of a bell. A child who has been burned on a
heater and in consequence is afraid of any bright red object has no concept
of a bright red color, which he identifies exclusively with heat. A snob who
'enjoys' music only when listening to concerts by foreign performers has no
concept of music, for he identifies quality and interpretation with the nation-
ality of the performer. In a related manner, a man who believes that only
those works belonging to a particular school of literature or philosophy are
valuable, as opposed to all others, has no concept of either literature or
philosophy, for the value of literary and philosophical works cannot be
measured merely according to the general principles it affirms or the school
to with it formally belongs.
To have a concept is to know those objective experiences which are in-
variant under varying conditions. When one has a concept of food one knows
that an unpleasant-looking pill with a designated amount of protein or
carbohydrate content nevertheless represents food. If one has a concept of
breathing one knows what to do with a man who has ceased to breathe
because of an unusual occurrence (strangulation or electric shock); one
knows that when one ascends a very high mountain one should take along
oxygen; one knows the basic principle upon which an iron lung operates;
etc. If we have a concept of light, when we take an interplanetary flight (an
experience we have not had) we will not put any part of our body outside

the cabin in order not to suffer from the effects of invisible light rays (ultra-
violet rays). If one has a concept of music one knows the value of a per-
formance regardless of place, time, or the nationality or reputation of the
performer. If one has a concept of literature one is able to assess the artistic
value of a work regardless of whether it is written in a realistic, modernistic,
or any other style. Finally, anyone who has a concept of philosophy will be
capable of grasping the philosophical importance of a work regardless of the
philosophical leanings of the author.
In all these cases we are dealing with reactions that differ substantially
from the reflexes of animals, primitives, and mentally ill persons. In the case
of animals associations between stimuli and reactions are automatic, coerced,
simplistic, uncritical, and contain an element of unconditionality. For a
rational man whose activity is regulated by conceptual thought these asso-
ciations are extremely flexible, variable, and diversified, are accompanied by
a critical consciousness, and are conditioned 2 in a much more complex way.
There is a particularly great difference in the level (order) of conditioning.
With animals no more than two or three factors can mediate the connections
between the original stimulus and the reaction (e.g. between food and the
release of secretions). For example the sound of a bell can lead to the same
reaction as the direct observation of food - this is a conditioned reflex of the
first order. Then the sound of a bell can be related to a heretofore neutral
stimulus, as for example the sound of a whistle, so that a new relation is
born: whistle - bell - food, thus constituting a second-order reflex. It has
been found in the case of animals - at least with respect to alimentary reac-
tions - that they cannot establish reflexes of more than the second order. It
is only with defense reactions that it is possible for animals to create reflexes
of the third order, but that is the absolute limit.
Neurologically speaking one of the fundamental differences between the
thinking of man and the conditioned reflexes of animals is that a man is
capable of reactions of a very high, practically unlimited order. In other
words man forms associations with a multitude of intermediate terms; by
the same token there is an unlimited number of phenomena that can mean
something to him indirectly and signal the most minute changes in external
conditions. This is precisely the reason why man is incomparably better
equipped to adapt to his surroundings and alter his behavior in accordance
with given conditions. 3 Finally this is the basis of man's capacity for abstrac-
tion and utilization of symbols.
In the case of the conditioned reflexes we encounter with animals and
primitive people (whose reflexes are of a lower order), the stimulus is in fact

a signal, which directly indicates another phenomenon that arouses the

accustomed reaction.
In the case of thinking the stimulus is a symbol; it signifies a general
structure of objects, and is capable only very indirectly of representing a
concrete phenomenon of immediate practical significance, and yet it implies
all the diversity of conditions and situations in which that phenomenon may
manifest itself.


We mentioned- above that concepts and other forms of thought arise in the
process of our becoming aware of our useful habits, and that each mental
form is an element in a tripartite practical relationship (organism - means -
objective). Now we can make this more concrete by adding that a concept
is a means for the attainment of a practical objective in the sense that it
involves consciousness of how to act in various specific conditions in order
to attain the given objective_
But if this practical purposefulness in the most diverse conditions is what
makes concepts the superstructure of useful habits, and which constitutes
an element of continuity among them, one may gather from the cited exam-
ples that concepts are in a certain sense the negation of habit. To be more
precise they are the negation of the bias, short-sightedness, stereotypism,
blindness, routinism, conservatism, and narrow pragmatism of behavior based
upon habit. Habits are biologically indispensable but they are highly useful
only to the extent that our interaction with the external environment is
carried out under relatively stable conditions. It is only when new conditions
manifest themselves that we appear so fettered and even paralyzed by our
habits. Concepts are the conditions of our gradual Iiberation. Because of their
general nature and because they contain elements that are constant even in
the midst of extreme transformations, they allow us to integrate within them
new elements of experience and to orient ourselves quickly and easily in new
situations. Anyone who has a notion of a certain type of opening in chess is
not likely to be caught unaware by any move of his opponent, and will also
know what to do to turn any move to his own advantage.
As usUally happens whenever distinctions are drawn, in distinguishing
between habitual behavior and rational behavior we have drawn the lines too
sharply, and there is the danger that the concepts may be understood in a
static and idealized manner. It should be emphasized that the process of
building concepts as a whole is a negation of the biases and restrictions that

are so evident in habits. Identifying the particular type of elements of experi-

ence that are invariant in all the transformations of specific conditions is not
a momentary action but rather a progressive process in which a number of
operations are involved, from formulating concepts to expanding and differ-
entiating them, making them more concrete, and transcending their original
content and scope.
If in connection with a certain phenomenon A which varies under condi-
tions i, j, k and I we have objective experience Ejjkl which makes up the
content of our concept C, it is always possible over time to discover new
specific conditions m under which our phenomenon assumes form Am, which
was not foreseen by our concept. In the simplest cases we expand in this
manner the content of our concepts. In more complex cases it may be that
experience Em is incompatible with the complex of experiences Ejjkl. For
example we have created the concept of light as a stream of corpuscles, but
we have established in an incontrovertible, socially verified manner the sense-
datum of light interference, which can only be explained by rejecting the
corpuscular thesis and accepting the thesis of light waves. In such cases we
reexamine our old experience Ei, Ej, Ek and E/ and investigate whether it
can be subsumed under another, broader concept that can integrate Em as
well. If this is possible, the old concept will be generallized (note that gener-
alization is not simply the expansion of the content). Galileo broadened the
content of the concept 'free fall,' revealing that the speed of a free fall does
not depend upon the mass of the body. Newton generalized the concept of
the free fall with the concept of gravitation, to encompass experience incom-
patible with the concept of free fall (for example the revolving of the Moon
around the Earth at a constant distance).
A second possibility is a separation of all known experience in connection
with the phenomenon A into two groups and accordingly formulation of two
concepts. For example the proton and the neutron were distinguished after
the discovery that certain particles of the same mass as protons do not
deviate from their paths under the influence of a magnetic field.
Finally a third possibility is the complete abolition of the old concept and
its replacement with a new one. Thus, for example, observations regarding
oxidation led to the establishment of the concept of phlogiston, an element
believed to cause combustion. But precise experiments carried out by Lavoi-
sier demonstrated that the weight of a quantity of air during the process of
oxidation in a closed space decreased rather than increased, as one would
expect, if, as the concept held, phlogiston were released upon oxidation. By
the same token this new experience indicated the need to formulate a new

concept, the concept of a particular element constituting air (oxygen) which

combines with the body undergoing oxidation.
Having already drawn a parallel between conditoned reflexes and concepts
and demonstrated that each of these is a means to attain a practical objective,
now we can compare the process of abandoning a concept with inhibition.
Inhibitions appear when it is shown in a number of successive cases that one
cannot achieve the desired objective by means of particular actions. For
example a dog's acquired conditioned reflex to run upon the sound of a bell
to a place where it expects to receive food is quickly inhibited if the dog
received an electrical shock rather than food at that place. What we feel when
a concept begins to upset our expectations and guide us falsely in practice
may be compared with inhibition. For example, on the basis of the prevailing
concept of bourgeois society, people expected the realization of liberty,
equality, fraternity, and other bourgeois ideals after the victory of the Third
Estate. What arose however was a society in which money destroyed all hu-
man relations and wealth drove out all other human ideals. This in itself
constituted a kind of shock - a moral and political one, rather than electrical.
The inhibition aroused was far-reaching. Not only was the concept of bour-
geois society as the system best suited to the needs of eternal and unchanging
human nature consigned to the scrapheap of social thought, but at the same
time this speculative, simplistic, rationalistic mode of thinking was called into


Here we arrive at a point where we must provide further explanation of

concepts as forms of thought. The best means to do so is by answering the
following questions: If the meaning of concepts is comprised of elements of
experience (which are social in character, invariant under various conditions,)
how is it that in time we reject certain concepts even though nothing has
changed in the experience upon which the concepts were built? What is
rejected in a concept if the experience upon which it is based remains unal-
The fact of the matter is that concepts transcend all experience. Human
consciousness takes the elements of experience and creates an imaginative
whole. In addition to given elements, a concept always contains hypothetiG.al,
presumed elements. This idea was implied in the above-mentioned thesis that
the content of a concept is constituted by objective experience that is in-
variant in the course of the transformation of the given conditions, and that

concepts permit us to orient ourselves in new situations. The hypothetical

element in a concept is the assumption that in a particular alteration of
conditions we will undergo the same or some specific altered experience, with
the indirect conclusion that certain experiences are excluded as incompatible
with our assumption. For example, our concept of the Moon implies the
hypotheses that on one of its hemispheres we would experience terrible heat
and on the other terrible cold; that we would suffocate there without oxygen,
that all objects - and our own bodies - would be fifty times lighter, that we
would fmd ourselves there beside a sea of stone, without water, and without
the slightest sign of life. On the other hand this concept rules out the possibi-
lity of the moon appearing like a round coin viewed from the side; the possi-
bility of living beings on its surface, etc. It thus happens that we believe we
know things that no one ever experienced, but nevertheless later experience
confirms most such beliefs.
Empiricism is incapable of explaining the creativity of human thought.
The formation of concepts of a higher order remains a secret if we try to
explain the process solely by means of experience. Only the most elementary
concepts - pen, house, wall, chair - contain experiential elements and noth-
ing else. Nevertheless, even these involve the assumption that there is a per-
manent relation between perceptions, that there are real objects to which the
structures of perceptions correspond. As far as concepts of a higher order are
concerned, such as the categories of the various sciences, there is nearly as
great a difference between them and elementary concepts as there is between
them and the representations of experience from which they arose.
In the very best of cases empiricists distinguish - in addition to sense-data
- dispositions toward a particular behavior, chiefly toward the utilization of
symbols in a particular manner. But we have already seen that these disposi-
tions differ fundamentally from conditioned and unconditioned reflexes,
since these are conscious and represent a mechanism for reacting to conditions
that we have never actually experienced before. Dispositions to overt behav-
ior are merely the external mechanism of an internal, conscious process. As
regards consciousness and its relationship toward behavior, empiricists make
an unjustified distinction. With respect to sensory experience, there are genu-
ine differences between external reactions, physiological and other material
processes, on the one hand, and internal, conscious experiences - sensations
and perceptions, on the other. They acknowledge something that could be
called the power of perception, i.e. the power to associate various sensations
in an integral sensory experience.
But when it comes to thought, empiricists manifest an extraordinary

critical stance, without sufficient justification. They reject not only Descartes'
assumption of the "spirit in the machine,"4 but also the very existence of
thought as an essential quality of consciousness. Accordingly they do not
acknowledge what is analogous to perceptions and sensations - concepts, or
something analogous to association - conceptual power and conceptual
activity. However, the generality of concepts, and the fact that they imply
experience which was never actually lived cannot be explained in any other
way but by assuming that at a certain high level of its development conscious-
ness begins to proceed according to its own laws, relatively independently of
the laws that prevail in the material world. Its activity consists in the execu-
tion of certain operations with experiential contents whose result are certain
thoughts which contain not just given elements but hypothetical ones as well.
The assumption of certain mental capacities (conceptual powers) that are
manifest in the performance of certain intellectual actions (abstraction, gen-
eralization, analysis, synthesis, etc.) is by no means a speculative assumption,
as the empiricists assert. As a matter of fact this alone is capable of explaining
those forms of successful communication and cooperation among people
which cannot be explained by the thesis of the structural similarity of their
For example general agreement reigns in psychiatry today as to the psy-
choanalytic explanation of the cause of hysteria: virtually all professionals
in the field agree that hysteria is caused by the suppression of an unconscious
desire, usually sexual in character, which is regarded as immoral or unnatural.
Guided by this explanation psychoanalists utilize the therapy of free associa-
tion in order to help the patient uncover unconscious feelings and work
them through, usually with good results. But what is the experiential basis
upon which this theory is based? All that can be observed are certain symp-
toms of illness and certain facts to be seen in the treatment of the patient
- manifestations of a powerful emotional attachment to the therapist ('trans-
fer'), a tendency toward resistance during discussion of events in the patient's
past, and cessation of the symptoms after the therapist helps the patient to
come up with certain explanations. In themselves these experiential facts
explain little as to why psychologists and psychiatrists agree on the existence
of unconscious desires, censure of consciousness, repression, etc., and how
they understand one another when they utilize the appropriate terms. Simi-
larly experience is quite insufficient to justify their agreement in therapeutic
practice. Accordingly we have two orders of facts: (1) the direct experience
of individual scientists and (2) mutual understanding and successful coopera-
tion. This agreement of behavior cannot be explained merely by constant

elements in experience. Certain other factors of conscious life must be

assumed. These are our capacities to derive certain mental actions with con-
stant elements in our experience.
We compare, identify, distinguish, break down, isolate elements given
in experience, generalize them (i.e. we expect them even when we notice
changes in the external environment), build up new wholes. These actions
are not arbitrary - at least insofar as our object is to increase our knowledge
and not to fool around. Certain practical goals give us an additional sense of
orientation. Among many possible mental creations only those attain and
retain the status of concepts that can serve as a means to attain these goals.
The first, rudimentary concepts arise primarily through identifying the
invariant elements in our experience and assuming that they will remain
invariant even during the transformation of external conditions. Here we still
have not removed ourselves too far from experience. The only new factor is
the separation of certain experiential elements from their context and the
assumption that we will re-experience them on certain occasions. Once we
develop a certain basic stock of concepts, we are able to increasingly manifest
our freedom and creativity. By means of synthesis we build sets of experien-
tial elements that we never actually experienced. Then we introduce distinc-
tions, and, divide them into subsets, which in turn manifest themselves either
as new wholes or as components to integrate into new wholes. In this manner,
the more we move away from the concepts encountered in everyday life
toward concepts. utilized by specialized experts, the less point there is in
referring to the content of concepts as a mere reflection. If even the most
elementary .given in experience is the result of the action not just of external
stimuli but also of our activity by which the quality of the observed object
is partially modified, then for higher concepts one may justifiably say that
they are in the first place instruments of cognition and of the attainment of
certain practical goals and that only a posteriori - after their utilization -
one knows whether and to what extent there are elements or reflection in
their content.
It is only on the basis of such understanding of concepts that one may
explain how a concept may be rejected and what it is in it that is rejected (if
not direct experience). What is rejected are the hypothetical elements intro-
duced by our mental action.
If a sociologist suggests that white-collar employees be considered a
special social class, he does so after having identified certain members of
society with respect to their capacity as intellectual workers who follow the
orders of those who pay them. All the facts of experience he has taken into

account are certainly correct, but one may argue whether it is worthwhile to
construct the concepts of classes on the basis of the characteristics he has
used (instead of others such as: share in the distribution of society's surplus
product, property rights with respect to means of production, decision-making
power, the degree of alienation of labor, etc.). One justifies a specific class
identification by applying the resulting concept in order to classify social
strata in various societies. We may notice that the empirical facts (about
people's behavior, joint activities, contact, marriage, mutual conflicts) point
to a classification of people different from the classification resulting from
the concepts we are utilizing in the given case. This would mean that in con-
centrating upon one characteristic we have lost sight of essential differences
with respect to other characteristics as if we were to classify fish and whales
in the same group because they both swim, birds and bats together because
they both fly, and men and gorillas in the same category because they walk
upright. There are greater differences and contrasts in the various forms of
behavior between the lower orders of white-collar employees (administrative
workers, teachers) and the big technical bureaucracy or the heights of the
state apparatus, then there are between the former and workers and the latter
and capitalists. The hypothetical element in the concept 'white collar emplo-
yees' is the assumption'that the people referred to by the term form a homo-
genous social grouping (class) because they possess certain identical proper-
ties. A revision of the concept does not challenge the empirical facts, but
eliminates the adopted criterion of classification.
There are even more hypothetical elements in our synthetic concepts -
such as the various physical models that serve to illustrate the results of
abstract, mathematical thinking. When Rutherford and Bohr derived the first
models of the atom, they were unable to explain certain experiential data
obtained by spectral analysis of the radiation of certain chemical elements
except by analogy with the structure of the solar system. Their models were
the result of synthesis, and the hypothetical factor in them - the flight of
thought into the unknown in order to explain a known given of experience -
was the conception of electrons as a sort of tiny balls revolving around nuclei
in orbits, comparable to those of the planets.
The conceptual constancy under various specific conditions is attained by
a kind of extrapolation of regularities observed in a series of successive states.
When we consider the identical items we have abstracted from previous
experiences we assume that they will continue to repeat in the future, with-
out regard to transformations of medium and given conditions. Thus, for
example, the history of capitalism from the July Revolution of 1848 to World

War II shows that in most societies workers have had to resort to force in
order to free themselves from exploitation and implement a classless society.
Furthermore, the entire history of class society has shown that never in
history have the exploiters voluntarily renounced their privileges. Proceeding
from that experience the mind naturally engages in extrapolation. The con-
cept of socialist revolution as exclusively violent and armed is formulated. It
is assumed that even under changed conditions in capitalism it would not be
realistic to expect capitalists ever to voluntarily renounce their power and
profits. This hypothesis was justified with respect to available evidence at the
time when it was formulated. But new developments bring about experiences
which indicate the lack of the absolute validity of previous extrapolations.
Technological development and various economic and political difficulties
(depressions and wars) lead to an increasing concentration of power in the
hands of a new social stratum - the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy manifests
itself as a partial regulator of the conflicts that previously could be resolved
only by resort to force. Under the pressure of the working class it makes
economic and political concessions that capitalists themselves probably would
never have made. A significant portion of the surplus profit that in previous
conditions would probably have gone to the bourgeoisie now passes (in the
form of increased wages, social insurance, reduced unemployment, etc.) into
the hands of the class that created it. The working class also obtains greater
political rights, so that in some advanced countries there is the prospect of
an evolutionary transformation of capitalist SOciety.
New experience calls for the revision of the hypothetical elements in the
previous concept of socialist revolution. What remains essential in it is the
qualitative transformation of capitalism toward the construction of classless
Such modifications and revisions of the content of concepts are unexplain-
able if a concept is empirically reduced to mere experience (for new experi-
ence did not deny old experience)_ This is similarly the case if a concept is
understood as a mere reflection, for again the negation of a concept does not
mean the negation of those elements of it that were truly a reflection of reality.

** *
One may conclude the following on the basis of the foregoing discussion of
1. Every concept contains certain constant elements of objective, social

2. On the ground of such given elements, which we have abstracted from

their immediate experiential context, one builds concepts as more or less
permanent forms of consciousness by means of the mental operations of
comparison, identification and differentiation, analysis and synthesis, and
abstraction and generalization.
3. With such operations we supplement the given empirical elements in
concepts with hypothetical elements, by means of which we postulate the
constancy of experience in the context of a changing external environment as
well as orderly alteration of experience under altered conditions.
4. Accordingly, every concept serves as an instrument to predict experi-
ence in the future and to select and classify that experience.
S. In this way all concepts in at least an indirect way, are a means to
achieve certain practical goals.


Every concept is related more or less constantly to one or more different

linguistic symbols that express it and provide it permanent, objective social
existence. As stated above, a concept does not exist permanently in the sense
that at every moment it is existent in the consciousness of the members of
a society, but rather in the sense that the symbols to which it is related exist
continuously and actually as material objects and that with reference to them
people have a disposition in their presence and under certain conditions
(when reading, listening to speech, watching pictures) to experience the
suitable mental processes. This describes the relation between concepts and
symbols in the process of communication in which we remain relatively
passive (as readers or listeners). When we are active in the process of com-
munication in the sense that we ourselves are producing symbols (in writing,
speeking, or reading) then a concept manifests itself as a set of rules for the
utilization of a communicable, i.e. socially understandable symbol.
Let us take as an example the concept of the square. First let us take the
symbol with which the concept is expressed. In English the word is 'square,'
and in SerboCroatian it is the word 'kvadrat.' When we encounter this symbol
in the process of communication, provided we are mentally alert, i.e. insofar
as we attempt to understand it, we experience the image of four equal straight
lines which meet at right angles. This image is an actual mental process in
the head of an individual, and insofar as there are identical elements in the
perceptions of an entire group of people, we may speak of collective repre-
sentations with an obviously objective character. But a concept is not identical

to a representation. While the latter exists solely in a given interval of time as

the topic of the thinking of certain people, a concept exists in a sense even
when it is not in anyone's mind. It is sufficient that there exists a disposition
on the part of a certain group of people to think of it when they encounter a
particular corresponding symbol in the process of communication.
The sense in which this disposition exists is a question to be answered
by modern psychology and communications theory. In any case it has a
material, physiological basis. Some light along these lines has been shed by
recent findings concerning the functioning of electronic machines. It is well
known that the electronic cells of the 'memory' (or the data storage capacity)
of an electronic brain retain information by means of the formation of a
closed electronic circuit in which an electric impulse constantly travels
until the datum it embodies is needed. This fact, in light of the many other
analogies between the functioning of the human brain and a modern elec-
tronic brain, suggests that this might be the explanation for the physiological
basis of memory itself. Of course the movement of electrical impulses in a
closed electric circuit is by no means a concept, but at best only its material
basis. If this explanation is correct, then we would know at least as much
about the material basis of dispositions as we know about the material basis
of perceptions and representations, and the existence of concepts about
which no one is thinking would not appear more mysterious than the exis-
tence of sensations and representations as actual mental processes.
On ther other hand, when we actively utilize a symbol such as the word
'square' rather than interpreting it in reading or listening, then we guide
ourselves in our practical activity by means of an entire set of rules that
permit us to utilize that symbol in certain contexts and forbid us to utilize
it in certain others. For example whoever is acquainted with the concept of
the square knows that one may say:
"A square is a geometric form."
"A square has four sides and four angles."
"All the angles in a square are right angles."
"A square, rectangle, rhombus, rhomboid, trapezoid, and deltoid are all
parallelograms. "
"The floor was made of ceramic tiles in a square shape."
"His pictures had a very large number of squares and rhombuses."
"His face reminded me of a square whose corners someone had broken
"Three square is nine." Etc.
All these are examples of the process of normal intellectual communi-

cation in which our goal is to inform others of something and not merely to
evoke feelings in them or to stimulate certain impulses of volition.
On the other hand, anyone who has a concept of a square knows that
one cannot use the word carelessly in sentences that remain simply an
accumulated series of symbols each of which individually perhaps informs
us of something but which all together say nothing or remain completely
incommunicable (which does not exclude their use for literary purposes).
For example:
"The squares in his pictures are always slightly asymmetric and this is
extremely exciting."
"What color of squares do you like best?" "Oh I love white ones." 5
"The square is the essence of the cosmos."
"In order to dispel the monotony, one should allow at least one side of
the square to be shorter or longer than the others."
"The most brilliant mathematician of all times is he who constructs a
square of crooked lines." Etc., etc.
All knowledge that permits us to utilize the given symbol in some cases
and forbids us to do so in others may be summed up in the form of certain
general rules. To acquaint oneself with the content and the scope of a con-
cept is to learn all the rules that regulate the use of the corresponding symbol.
In natural languages these rules are by no means arbitrary. We learn them
on the basis of our own experience and from the enormous concentration
of social experience which the older generation transmits to us.
The basis of these rules is constituted by those elements of objective
experience that are invariant throughout transformations of conditions and
that serve permanently as an instrument for effective, practical activity.
Proceeding upon this basis we introduce new symbols and construct new
rules that are not by any means based directly upon experience but which
must regulate the use of the corresponding abstract symbols in a manner such
as not to contradict the rules applying to the use of descriptive symbols.
Thus, for example, if 'square' is an abstract symbol and 'forest,' 'picture,'
'table,' 'sheet of paper,' etc. are descriptive symbols that represent fields of
application for it (in the sense that one can always join them to the term
'square' as their predicate), rules for the use of both types of symbols must
be mutually compatible. The former must not permit what the latter forbids
or forbid what the latter permits.
Because of the fact that these rules, even when they pertain to the use
of concrete, descriptive symbols, are based solely on invariant elements
of experience, independent of the changes in the particular conditions in

which the process of communication takes place, it is clear that whatever we

say merely on the ground of such conceptual rules need not correspond to
concrete experience nor be true to fact. On the basis of knowledge of the
concepts 'clothes' and 'blue,' I am certain that there is sense in saying that
someone's clothes are blue. It is quite another thing whether in the particular
situation in which the expression is used, the man in question actually has
blue clothes. Accordingly we may distinguish the following three types of use
of signs with respect to their relationship to the corresponding concept:
1. The use of a sign is not regulated by concepts, but rather is completely
arbitrary or is regulated by rules which are completely arbitrary or based
exclusively on subjective experience. In this case either the subject does not
know what he wishes to say or he does have particular thoughts which he
expresses with symbols, but because he uses the symbols in a completely
individual, personalized manner, no one is able to understand him or discover
what thoughts have been expressed with his strange language. In this case no
communication takes place; everything said is incommunicable or objectively
2. The use of symbols is regulated by concepts and exclusively by them.
Others understand what is said, and react in a manner similar to the way
the speaker would when encountering the given symbol. If all the symbols
in an expression are abstract, it may be considered that something has been
said that cannot be brought into question by the concrete lived experience.
But if there is even one concrete symbol in the given expression referring
to a particular object, it may be perfectly clear to us both: what was the
intended message and that in the given conditions the message does not
correspond to the experience which we have and consequently is not true
to the facts.
In other words with this type of communication something is expressed
which is meaningful and represents possible knowledge, but which in the
concrete situation in which the process of communication takes place need
not necessarily be true.
3. The use of symbols is regulated by concepts and also knowledge of
available relevant facts. In other words we not only know the general rules
for the utilization of symbols independently of the given situation in which
we are using them, but we also know the particular concrete objects to which
the descriptive symbols refer and we know the conditions of time and place
of the situation being described. In this case what we are communicating
by language is not only meaningful but also true.


We have thus implicitly already posed the question of the relation between
concepts and objects. Our direct practical cognition of objects encompasses
many elements that do not enter the content of concepts since they are
variable and dependent, on the one hand, on the psycho-physical constitution
of the subject, and on the other, upon the objective situation, at a certain time
and place.
It is commonly stated that concepts are an expression of the essential
properties and relations of one or more objects. How is this to be understood?
In the process of effective practical activity we know material objects directly
for in the process of attaining our goals we encounter resistance and must
exert effort to overcome it. But in the process we have no direct contact
with essences or, more precisely, with structural properties. I come to know
water directly as something fluid, fresh, more or less cold, offering a degree
of resistance to passage (e.g. as in swimming or rowing), and which keeps
some things afloat but permits others to sink. On the other hand I cannot
come to know by direct experience that each molecule of water is comprised
of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, although, this is precisely
what is considered the 'essence' of water.
For this reason many empirically oriented philosophers refuse to speak
about the essence of things as something knowable and, accordingly, as
objectively existing (for if we cannot know something we cannot say that it
objectively exists, even though it may actually exist). They acknowledge only
the existence of individual things that can be directly observed. Each such
thing is referred to by one ( or more) symbols naming it, while a concept
is merely a set of rules for the use of symbols.
When the ontological basis of the theory of meaning is constricted so
severely, the result is that abstract symbols and the rules for their use have
no correlates in reality and are to be understood either as arbitrary conven-
tions to be used to create order and structure in our language or as useful
instruments corresponding to nothing in reality.
To draw such strict distinctions in the existential status of individual things
and general properties and relationships is justified only if there is truth in the
empiricist assumption that observation is the sole source of knowledge of the
physical world. But that assumption is a false one. Purely receptive obser-
vation is such a narrow basis for cognition that solely on the basis of it we
cannot know anything even about the existence of individual objects.
As soon as we reject this fundamental empiricist thesis, all foundation

disappears for the argument that concepts have no objective correlate in

the material world. On the other hand this does not mean that one should
adopt the opposing thesis of realism which holds that our concepts, taken
in general and without any limitation, are reflections of objectively existing
essences or universals.
In fact, if we wish to avoid the extremes of subjectivism and objectivism
we may use the dialectical method which strives toward objectivity in a crit-
ical way. Then it would be most rational to assume the following position:
1. Not all concepts have the same general relationship to objects, since
all objects do not exist in the same manner, or at least we do not know with
equal assurance whether they exist or not. Moreover not all concepts play the
same role. Some claim to refer to material objects, and some do not.
2. The mode and level of knowledge of the existence of certain objects
depends upon the degree of our assurance of the objective truth of the prop-
ositions comprised of the given concepts.
3. Because of the fact that the truth of our propositions is relative, i.e.
dependent upon the conditions of time and place of the fields to which the
those propositions are applicable; upon the sum total of human knowledge
in the given era, and upon the limited universe of known facts, we are not
able to be absolutely certain even of the existence of certain individual
things, much less of abstract properties and relations.
The absence of absolute assurance means here the impossibility of logical
proof. No logical argument can prove the existence of anything. The most
universal scheme for drawing logical conclusions may be expressed by the
formula: if A is implied by B, then if B is true, A is also, where A and B
signify individual or complex propositions. The very structure of logical
thinking makes it clear then, that it always refers to possibility rather than
Neither does experience provide absolute evidence of the existence of
anything. If there exist optical and acoustic illusions, hallucinations, visions,
and the like, then the probability that we will not err in an individual case
will never reach 1.
But this does not imply that we can never have either the theoretical or
practical reasons to believe that alongside our perceptions and concepts,
corresponding material objects and their properties and relations exist too.
All the skeptical reasons for doubt require an approach which is more flexible
and critical than a realist is prepared to accept. This elasticity (along with
retention of the necessary objectivity) may be attained if two essential
conditions are satisfied:

1. Instead of asserting that we are absolutely sure of the existence of

certain material objects, it would be wiser merely to assert that the fact
that our concepts satisfy certain criteria of adequacy with respect to the
objects justifies our belief of their existence. The important point here is
the distinction between absolute certainty and greater or lesser probability
(which in individual cases will not differ for all practical purposes from
absolute certainty). In other words, we do not have absolutely all possible
reasons, but can have sufficient reasons for our existential assertions.
2. Instead of believing that our concepts are a simple reflection of material
objects, it would be better to be more cautious and to count in advance on
a discrepancy' between our concepts of oujects and the objects themselves
- insofar as they actually exist. In so doing, as opposed to realist dogmatism,
our ontology assumes a hypothetical and flexible character, open to revision
whenever one element fails to satisfy the cited criteria.
What are the criteria which our concepts must satisfy in order to be con-
sidered adequate with respect to an object, and which justify own acceptance
of the existence of a material object?
1. The Concept K must be communicable, i.e. must represent a set of
rules for the use of a symbol which must be interpreted by all the members
of a society.
2. Concept K must be an element of a coherent system of concepts, i.e.
the. propositions of which it is a part must be derived or serve as the basis
for the derivation of other communicable propositions.
3. Concept K must be verifiable. 6 This means that a proposition in which
K figures as a constituent must allow. the derivation from it, directly or
indirectly, of a set of propositions that describe an experience that is invariant
for all transformations of conditions for various observers.
4. Concept K must be applicable in practice,7 i.e. the practical actions
taken in order to arrive at the predicted experience must be permanently
and interpersonally successful.
When all four conditions are fulfilled, we have the right to conclude that
there is sufficient reason to assume the existence of a material object that is
reflected in an approximate manner by our concept. Here we are terming
the relationship between a I1)aterial object and our concept an 'approximate'
(or relatively adequate) reflection. in order to allow sufficient room for
correction of the concept K in the light of later investigation.
In the first chapter of this work we identified the criterion of direct
cognition of objects. Now we may state that conditions (1-4) constitute
the criteria for the indirect cognition of objects. Every x that satisfies all
four cited conditions is an indirectly known object.

The key question is as follows: If conditions (1-4) are fulfIlled, what

justifies our conclusion that "there is sufficient reason to assume the exis-
tence of a material object"?
This conclusion is justified by the fact that this is by far the most natural,
simple, and most convincing explanation of the situation that arises by
the fulfillment of conditions (1-4), of which the following elements are
particularly indicative.
1. Whenever a set of conditions C has been given, we have directly experi-
enced the manifestation of x.
2. Other people, under the given conditions, have also experienced that
same x, as is evident from the fact that we can mutually understand one
another when we utilize the symbol that refers to it.
3. Our information about x agrees with our previous body of knowledge
- as is evident from the coherence between the concept that pertains to it
and other concepts.
4. We formulate the hypothesis that the manifestation of conditions C
will determine the phenomenon x in the future.
5. Finally we engage in action and ourselves create conditions C. In all
cases we perceive that the result of our action was the phenomenon x.
The key element here is that the exclusion of the assumption of the
existence of material object which we are experiencing would make extremely
unlikely a coincidence between our predictions and practical results for
there is an endless list of other possibilities.
The theory that best explains this coincidence is, (1) that there exists
a constant functional relationship between C and x, and (2) that each of
these is objective in character.
This theory coincides with the unwritten rules followed by scholars in
asserting that something is a fact or that an object exists. Facts and objects
are not something that a scientist encounters ready made, which need merely
be reported. It takes great effort and genuine creativity to make order of
the enormous multitude of diverse experiential data, usually symbolic in
character and in order to explain them as various aspects and properties
of objects. In all sciences, and particularly in the most advanced ones,
knowledge of objects passed through a phase in which it was considered more
or less hypothetical, later arriving at a phase in which we were able to assert
with good reasons that it corresponded to material objects. There was a
time when molecules were hypothetical constructs. Today the successes
of chemistry and physics would be unexplainable without the assumption of
their existence. Moreover thanks to electronic microscopes, today we are
able to observe them directly. On the other hand, today we no longer believe,

as at the time of the great renown enjoyed by Rutherford's theory of the

structure of matter (1911) and Bohr's theory of the hydrogen atom (1913),
that atoms are systems of particles similar to the solar system with electrons
orbiting like planets around the nucleus. Thus whenever a concept is relatively
underdeveloped (when it is still insufficiently tested or applied in practice),
scientists are careful to speak only about the model to which it may be
applied, rather than about the real object reflected by it.
Once one adopts this elastic view of the nature of the existence of 'material
objects,' it is difficult to see the essential (qualitative) difference in the
existential status of individual objects and their general properties and rela-
tionships. Certain differences exist, but these are differences in level. They
depend upon the extent and objectivity with which conditions (1-4) of
the criteria of adequacy are applied.
So-called concrete concepts such as the concept of a house, table, and
bus have the following characteristics:
(a) They are directly derived from experience and directly contain constant
elements of our everyday experience.
(b) It is extremely easy to foresee what sort of future experience one
could have if these concepts were adequate.
(c) There is no problem as to what practical actions should be taken in
order to test these predictions.
(d) This testing is carried out every day and at every moment in an enor-
mous variety of ways by great numbers of people.
Accordingly we can be completely assured that all the conditions of our
criterion are fulfilled and that there is little basis for skepticism about such
On the other hand, when we were faced with such abstract theoretical
constructs such as 'curved space' and 'black hole" we are much more cautious.
These concepts have often been formulated as the result of extremely abstract
thinking, without regard to experience, or as pragmatic schemes constructed
in order to resolve certain theoretical difficulties, without any indication that
they will be borne out by experience. It is not always clear what empirical
consequences follow from them, and what practical actions ought to be
undertaken in order to determine whether they are adequate. Even when
we achieve a certain level of testability (as in the case of the concept 'curved
space' by measuring the aberrations of light rays passing beside large masses),
we are not satisfied by a single act of testing since the observed effort could
be explained by another hypothesis.
Accordingly there is no one-to-one correspondence between concepts

and material objects. There are concepts with respect to which we hesitate
to engage in any sort of existential assumptions, and there are concepts for
which we resolutely reject any objective correlate (nymphs, satyrs, centaurs,
But nevertheless such a situation would not justify drawing sharp demarca-
tion lines between singular concepts pertaining to individual things and
persons and general concepts (of attributes and relations) which - it is said
- do not refer to anything existent. The place where the demarcation line
should be drawn depends upon our entire knowledge in a given field. We can
be more certain of the existence of a quantum of energy, of gravitation, or
of inheritance than of the existence, for example, of the Greek philosopher
Thus far we have dealt with the relationship between concepts and material
objects. But in reviewing the classification of objects we have seen that, in
addition to material objects, there are also various other types of objects.
(Concepts themselves and other forms of thought constitute a type of
objects.) It goes without saying that the relationship of concepts toward
various types of objects varies.
In the relationship between concepts and material objects we saw that
the former were able to reflect the latter with relative adequacy. In addition
to this passive, receptive element concepts also involve an active, creative
one. Each concept is a plan of action. Thus a concept may be an instrument
for the creation of a material object that did not previously exist. Or, in
other words, a concept is not just a reflection, but also a project.
Concepts that have arisen directly upon an experiential basis - by means
of selection, abstraction, and generalization of elements of objective experi-
ence, (and these are the bulk of concepts in everyday life) are primarily
-reflections, and only a few of them are projects. But that they are also projects
may. be seen in the fact that at the lowest theoretical level they permit
not only adaptation to nature and imitation of it but also the creation of
humanized natural objects (e.g. regulation of rivers, reforestation of hills, the
building of artificial lakes, domesticated animals, cultivated fruits, etc.).
The more developed the culture and civilization and the more man is
liberated from natural and social necessity, the more concepts are projects
rather than reflections. There are more and more objects that man, guided
by his concepts, has deliberately created without having found them ready-
made. For example such concepts as airplanes, hydroelectric power stations,
computers, the opera, the parliament, were fust projects for action, and only
later reflections.

There is a dialectical relationship between these two aspects of the rela-

tionship of concepts toward real objects. The reflection is the basis for the
project. On the other hand, when something has been projected and realized
in practice, it becomes accessible to more articulated and profound reflection.
Moreover not every creation is consciously regulated by concepts. It has, to
a great extent, an intuitive, instinctive character. Often, man first created an
object; later, he became fully aware of it and created a concept of it by means
of reflection (e.g. the state, commodities, economic crisis, pollution. etc.).
The relationship of concepts to unreal objects contains minimal elements
of reflection. This type of concept is constructed of a certain number of real
characteristics (of empirically tested concepts that reflect certain properties
and relations of real objects), but the relations among them are not actually
existing, and in the case of imaginary, fantastic concepts, their interrelations
are unrealizable in principle.
We have already discussed the relationship of concepts to symbols as
objects. Concepts are rules for the utilization of symbols. Symbols are the
material expression of concepts.
There has Similarly been discussion of the relationship of concepts to
other mental forms - judgments, inferences, etc. The interrelationships
of concepts have two aspects - the psychological and the logical. Insofar
as concepts are understood psychologically as actually existing acts or
processes, they assume causal, functional relations to one another, like all
other real phenomena of the same order. Insofar as concepts are understood
logically as the ideas of objects, various logical relations - identity, opposi-
tion, inclusion, overlapping, etc. exist between them.



In addition to the numerous classifications of concepts that fill logic text-

books (with respect to quality, quantity, clarity, distinctiveness, level of
abstraction, etc.), it would be of interest to attempt to provide a classification
of concepts with respect to their relationship toward material objects.
We shall take into account two principles of classification:
1. Does a concept claim to refer to a material object?
2. Does the concept permit us (if only indirectly) to acquire new knowl-
edge and make successful predictions? (Is it an effective instrument for
research and practice?) Or, in other words, do we have sufficient reason to
believe that it actually fulfIlls the role intended for it?

Taking the first principle of classification, we derive two basic groups

of concepts: referential concepts that claim to refer to material objects
(usually expressed by descriptive symbols), and nonreferential concepts,
which, while perhaps playing an extraordinarily important role in our cogni-
tion of the material world, do not claim to refer directly to material objects
(and are usually considered to be expressed by logical symbols). Taking the
second principle of classification we subdivide all referential concepts into
adequate and inadequate ones, and nonreferential concepts into applicable
and inapplicable ones. Thereby we obtain the following four groups of
1. Adequate referential concepts. Whenever we have a concrete concept
that satisfies conditions (1-4) of our criterion of adequacy (i.e. indirect
cognition of objects), we can assume with more or less uncertainty (which
may be disregarded for all practical pruposes) that there is a material object
(thing, property, or relation) that exists independently of any individual
Here we may create further subdivisions by distinguishing adequate
referential categories that refer to individual objects and those that refer
to classes, properties and relations. Nominalists and empiricists tend to
exclude the latter subgroup from the class of referential concepts. They
construe 'referential ' very narrowly on the assumption that concepts and
symbols may refer solely to individual things. Here the term 'referential'
is used in the broader sense: it covers all cases in which we have sufficient
reasons to believe that a concept refers to a property, relation, or class
of objects.
2. Inadequate referential concepts. These concepts refer to certain hypo-
thetical objects, whose actual existence we have no reason to believe in.
This is the case with mythological symbols (e.g. a centaur), certain scientific
concepts of a higher order that have not succeeded in explaining relevant
phenomena (e.g. phlogiston, ether), etc.
3. Applicable nonreferential concepts. Here concepts do not refer directly
to material objects. Examples of such concepts are abstract mathematical
and logical concepts such as number, differential, universal operator, truth,
etc. They are not directly connected with experience and it is not possible
to say exactly which 'invariant elements of past experience' they express. But
nevertheless they have a connection with experience in that they represent
rules for the organization of referential concepts and for operating with
them. They are applicable to the extent that these rules lead to certain
practically testable results.

4. Inapplicable nonreferential concepts. This category contains abstract

concepts that have been demonstrated to be ineffective in their operational
functions, i.e. whose application does not lead to testable propositions. This
ts the case, for example, with Leibniz's concept 'logical substraction' and the
paradoxical concept 'a class that contains itself as an element,' etc.
The difference between groups 1 and, 2, on the one hand, and the groups
under 3 and 4, on the other, may be expressed in the terminology of John
Stuart Mill in that the first groups of concepts have 'denotation' and 'conno-
tation,' while the second groups have only 'connotation' without 'denotation.'
As regards the second principle of classification, it might be said that adequate
and applicable concepts are constituents of empirically or logically true
propositions, while being inadequate or inapplicable makes a concept false
or at least undefined with respect to its truth value.


Having succeeded in explaining what a concept is on the basis of objective

experience alone and on the basis of an hypothesis about the existence of
mental operations, it is now easy to explain all the other forms of thought.
The most concise possible definition of a proposition would be as follows:
a proposition is a communicable link of concepts.
Here 'link' does not refer solely to the sort of relationship encountered
in the attributive judgments of classical logic which is expressed by the
copula 'is.' The term also refers to a broad variety of relations and relation-
ships (spatial, temporal, causal, functional, familial, etc.) encountered in
so-called relational propositions.
Certain mental operations already mentioned in the construction of
concepts play a role in the formulation of propositions. Thus, for example,
identification and differentiation play a particularly great role in the for-
mulation of classical predicative propositions. The linking of subject and
predicate is simultaneously the establishment of their identity and differences.
The factor of identity is expressed with the classical scheme of identity A
equals A. There is no actual proposition in which the factor of identity
appears in isolation and absolutely - such a proposition would be practically
without content. A predicative proposition is the identification of difference.
When Aristotle speaks about the predicate subsuming the subject, or when
Erdmann speaks of the immanence of the predicate in the subject, there is
implicit not just identity but also difference - in the former case difference
in extension and in the latter, difference in content.

Furthermore, analysis and synthesis play a great role in the formulation

of propositions. With analysis we can formulte a number of propositions,
starting from a given concept, but explicitly expressing its content. Until
we have carried out such analysis and formulated analytic propositions, we
have not become completely conscious of the content of a concept. We have
the habit of utilizing a particular term in a particular manner in various
situations and contexts, but we are still not aware of the rules that regulate
such use. The analysis of concepts is the study of our actual linguistic practice
and the explicit formulation of what is contained in it unconsciously in the
form of habit.
An analytical proposition is usually preceded by the corresponding
synthetic proposition. In order for a system of habits to be analyzed, it must
first be created. The first syntheses of concepts are certainly correlations of
a group of objective elements of experience (coneept A) with a second group
(concept B), between which a certain constant relationship is noted - be
it spatial, temporal, causal, correlative, etc. (e.g. "Fish live in water," ''When
one lights a fire at the mouth of a cave, the animals living in it flee outside,"
etc.). Original syntheses are carried out on the basis of directly observed
relations. However, at a significantly higher level of development of human
thought, when a solid stock of concepts has been created and synthesized
into propositions, then hypothetical syntheses are carried out which no
longer have an immediate empirical character. When a number of synthetic
propositions (p, q, T, s, etc.) have been formulated about object A, the very
concept of A is formed. Now with simple analysis of that concept one arrives
at analytical propositions which both in structure and meaning are identical
to propositions p, q, T, S etc. Thus analysis and synthesis are two diametrically
opposed mental functions which do not differ in their logical structure (by
the mental operations or relations established between concepts) but rather
in the direction in which they'operate.
The basic operations by which the analysis and synthesis of propositions
are carried out are: the inclusion of a part in the whole, the subsuming
of the individual in the general, implication (the noting of a conditional
relationship between two concepts: if A, then B), conjunction (A and B
being simultaneously given), disjunction (complementarity: A or B, with
A and B complementing one another, as when we say that a triangle is either
isoceles, equilateral or scalene), negation, and mutual exclusion (A is incom-
patible with B).
In connection with our defmition of 'proposition' we must also explain
the concept of communicability with special reference to propositions.

One of the most essential criteria of the communicability of a proposition

is the logical compatibility of the concepts of which the proposition is
constructed. When are two concepts incompatible? We call concepts incom-
patibile if their relations to one another are as follows:
1. The constant, objective elements of experience contained by the
concept A never match the constant empirical elements of the concept B.
For example the concepts 'triangle' and 'circular' are incompatible because
no one has ever seen a geometrical design that was circular and at the same
time had three angles.
2. The experiences assumed by concepts A and B as invariant throughout
changes of surroundings and conditions, never have a conjunctive relationship.
3. The simultaneous application of concepts A and B can never lead to
the attainment of any practical goal. Any attempt at such application would
paralyze our practical activity. An error can orient us falsely; nonsense cannot
possibly orient us for it remains unclear what is meant or what possible
objects were referred to. For example if someone tells us that of two possible
types of society one should aspire to that which embodies the Absolute Idea,
his instructions provide no orientation to our practice, for the instruction
provides no information as to the properties and relations of the preferable
type, and so we have no idea as to what should be done to realize it.
4. We say that two concepts A and B are incompatible or related in a
meaningless manner when the rules for the utilization of the symbol with
which A is expressed (As) exclude the possibility of connecting it with
symbol Bs in a manner in which this was done in the given case. Accordingly
As and Bs remain incommunicable, i.e. incomprehensible.
Thus, for example, when we have a concept of the state, we know a
number of rules as to the manner in which to use the word 'state' in various
circumstances and contexts. On the basis of various empirical data we say
that a state is independent or dependent, strong or weak, democratic or
autocratic, that it is the mechanism of this or that class, or that it is in a
relationship of friendly cooperation, alliance, subjugation, hegemony, hos-
tility, etc. with respect to another state. On the other hand, however, our
concept of the state implies a negative knowledge (according to Spinoza's
principle of "Omnis determination est negato"). Thus the rules regulating
the use of the word 'state' are simultaneously the rules that exclude the
possibility that all other words except for one particular class of permitted
combinations figure as attributes, relational terms, appositions, etc. to the
word 'state.' It is true, of course, that the meaning of a concept may vary
from one social group to another, which implies that while in a certain

context the word 'state' may be meaningful for a group such as bourgeois
liberals, it may be meaningless to a Marxist. In general a proposition that
is meaningful in one language may be meaningless and incommunicable in
another. It is meaningless, for example, when it is said in the context of a
Marxist system of concepts that "the Soviet state is leading the Soviet peoples
to the shinning heights of Communism." If a state is the "instrument of
coercion of one class over another," it follows that the state cannot lead
people to a classless society; on the contrary it must wither away in order
for such a society to be possible.
Inasmuch as we have defmed a proposition to be any communicable
link of concepts, it may be a question, doubt, order, expressed hope, fear,
belief, etc. In the case of each of these mental formations or sentences
expressing them, the question of truth or falseness does not appear. A ques-
tion may be correct or incorrect, precise or confusing, clear or unclear,
clever or stupid, but it cannot be true or false. Only an answer, insofar as
it asserts anything can be true or false. It goes without saying that assertions
need not be apodictic: they may have various forms of modality. One may
assert something as possible, more or less probable, necessary or impossible;
in an assertion concepts are linked in such a way that the linkage may be
true or false. Judgments are such a type of proposition.
Thus a judgment is a communicable linkage of concepts that is a means
of assertion and that may be true or false.


Once we know what concepts and judgments are, it is not difficult to defme
an inference. An inference is a series of propositions whose property is that
a conclusion logically follows as the last member of a series of premises that
precede it.

What we wish to defme here is the necessity with which a conclusion follows
from its premises. All logicians agree that this necessity is based upon certain
rules of drawing conclusions. A conclusion thus necessarily follows from the
premises because the rules of thought requre it. But just what are these rules
of thought?
Having once assumed that at a higher level of development consciousness
(which may then be considered spirit) is able not only to react to external
stimuli, but also by means of various operations to link certain empirical
elements with others, it may certainly be assumed that as the result of this

relatively autonomous activity of spirit there arise a number of combinations,

many of which are fantastic and quite meaningless. Thus, for example, as
soon as a primitive engages in such free creativity, abandoning the terrain of
direct experience, one obtains as a result the most fantastic linkages. The
attempt is made, for example, to explain material phenomena by means of
various mystical influences - everything is seen as a struggle between good
and evil spirits. What we are speaking about is not individual linkages but
systems of linkages - a mythology as a whole is maintained because it has
before itself realistic soil; it satisfies certain practical human goals in a way
and to a certain degree. It is well known how important for the affirmation
of a religion are so-called miracles. These miracles are - in some cases -
actual facts, as for example the collective perception of masses of people
that an incurably sick patient was cured by a holy man. These facts are
quite capable of being explained by means of reason and science (via auto-
suggestion, collective hallucinations), but they are also compatible with the
mythical explanation and it is here that the force of myth and the mythical
mode of thought lies. In myth itself, at the earliest beginnings of thought
(myth is the first separation of man from the direct empirical basis that his
senses offer), demands arise for coherence. In myth the principles are so
chosen that all available experience is compatible with them. Religious
dogmas represent another confirming case. The dogma that God is endlessly
good and merciful is compatible both with the fact that a sick child for
which someone has prayed has died, and also with the fact that the child has
recovered. In the former case God's benificence consists in having taken
the child unto himself, among the angels and the righteous, and in the latter
case in having saved the child for the parents. The dogma that God created
the heavens, the earth, all living things and people in six days may be inter-
pr:eted in such a way as to be compatible with all possible empirical facts
that h.ave been discovered or which will ever be found. For a human eternity
may be only a second in God's day. What we have here is, then, a minor
semantic confusion. People have their own meaning of the word 'day,' but
if a day is different on every planet, who knows what it is to God.
In other words, mythical and religious thinking, metaphysical thinking
and scientific thinking, and even the thinking of an intelligent schizophrenic
have a logic of their own. The basic difference lies in the character of the
premises. The weakness of both mythical and religious thinking is that in
their premises they have too many such elements that cannot be proven and
which cannot ever be confirmed or denied by experience.
After the great revolution in the history of human thought marked by the

transition from mythical and metaphysical thought to science (a process

which is still taking place), the principle was adopted (in science in apodictic
terms and in other fields more or less elastically) that all conclusions of
thought must be subject to verification by some form of experience. In other
words there must be the possibility to confirm their truthfulness at least
indirectly. This excludes from the field of logic all mechanisms of thought
that lead to inferences which have to be taken on faith.
The mechanisms remaining today are the result of a long process of selec-
tion. In metaphorical terms, a kind of natural selection has occurred among
the various possible and practiced schemes of drawing conclusions. With more
or less speed we have rejected all forms for conjoining propositions which
permit the drawing from correct and empirically tested premises conclusions
that cannot be verified or which failed to be corroborated. Those schemes of
inferences were reinforced and made customary which had yielded conclu-
sions (on the assumption that the truth of the premises was securely con-
firmed) that have proven to be successful instruments to predict future
experience and to master material objects. The task of logic is first and fore-
most to expound consciously and explicitly, in the form of logical rules, all
the habits of thought that always lead from truth to truth (without excluding
the possibility of creating new schemes of thought heretofore not put into
practice but which may be successfully applied).
The next higher form of thought is theory. A theory is an ordered set of
inferences. A set is said to be ordered when all its elements stand in explicitly
identified relations to one another. Usually a theory consists of one or more
propositions (theses) which express what the theory maintains, and of a line
of argumentation, i.e. a set of propositions that serve to justify the theses.
In other words argumentation is constituted by a series of successive conclu-
sions that represent transitional members ('middle terms') between certain
believable propositions (the initial members of the series) and the basic theses
ofthe theory (the concluding members of the series).
When a theory is empirical and inductive in character, the basic members
in the series, the basic arguments, are propositions confirmed by direct
experience (in ordinary parlance - propositions that express facts). The final
elements are generalizations of experience, i.e. propositions that presuppose
invariant objective experience under given circumstances.
When a theory is deductive in character the basic arguments are general
propositions, but it is not essential that they be more general than the derived
propositions-theses of the given theory. Today the conception of deduction
as the derivation of the particular from the general has been dispensed with

as being overly narrow. It applies only to syllogistic and not to relational

reasoning. The general characteristic of both syllogistic and relational, deduc-
tive inference is the fact that conc1usions are deduced from premises on the
basis of logical properties of relations that appear in the premises. The logical
properties of relations are defined by rules (e.g. the rule ''Dictum de omni et
nullo" explicitly expresses the property of the transitiveness of the relation
of the individual, particular and the general). Accordingly the basic arguments
of a deductive theory must satisfy the following conditions:
(a) The terms that appear in them must not be defined by means of the
terms of the deduced propositions.
(b) The logical properties of the relations that appear in them must be
(c) The basic arguments must be sufficient in order for all propositions
and theories, including theses, to be derived from them directly or indirectly.
Most scientific theories, both inductive and deductive, fail to express
explicitly all the elements necessary for the drawing of conclusions. Most
theories lack the following elements:
(a) Usually they do not take care to identify the terms introduced into
the theory as undefmed (they may be defined in another theory of a higher
order). Similarly not enough attention is paid to reducing to a minimum the
number of undefined terms, so that wherever possible an undefmed term is
defined by means of others.
(b) The rules for inferences are usually not explicitly indicated. In a true
scientific theory it is not enough to cite only the general rules of logic: one
must also indicate those rules specific to the particular field to which the
theory applies.
(c) Finally, inductive theories have a specific shortcoming. Every general-
ization assumes certain principles on which it is based. Logicians have long
noted this fact and attempted to resolve the so-called 'logical problem of
induction' ('on what basis do we have the right to derive the general and
necessary from particular, accidental knowledge?'). It is commonly thought
to be sufficient to indicate explicitly a general procedure that would serve as
a basis for all specific cases of induction. In logic this role is played by John
Stuart Mill's principle of the uniformity of nature. But in fact there are many
more unexpressed general assumptions (on the basis of which, for example,
we consider sufficient a single specimen of a skeleton in order to derive a
general conclusion about the species to which it belongs), and they are of
various levels of generality, beginning with the basic, most general assump-
tions of all thought to assumptions inherent in the thought of a particular

field (e.g. mathematics, the natural sciences, the social sciences, etc.) to the
specific, unwritten assumptions of particular scientific disciplines and theories.
For example in psychology we assume that at a later moment an individual
is the same person as at the present moment. This is not something to be
proven, and of course there is no certainty that it can be proven at all.
When we wish to eliminate all such shortcomings and attain the highest
possible precision, we build a deductive system. In such a system everything
implicitly assumed must be set forth explicitly. Accordingly it must contain
the following elements:
1. It must specify all necessary undefined terms (proper nouns, the sym-
bols of classes, predicates, relations and connections between sentences, etc.).
All other terms of the system are defined with reference to them.
2. The system should contain all the rules of meaning. They determine
which combinations of such symbols shall be considered the meaningful
propositions of the given system. All other combinations of such rules shall
be excluded as meaningless.
3. The number of propositions from which all others may be derived in
accordance with the rules of reasoning of the given system should be reduced
to a minimum. These propositions are usually termed axioms, postulates, or
basic principles.
4. The rules of inference of the system must be explicitly formulated.
5. The most important consequences must be deduced from the basic
propositions (principles, axiom), i.e. the propositions that may be applied
in science and in everyday, common practice.
When all these elements are known, the structure i.e. the form of a theory
is known. Accordingly to convert a theory into a precise deductive system is
considered its formalization. From a dialectical standpoint, there is no reason
not to consider the successful formalization of a theory (in the sense of the
explici t specification of the basic elements of its structure) to be useful. It
unquestionably helps us think more clearly, precisely, and exactly and avoid
numerous errors. But the formalization of a theory creates the danger of
completely forgetting the empirical basis from which the theory stems, and
of developing further the theory in a completely automatic way, like the
shuffling of symbols, with no attempt to reestablish connection with experi-
ence and to consider scientifically significant only those consequences that
are practically applicable in principle.
In science and ordinary life it is not necessary for a proposition to be
derived within the framework of a deductive system in order to be accepted.
In any case this is almost never possible. Only the most advanced sciences -

mathematics, physics, and certain branches of other sciences - have reached

a sufficiently high level of development to be expounded in the form of a
deductive system.
A lesser level of provability is to be found within a inductive theory. What
is required there is the mere introduction of order in a set of propositions
rather than strict systematization. But there are some llropositions which
cannot be proved in the context of a theory, but which we nevertheless
consider to be true. These are propositions of 'direct perception.' For exa~
pIe it would appear that the proposition 'The coin lying on the table beside
me is round' need not be related to any other proposition in order to be
considered true. But this is not in fact the case. If the sole reason to consider
it true is that a number of us have seen it to be round, then others who see it
as oval have an equal right to consider true the opposing proposition, 'The
coin lying on the table is elliptical.' What then to say for the host of other
similar propositions that describe illusions and hallucinations. In fact every
proposition that merely describes direct experience is only a candidate for
the title of truth. In order to claim that title, it must pass a certain theoretical
examination. There must exist certain theoretical considerations on the basis
of which one comes to the conclusion that in the given case we have no
reason to believe that illusions or hallucinations are in question.
Accordingly every proposition that claims to be considered true must be
at least theoretically justified, (if not proven) i.e. there must exist certain
theoretical reasons on the basis of which to consider it true. Theoretical
justification is thus a weaker demand than the two forms of proof we referred
to earlier.
All the previous explanations of the categories of thought were necessary
in order to defme the concept of theoretical justification. This concept
represents an indispensable element of the criterion of the cognition of
objects (in addition to comm).micability, empirical verifiability, and practical
applicability). Only now can we claim that we have sufficiently explained
the category of object by means of which we have begun to formulate our
Thus we have defined all the elements necessary to explain the category
of meaning.


1 Thus for example a philosopher who has broad experience in one field naturally tends
to make generalizations solely on the basis of such experience - giving rise to mechanic-
ism, biologism, sociologism, and psychologism in philosophy.

2 See A. Korzybski, Science and SIlnity, New York, 1950, 3rd ed., p. 331.
3 In the case of the degeneration of the higher mental activities, such as one encounters
in mental illness, symbols tend to become signals, reactions lose their flexibility, vari-
ability, conditionality, polyvalence, and degenerate into reactions of a lower order. This
is particularly evident in the case of phobias, coerced actions, manifestations of panic,
confusion of the order of abstractions, etc.
4 See Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind, Oxford, 1949.
5 On the other hand, the Yugoslav author Milivoje Perovie was able to entitle one of his
novels The White Squares because the aforementioned criterion applies only approxi-
mately to the type of communication existing in art. In that field symbols are not
related to concepts but rather to images.
6 Carnap defmed veriflllbility in the following manner: "A predicate 'P' is called verifi-
able if 'P' can be reduced to a class of perceivable objects." (Testability and Meaning,
New Haven, 1950, p. 457.)
7 Here applicability corresponds to realizability in Carnap's terminology. A predicate
'P' of a language is termed 'realizable' by N, if for a suitable argument, e.g. 'b', N is able
under suitable circumstances to make the full sentence, 'P(b)' true, i.e. to produce the
property P at the point b. (Op. cit., p. 456.)





Confronted with the task of defining the meaning of the very term 'meaning'
our first impression is that we have embarked upon a circular path and that
in the end we must arrive at contradictions similar to Russell's antimonies
with classes which are an element of themselves or with predicates that them-
selves have the property they designate.
But even if we are not headed for contradictions, does not the entire
procedure we have used thus far prove to be a vicious circle? First we defmed
the meaning of a number of symbols, the terms 'object,' 'symbol,' 'objective
experience,' and 'concept,' by means of which we are to explain the category
of 'meaning' itself. In explaining all these terms, have we not assumed that
which we are supposed to derive, namely the particular content of the cate-
gory of meaning? Is this not defmition idem per idem?
In his Elements of Analytical Philosophy Arthur Pap attempted to resolve
this difficulty by explaining that the expression 'meaning of meaning' does
not lead to antimonies for the term 'meaning' is not used in the same sense
each time. In the first instance it is taken to mean 'connotation' (a set of
properties necessarily possessed by each object to which the given symbol
correctly applies), and in the second instance it means 'denotation,' (individ-
ual instances of objects to which the symbol may refer). In the parlance of
traditional logic, defining the meaning of 'meaning' should be interpreted as
defining the connotation (intension, content) of a concept whose denotation
(extension) is known.
Of course one might object that we cannot know denotation until we
know connotation. Accordingly even if we had succeeded in avoiding anti-
monies of a purely formal character by means of Pap's argument, it would
still hold true that we have assumed the concept which we have later defmed.
This sort of difficulty can be solved only by pointing to the two different
theoretical levels at which the category of meaning appears. We begin every
investigation of basic philosophical categories with two types of concepts. The
fIrst type is precisely defmed in the course of preceding inquiry, and the second

still has a pre scientific , common-sensical character and is only defmed in a

strictly scientific manner in the course of investigation itself. This is also the
case with the category of meaning. The meaning of 'meaning' which we assume
at the beginning of the theory of meaning is informal and common-sensical, as
a constituent element of a practical, implicit logic ('logica utens'). When we ask
someone what a word means, he understands what sort of answer is expected
of him: in practice he is able to use the family of expressions 'mean', 'mean-
ing,' etc., even if he is unable to defme any of them. When at the end we
explain by means of the meaning of other categories the meaning of the very
term 'meaning,' we have arrived at a different, theoretically higher level.
'Meaning' has thus become a so-called 'technical' term - a constituent element
of an explicit, theoretical logic ('Logica docens'). To paraphrase a metaphor of
Wittgenstein, the common-sense meaning becomes a ladder we throwaway
after using it to reach a certain height. The precise, theoretical meaning of a
term corrects and transcends the comrnon-sense meaning, introducing more
order, exactness, and clarity. There can be no doubt that from the greater
height we have attained the entire road we have travelled becomes open to
critical analysis. In our case, if we have utilized the common-sense term
'meaning' in order to defme the meaning of a number of logical terms by
which to arrive ultimately at the precise scientific defmition of the meaning
of the term 'meaning' itself, it is obvious that a task that now arises is to
utilize the critically examined and revised meaning of 'meaning' in order to
revise the meaning of all other logical terms. This is exactly how science
develops: one travels the entire route at a particular level and then returns,
ostensibly to the previous point of departure, and then travels the entire
route again, this time at what is actually a higher level. To resort to geometric
models, the movement is not circular but spiral-shaped.


Before we engage in a discussion of the category of meaning, certain pre-

liminary explanations are necessary. Thus for example we must pinpoint
exactly what types of objects can serve as the bearers of meaning and under
what conditions. Meaning is always the meaning of an x. The question that
arises is what can serve as x?
First and foremost, words and other linguistic expressions obtained by
combining words in accordance with the rules of syntax can be vehicles of

Meaning can also be borne by all other (nondiscursive) symbols: pictures,

musical tones, movements of dance or ritual.
Finally all signs, whether artificial (the outline of a curve on a road sign,
the sound of a pistol) or natural (lightning, which is the sign of thunder)
can convey meaning and mean something.
Inasmuch as any object can, under some conditions, be a sign, it appears
that any object at all can carry meaning. Of course material objects are most
suitable as carriers of communicable, social meaning which is transmissable
from one subject to another - precisely because they are interpersonal,
publicly observable, and because one may have a direct, practical relationship
toward them. But even objects that are individual mental states can have
meaning, even if personal and subjective in character. For example for the
rheumatic a pain in the leg signifies a change in weather, and for an alcoholic
a feeling of enormous weight in the head and a particular taste in the mouth
means that he has drunk too much.
What are the minimal conditions in order that object A becomes the
carrier of meaning? Two such conditions are necessary.
1. At least one subject S must exist who is conscious of object A whether
in the sense that he has experienced it (the more frequent case) or imagined
2. The subject must be prepared constantly to associate object A with
another object B so that the experience (or imagination) A implies 2 the
idea of B.
In short, meaning is borne by any object that creates a consciousness in
a subject of another object 3 (or at least a similar disposition to react as if
another object is present).
Signs may be classified in various ways depending upon the various rela-
tionships they may assume. At this point it is of interest to note their classifi-
cation with regard to the category of object they belong to as carriers of
Charles Sanders Peirce, who noted more distinctions among signs and
developed a more intricate classification than anyone before or after, dis-
tinguished three types of signs, with reference to their character as objects.
These are: (1) 'qualisigns' (qualitative signs), (2) 'singsigns' (individual signs),
and (3) 'legisigns' (lawful signs).4
The first group is completely phenomenal in character and highly variable,
so that these have no identity in the true sense of the word. According to
the way Peirce characterized 'qualisigns' candidates for inclusion in this
category might be smoke as a sign of fire, clouds as signs of rain, etc.

The second category consists of individual objects, stable and of a defmed

identity. Peirce cites as examples individual words located on a particular
The third category is a general type encompassing a number of signs
as individual objects. Peirce cites as an example the fact that the word 'and'
and the ampersand '&' are one and the same symbol, belonging to the same
general type.
Peirce's classification appears acceptable. One may arrive at it either
inductively, bearing in mind all the distinctions existing between individual
types of objects that actually function as signs, or deductively, proceeding
from the classification of objects in general and eliminating all categories
of objects which are irrelevant from the standpoint of the classification
of signs.
Since scientific symbols all belong to the third type of signs, what repre-
sents the subject of logical investigation of language is in fact the general
structure of objects that function as carriers of meaning and not individual
signs (the subject of investigation of the history of art is the individual
pictures and objects) or even less directly given, qualitatively determined
phenomena that serve as signs (most of which by their character necessarily
remain totally outside the domain of scientific research).


In the philosophical literature about the problems of semantics a great

discussion has been conducted as to the type of object to which meaning
belongs. Many authors believe that meaning is the second object to which
a sign assumes a constant relationship - representing, standing for, or des-
ignating it. For example Russell wrote: "All words have meaning in the
simple sense that they are symbols that stand for something other than
themselves." 5
These 'other things' must be something that may be known 'by acquaint-
ance.' "The meaning which we attribute to our words must be something with
which we are directly acquainted."6
Russell implies in these passages that meanings are concrete individual
things. At other points Russell states the view that meaning is a property
rather than a thing, but again he insists upon the possibility of direct knowl-
edge: "Meaning is an observable property of perceptible entities.'" Along
the same lines other realists such as lohn Laird have written, 'Meaning is
directly perceptible just like sound and color . . .. "8

Today this point of view is completely out of date. Modern analysts

of language have cited a number of arguments against it, each of which
is sufficient to render it untenable. For example two different linguistic
expressions for the same object may have a significantly different meaning.
Frege noted long ago that the meaning (Sinn) of the word Morgenstern
(morning star) is different from the meaning of the word Abendstem (even-
ing star), even though both refer to the same material object - the planet
Venus. Or there are expressions with a quite defmite meaning that refer to
no concrete, real object. (At the time when Hillary and Tenzing were the
only two men to have conquered Mt. Everest, Ryle gave as an example
the description "third man to have climbed the Himalayas.,,9) Finally
even if one allows that with one class of symbols - names - meaning is
actually a real thing or event which is named, the fact is that most symbols,
including many words, are not names (for example 'usually,' 'or,' and 'think'
do not name any perceptible things in the sense of the word that many
philosophers use as something different from properties, relations, phe-
nomena, or processes).
Today among philosophers dealing with semantic problems there is wide-
spread support for the view that meaning is a type of relation. The only
question is what sort of relation is termed 'meaning' and whether this is
just one relation or an entire complex of relations. A critical analysis of
the various theories of meaning reveals that each of them devotes entire
attention to only one from the complex structure of relevant relations
thus giving rise to insuperable differences.
The thesis which we shall advance is as follows:
1. Meaning is not a single isolated relation but a complex of relations.
2. Each of the existing, modern theories of meaning is one-sided for it
separates from that complex only a single relation - the one whose concept
is most in accordance with the other concepts of the general philosphical
theory that serves as its background.
3. All these relations are interrelated so that without insuperable diffi-
culties one may go from one of the theories that insists upon one of these
relations to a theory that focuses upon one of the others, which in fact means
that these are not contradictory but complementary theories.
4. A synthetic, dialectical approach to the problem should lead to a
complex truth whose separate elements are partial truths of existing individual


By analyzing the structure of the relations we term meaning we arrive at

the following separate elements:
1. The relation of signs toward the mental disposition of the subject
(mental meaning).
2. The relation of signs toward the designated object (objective meaning).
3. The relation of signs toward other signs of the given system (linguistic
meaning, in case that the given system of signs is a language).
4. The relation between two or more subjects, one of whom uses the
sign and the other interprets it (social meaning).
5. The relation of signs and the practical actions of subjects (operational,
or practical meaning).
Many philosophers have considered the function of a sign to represent
a triadic relation. For example Charles Sanders Peirce held that each situa-
tion in which something functions as a sign has the following structure:
A (sign) means B (object) to C (interpretant). He was convinced that each
complex in which there are relations with four, five, or more members
may be broken down by analysis into combinations of triadic or, sometimes,
dyadic relations. It is for this reason that he did not draw a distinction
between what we term mental, linguistic and practical meaning (a critique
of pragmatic theory shows that this distinction is a necessary one). On the
other hand Peirce correctly believed that the triadic relation of meaning
could not be broken down into two complexes of diadic relations such as
'A means B' and 'C interprets A,' for in both cases more would be assumed
than what is stated: A means B only to an interpretant C and not in itself,
and C is capable of interpreting A only as something that stands for object

Meaning may truly be understood utlimately as a triadic relation among

the sign, the interpretant and the designated object. But what Peirce termed
the 'interpretant' is comprised of a number of elements: 11 a mental disposi-
tion, a complex of other signs belonging to the same system as the given
sign in which this mental disposition may be expressed, and finally, a set of
physical practical actions by which the mental disposition may be materialy
manifested in a nonverbal manner: Usually behavior - linguistic and non-
linguistic - is the key to knowledge of the internal, mental component of
the interpretant. Thus some situations of the use of signs can be relatively
adequately described even when one takes into account only one of the
three elements of the interpretant. But one can always fmd instances of the

use of signs where to completely ignore one or both other elements proves
a serious shortcoming.
Finally the interpretant usually includes another element, in fact a relation
between two subjects, one of which uses the sign and intends an object, and
the other interprets the sign and succeeds in understanding that the sign
refers to the intended object. In extraordinary cases, when a sign has a
completely personal meaning only for one conscious being, this social relation
disappears. But personal meanings are superstructures of the social ones;
only someone who has learned a language in a social context can construct
for himself a fully personal, subjective language.
Accordingly meaning is in fact a six-part relation. In this structure some
relations are direct and some indirect, some are fundamental and some are
derived, some may be reduced to others for reasons of simplicity and greater
understandability and may implicitly be assumed in others, but in a strictly
scientific investigation none of them should be ignored. Sociability is implicit
in our language, mental activity and in all practical behavior; also models
of objects are invariably intersubjective. All meaning is social: that is why
social meaning will not be studied as a separate dimension of meening but
as an implicit structural element in all those dimensions.


1 For example, on the assumption that gravitation had ceased to apply, consider the
imagined fact that a man accelerating his speed of movement at a rate of 9.81 meters
a second in a direction opposite to the earth's gravitation has the same weight as if at
rest in the earth's gravitational field. This was a sign for Einstein that uniformly rapid
movement and a state of rest in the corresponding gravitational field are physically
2 By 'implication' here and below we refer to the disposition of the subject to react
according to the formula, "If experience A, then idea B."
3 Along these lines Broad wrote in 1914: "Strictly speaking a thing has meaning when
direct acquaintance with it or knowledge of it permits us to infer or by association to
think of something else". (Broad, Perception, Physics and Reality, 1914, p. 97.)
4 Cf. Ogden and Richards, The Meaning of Meaning, London, 1923, Appendix C,
S Russell, Preface to the Second Edition of The Principles of Mathematics, London,
1938, p. 47.
6 Russell, The Problems of Philosophy , London, 1912, p. 91.
7 Russell, 'The Meaning of Meaning,' Mind, 1920, p. 401.
8 John Laird, A Story of Realism, p. 27.
9 Gilbert Ryle, 'The Theory of Meaning,' British Philosophy in the Mid-Century, Lon-
don, 1957, p. 245.

10 See W. B. Gallie, Peirce and Pragmatism, Harmondsworth, 1952, p. 116.

liOn several occasions Peirce attempted to subdivide his concept of interpretant
into its basic components (immediate, dynamic, and final interpretant). See his letter
to Lady Welby of March 14, 1909 in Ogden and Richards, The Meaning of Meaning,




Mental disposition is usually the readiness of an organism, when it perceives

a given sign, to conceive another object with which the idea of the sign is
associated. A conception is always consciousness of something general,
structural. If that conception does not contain the analyzed elements of a
particular object, so that these could be displayed or enumerated one after
the other, but has the character of an integral Gestalt of the given object,
then this is an intuitive, nondiscursive mental form. This is for example
the mental disposition elicited by the symbol of 'fate' in Beethoeven's Fifth
We term conception a concept if it clearly contains abstracted elements
(essential properties and relations) of an object designated by symbols, so
that they can independently appear in other mental operations and contexts.
Such, for example, is the mental disposition connected with the word 'fate'
as used in scientific and philosophical texts (for example in Heraclitus'
aphorism, "Character is man's fate.").
Other mental forms associated constantly with a sign are, perceptions,
representations, images, emotions, value experiences, impulses of will, etc.
In ordinary life the mental meaning of most signs is a permanent repre-
sentation. This means that when one perceives a given sign, one recurrently
experiences a mental process containing general structural elements combined
with special, variable, immediately empirical ones. For example the word
'rain' constantly evokes a complex experience containing both memories
of how rain looks and conceptual elements related to how rain originates.
Representation' is actually the name of the transitory form of mental life
that links perceptions and concepts, so that at. one end of the scale there
are simple reproductions of perceptions with some elements selected out
and others eliminated (forgotten) and at the other end there are gener,al
representations differing from concepts solely by the remnants of variable,
sensory elements.
The view that a certain set of perceptions constitutes the mental meaning

of a sign is characteristic of some forms of positivism. However, meaning

is not reduced to actual experiences. No one maintains that the meaning
of a cloud is understood by experiencing the perception of rain or the
meaning of lightning by perceiving thunder. Such an interpretation would
be particularly inapplicable to symbols - when one reads one truly per-
ceives nothing except letters, words and sentences. From that standpoint
meaning is constituted by possible experiences, perceptions that might be
had in different circumstances. Thus terms such as 'monad,' absolute idea,'
'reincarnation,' would be empty words without meaning for in no actual
conditions could one experience anything in connection with them that
would confirm or refute the existence of the objects these terms refer to.
On the other hand the expression 'a mountain 15,000 feet high on the other
side of the moon' has a particular meaning: in theory one could go to the
far side of the moon and see whether the mountain existed or not. If the
result were negative the term would continue to hold meaning but would
enter the category of inadequate symbols.
The conception of mental meaning as the relation of a sign to a mental
picture is generally abandoned today because it became clear that many signs,
and particularly scientific symbols, can be understood without imagining
any sort of picture. 1 Accordingly the relation of a sign to a picture may be
constitutive only for certain meanings. For example Urban distinguishes
connotative, emotional and intuitive meaning and believes that intuition is
not possible without sensory perception and the imagining of pictures. But
he stresses at the same time that "it by no means follows from this that the
two are the same and that the latter includes the former in itself."2
The relation of a sign to the emotions constitutes 'emotive meaning,'
which many authors - from Ogden and Richards to contemporary empiricists
- distinguish sharply from cognitive meaning. While in the case of cognitive
meanin~ a sign is not only associated with a mental disposition but also
signifies an object, with emotive meaning a sign expresses the feelings of the
subject who uses the sign and, possibly, whoever interprets the sign. From
the standpoint of logical positivism even symbols such as the sentences by
which ethical and aesthetic judgments are expressed lack any meaning other
than what expresses the subjective feelings of approval and disapproval,
pleasure and displeasure. We saw in the discussion of symbols that in addition
to their expressive function they also serve to designate certain objective
structures - of material or mental processes. In the case of ethical and
aesthetic statements they not only express certain feelings but also designate
the level of objective value of certain human actions and works of art. Even

when we restrict ourselves to the expressive functions of value symbols -

leaving aside whether they do or do not have the function of signifying
objective values - it is an oversimplification to say that it consists solely
in the expression of emotion. A value experience is much more compJex:
it also entails various forms of nondiscursive thought, representation, mental
images, and even stimuli to action. Thus it would be correct to say that
the mental meaning of value symbols consists in their relation to the cor-
responding value experience.
Accordingly what is so often termed emotive meaning should be construed
as only one constitutive element of mental meaning. Pure emotive meaning
does not exist. On the other hand many cognitive meanings are accompanied
by emotive ones. Human thought regularly has its more or less distinct
emotional coloration and affective tone. Logicians usually ignore this fact,
but linguists and psychologists have often called attention to it. For example
Karl Otto Erdman believes that words, in addition to meaning ('Bedeutung'),
also have secondary meaning ('Nebenbedeutung'). The former is the direct
relationship of a word to ideas to which it is connected as a sign, while the
latter is an indirect relationship to feeling, to which the word is connected
as an expression. At issue here is not a specific emotion but accumulated
feelings or a mood - thus this relationship of secondary meaning may justi-
fiably be termed emotional connotation. 3
Finally certain signs have the function of stimulating us to activity. (Charles
Morris has described them as 'prescriptors.'4) These are signs which express
orders, pleas, and desires, which set obligations, norms of behavior, etc. -
e.g. 'come on,' 'forward,' come back,' 'don't kill.' Their mental meaning is
obviously the relation of a sign to impulses o/will to undertake an action.
There are some philosophers who have greatly hypostatized the significance
of this dimension of mental meaning, and believe that any meaning at all
is an impulse of will, intention, or purpose. This is particularly true of English-
speakers who assume that the verb 'to mean' has the same meaning whether
used in the context 'A means B' or in the context 'A means to do something.'
In the latter case 'to mean' is equivalent to 'to intend.' When this meaning is
applied to an analysis of the process of communication, the meaning of the
sign is (1) what the person using it wishes it to mean, and (2) what the person
interpreting it wishes to do, having been stimulated by the sign. In that case
mental meaning is the relation of the sign toward this intention or purpose
(objective meaning is the relation of the sign toward what is to be done,
what is meant to be done).
If in the process of communication by using signs we not only transmit

experiential and mental meanings but also stimulate others to take a certain
position and to act, this volitional element truly enters into the structure of
meaning. But care should be taken in that case to avoid three misunder-
standings that arise due to the exaggeration of the volitional aspect or to its
subjectivistic or objectivistic understanding.
1. In Stevenson's ethical theory one sees an example of the exaggeration
of the significance of the prescriptive function of ethical statements. Steven-
son considers it important for ethical judgments that we attempt by means
of them to alter the positions of other people and instigate them to action. s
The kernel of truth in this thesis is undoubted. But inasmuch as it neglects
other elements and treats 'good' as a synonym for 'what can be (or should
be) desired' and insists upon the connection of the morally good with a
"favorable interest," it is not difficult to note the bias of this viewpoint.
2. Subjectivism manifests itself here in the form of the psychologistic
reduction of meaning to individual, actual volitional acts. If 'sign A means
x' is identical to 'subject S, by means of A, intended (wanted, wished) to
draw attention to x,' then meaning becomes the completely private, sub-
jective matter of whoever utilizes signs. It stands to reason that for the
psychological investigation of a concrete process of communication it can be
of major importance what subject S wished to state. But beyond individual
psychology, from a general logical standpoint, the question arises of what
certain spoken, written, etc. signs objectively mean in the language the
given society uses, aside from the intention of whoever used them.
Accordingly in all instances where meaning contains a volitional element,
this can be understood logically solely as an objective disposition (habit,
constant readiness) on the part of all members of a social group to use a
certain sign when something is wanted or to feel a certain impulse of volition
when a certain sign is presented. For example, logically speaking the pre-
scriptive meaning of the whistle of a traffic policeman who wants to halt a
speeding car or a pedestrian crossing outside the zebra lines does not lie in
the personal desire of the policeman to give notice that the person in question
should stop but in the constant, objective relation between the sound of the
whistle and the corresponding impulse to act on the part of anyone in such
a situation that the sign might apply to him.
3. We find the diametrically opposite extreme, the objectivistic hypos-
tatizing of the will as a factor of meaning, in certain traditional metaphysical
theories. From the standpoint of Schopenhauer's voluntarism, the essence
of world events is not to be located in ideas, as was the case with Hegel, but
in irrational tendencies of the Will. Accordingly the genuine meaning of

every object and phenomenon is the intention or goal of such a hypostatized

and objectified will. (In the field of biology the role of Schopenhauer's will
was played by Driesch's 'entelechy' and Bergson's elan vital.)
This type of explanation lies beyond the domain of science and the
scientific treatment of the problem. If an expression such as 'World will'
is treated as a symbol referring to a real object external to people and their
mental life, there would have to be objective empirical facts about its exis-
tence. Since such facts do not exist, one would have to conclude that the
expression 'World will' (and all others similar to it) does not fulm the intended
function and cannot be understood as a permitted symbol in the context
of science. It can have meaning only if treated in the context of literature,
if classified as a totally different type of symbol whose designated objects
can only be structures of human mental life.



The analysis of mental meaning demonstrated that it is not a single relation

but again a whole complex of relations, given the various types of mental
dispositions that may be associated with a sign. The basic types of dispositions
are: representation, feeling, will, thinking. Thus the elementary constituents
of mental meaning are representations, images, emotions, impulses of will
and thoughts, conceived as objective forms of human mental life rather than
as actual, concrete mental acts.
We have seen that perceptions may be constituent elements of meaning
solely as possible perceptions. Consciousness of a possible perception is,
in fact, a representation.
Mental images lack any independent significance, but rather play a role
in nondiscursive forms of thought.
Value experiences are complex mental processes constituted by thoughts,
ideas, and affective-volitional elements.
Representations, emotions, dispositions of the will and thoughts are
thus the elementary constituents of mental meaning since they may be
independent of others (although not always of each other) and cannot be
broken down by means of analysis into Simpler, independent elements of
Of these four groups, representations and thoughts have a common, dis-
tinctive characteristic, in that they correspond in some way to the objects
designated by the signs.

Emotions and dispositions of will lack this characteristic, but for their
own part they are connected to various objects in a number of other ways
(being caused by them or directed toward them in a purposeful manner).
On the basis of this fundamental difference many philosophers have
drawn a distinction between designation and expression, and accordingly
between designative and expressive (or motivational) signs.6 Others have
distinguished three types of signs: 'designators,' 'appraisors,' and 'prescrip-
tors,' 7 although in the spirit of positivistic axiology appraising was assumed
to be equivalent to the expression of feelings.
The classification of signs based on differences in function and, ultimately,
various characteristics of the mental dispositions with which they are asso-
ciated is highly relative in character. As is generally the case with most
classifications, it should not be assumed that every sign is firmly located in
one particular category with no possibility of passing to another one.
As we shall see later in greater detail, meaning depends upon context,
so that in various contexts one and the same sign can perform quite different
functions. Thus, for example, the word "silence" is associated with various
mental dispositions in the following three contexts:
1. "Eyes that call like a voice of silence."
,2. "'Silence!' thundered the father's voice."
3. "Complete silence reigned in the classroom."
In the first context the word 'silence' expressed and evoked feelings; in
the second it performed the function of a prescriptor; in the third it simply
informed us about the objective state of affairs, acting as a designator.
Moreover in many cases, particularly in ordinary speech, one sign in the
same context and at the same time performs the functions of designation,
expression, and prescripion. One may take as an example the title of a news-
paper report about tennis matches at Wimbledon: "Contest of Robots!" 8 The
sentence suggests the image of combat between robots and thus designates
an actually possible event, thus performing the function of designation. But
the sentence also has a metaphorical meaning. Comparing a monotonous,
extremely simplified tennis game in which strength and the machine-like
preciSion ,of serve and volley are decisive, with a contest of robots, the author
has expressed his feelings as an onlooker, The sentence we have analyzed
tends to evoke in the reader a similar feeling of dissatisfaction and indignation
over the way in which today's tennis stars play. Finally, this formulation of
the sentence expresses the desire of the writer and tends to stimulate others
to take a similar position - to act, to play tennis differently, with greater
variety and imagination.

Accordingly what we have termed mental meaning usually entails a com-

plex of relations toward mental dispositions of various types. It is thus not
necessary or possible to reduce mental meaning to a single relation. But in
one field of human activity, in science, it appears that this restriction of
mental meaning to one particular relation is not only possible, for the most
part it is essential.
A special type of sign used in science, the abstract term, is supposed to
perform but one function - designation; the expressive and prescriptive
dimension is reduced to a minimum. Moreoever mental meaning is restricted
solely to the relation to concepts. Thus, for example, the mental meaning
of the biological proposition "The phenotype of an organism depends upon
both external factors and heredity" consists exclusively of the connection
between the given sentence and the corresponding structure of concepts.
To interpret the meaning of this sentence (which requires a knowledge of
the meaning of the various words) requires the performance of a mental
operation linking certain concepts in a manner parallel to the way the words
are connected in the sentence. This type of meaning, consisting solely of the
relation of linguistic symbols toward corresponding concepts and conceptual
structures, from which emotive and volitional elements are excluded, is
called 'conceptual meaning.' Conceptual meaning is obviously possessed not
only by the symbols that are used in logic but all other scientific symbols.
But it does not follow from this that scientific linguistic expressions
that have a direct conceptual meaning cannot at the same time also have
an expressive-stimulative dimension as an auxiliary, secondary meaning.
For example the cited biological proposition implies a prescription for
action: "Alter the external factors of life of an organism and you will succeed
in changing its external appearance." In this sense every scientific proposition
indirectly implies, assumes, or may be interpreted as a prescription for action.
This is in effect only another means of expressing the thesis that every
scientific proposition is inherently applicable in practice. In other words even
scientific propositions have a prescriptive meaning in the background. While
informative, designative meaning is primary and direct, prescriptive meaning
is secondary and derivative.
The scientific propositions directly connected with the vital, intense
problems of daily existence may have an implied emotive meaning. For
example the abstractly theoretical, purely designative proposition "Mutations
of chromosomes may be caused by radiation" may evoke strong emotional
reactions (fear, enxiety, anger) on the part of anyone capable of under-
standing its full meaning - in this case, all the consequences of an atomic

explosion and the consequent radiation. In ordinary speech this emotive

meaning may even be dominant. In scientific communication it remains a
mere ancillary phenomenon, and should never affect the operation with the
given symbols.
Thereby conceptual meaning satisfies one of the basic conditions in
order to be considered logical meaning. It may even be said that logical
meaning is any conceptual meaning that represents one of the necessary
conditions for knowing objective truth.
Many philosophers have restricted the concept of logical meaning only
to those meanings that entail an element of inference and implication. Urban,
for example, has written: "I think that only that meaning may correctly be
termed logical which involves an element of implication and inference ...
Only the aspects of the meaning of words and sentences necessary to the
relations of implication and for inference correctly enter the field of logic
and logical analysis. All other meanings are irrelevant to logic and outside
its competence." 9
This conception of logical meaning is determined by the meaning attri-
buted to the very term 'logic.' In modem formal logic the proper subject of
logic is considered to be only the correct inference from given or arbitrarily
selected premises. Urban cites De Morgan's conception of logic: "The subject
of logic is not determining whether inferences are true or false, but rather
whether what is claimed as an inference is truly an inference."
But when logic is considered to be a science which establishes the condi-
tions of objective truth, any meaning must be considered logical to the
extent that it is a necessary condition for knowing truth; for example to the
extent that it is an aid not only to drawing inferences but also to determining
the meaning of expressions that appear in these inferences or by means of
which their truth is tested.
A criterion that allows us to decide whether a meaning is logical differs
from a criterion of the concept's adequacy to an object to the extent that
the former entails the demand for the possibility of application and testing
while the latter demands that the testing or application is effectively per-
formed and that the results obtained thereby are positive.


1 In his Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein argued intensely and success-

fully against just such a pictorial theory of meaning. See: L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical
Investigations, Oxford, 1953.

2 Urban, Language and Reality, London, 1951, p. 148.

3 Ibid., pp. 139-40.
4 Charles Morris, Signs, Langruzge and Behllvior, New York, 1946, p. 86.
5 C. L. Stevenson, 'The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms,' Mind, 46 (1937). (Sellars
and Hospers, Readinp in EthiCllI Theory, New York, 1952, pp. 419-22.)
6 See, for example, Arthur Pap, Elements of Analytic Philosophy, New York, 1949,
7 Charles Morris, op. cit.
8 From a news report in Politika of Belgrade by the London correspondent.
9 Urban,op. cit., p. 277.


Objective meaning is the relation of a sign to the designated object. Charles

Morris used the expression 'existential meaning,' but here that expression
is unacceptable because of the restricted meaning of the term 'existential'
in our theory. Semantic philosophers writing in English have used many
terms for this dimension of meaning: 'reference' (as a translation of Frege's
'Bedeutung'), 'indication' (Russell), and 'denotation' (Mill), to name a few.



The Indirect Character of Objective Meaning

The indirect character of objective meaning is one of its most important
aspects. Sign A means object B only by means of subject C. A and B can
exist independently of any subject. In that case they may be in any possible
spatial, temporal, causal, or other relation, or they may not be in any direct
relation. What is important is that whatever relation A assumes to B objec-
tively in the material world, this is not the relation of meaning. B becomes
the meaning of A only when a subject acquires a disposition (habit, capacity,
constant readiness) to think or conceive of object B when experiencing sign
A. It is only in the simplest cases, as with signs in ordinary life, that signs
and designated objects coincide temporally, coexist spatially, cause one
another, or assume a relationship of part and whole. ('Symptoms' are a type
of sign that assume such a r"lationship toward the designated object: for
example a high temperature 1S a sign of disease.) But there is usually no
sort of necessary connection between symbols and designated objects. For
example the word 'moon' and the Satellite of the third planet from the sun
are as different from one another as possible. There is nothing in the nature
of the moon as a real object that would cause Yugoslav speakers to call it
'Mesec,' Germans to call it 'Mond,' the English 'moon,' etc. If the word were
merely a felicious one and if it would not lead to too much disturbance in
communication, particularly in understanding books already printed, people
could agree to start to call the moon 'sun,' and vice versa. But we tend to

hold fast to a particular symbolic apparatus (whether it be language and

linguistic purity or any other kind of symbols) for social rather than onto-
logical reasons.
But this is something that is often not understood. Misunderstandings as
to the genuine reasons for our relative conservatism tend to cause astounding
forms of irrationality (or, as Korzybski would call it - insane behavior).
Primitives are known to refuse to be photographed or to have their names
known because if a stranger were to possess their photograph or know their
name, presumably they too would be controlled in the bargain. Jean Piaget
cites the wonderful example of childhood nafvete in an interview with a
child who was asked whether the sun and moon could exchange names. The
child vehemently asserted that this was impossible, citing as the reasons
that 'the sun was shinier,' that it was 'bigger,' that the moon came out at
night and the sun during the day, etc. 1
The fact is, however, that many adults in the civilized world have not
progressed far beyond this point, as demonstrated by a multitude of examples,
of which Hayakawa cites many excellent ones. 2 For example movie-goers
usually identify actors with the characters they portray. Louis Stone, who
often played the role of a judge, used to receive letters asking for legal counsel;
on a visit to Chicago Edward Robinson was greeted as 'one of the boys'
by the local Mafia; and one unfortunate actor, while playing the role of
the villain for a traveling theatre, was killed on stage by a cowboy in the
In some societies there is conscious, systematic stimulation of the identi-
fication of symbols with designated objects. In Japan, for example, at the
time when the Emperor was worshiped, his picture was hung in every school,
and if fire broke out schoolchildren were obliged to save it at all cost. Similar
practices could be cited today as well.
One can even find essentially similar behavior on the part of philosophers.
Bitter controversy often rages over philosophical terms as if they were things
themselves or the doctrines they refer to. Usually a term is tied so closely
to an object that when it appears later in connection with a different object,
some people attack the author, while others acclaim him, making their
decision primarily on the basis of the affective relation they previously
had toward the object the term referred to, and not on the basis of careful
analysis of the new object referred to.
Let us assume that in the same country there live two philosophers who
differ insignificantly in their basic ideas, but utilize terms that differ sub-
stantially. Both may consider that there exists a reality independent of

human consciousness, the smallest known elements of which are centers of

power. One of them may call this objective reality 'matter,' and the other
'energy.' Moreover both may believe that reality develops in stages, and that
each higher level of developmentis more highly differentiated and cannot
be reduced to the previous one. One of the authors calls this development
'dialectical,' and the other uses the term 'emergent evolution.' Each may
believe that man possesses relative freedom to decide on the various possi-
bilities of action in the framework of existing natural and social laws or
tendencies. The first calls this 'dialectical determinism,' while the other calls
it 'relative indeterminism' (believing that everything that does not constitute
determinism in- the classical, fatalistic sense of the word represents some form
of indeterminism). Moreover both philosophers agree completely that the
imprecision and ambiguity of the language people use is the cause of many
misunderstandings, unnecessary disputes, and conflicts, and that it is essen-
tial to identify the conditions necessary for communication to be effective.
One terms the study of this subject 'semantics,' and the other terms it the
'Marxist theory of communication.'
Let us assume that they differ neither on details or on basic principles.
Moreover the truth of the propositions each advances is not in question. The
question arises as to how each of them would fare if he lived in the United
States or in the Soviet Union.
There can be no doubt that the difference in reception accorded to their
theories in each of these societies would be enormous. In both cases the
society would probably impose some sanctions on the theory out of accord
with its semantic habits and blind spots. In each case the authors could face
charges of belonging to a hostile ideological camp (the 'Reds' in the US, and
'bourgeois reaction' in the USSR) and even disloyalty to the existing political
regime. But if presented in the suitable linguistic form the same ideas would
be accorded a broad reception in both cases.
In other words today symbols as such are still revered and hated rather
than the objects they name or refer to. In fact breaking the popular habit of
confusing the symbol and the symbolized object remains one of the basic
tasks of the public enlightenment.

Having seen that signs and designated objects need not be interconnected in
a direct and necessary manner, it remains to study the character of the con-
nection between them.

This connection, which we have termed 'designation' (sign x designates

object y) differs for various categories of signs.
When we are dealing with natural signs, i.e. objects and phenomena which
we have not created ourselves but find in nature (e.g. the smell of ozone
signifies the approach of thunder) the relation of designation is reduced to
a connection which, while comprehended and thought through by a subject,
nevertheless exists in nature regardless of man (and which may be causal,
functional, or a relation of permanent coexistence, temporal succession, the
part and the whole, the general and the particular, etc.). The smell of ozone
serves to signify the approach of thunder because we have here two physical
phenomena that share a single cause - the presence of a large quantity of
accumulated electricity in the air.
With all artificial symbols signification is a human creation to the same
extent that signs themselves are created by man. While the sun is a material
object that exists without dependence upon human consciousness, the words
'sun,' 'Ie soleil,' 'die Sonne,' etc. and the designation of the object with just
one of these words is the result of human action. In this simple case of
designation the function performed is a simple one of naming: we have
created a word which will serve us in place of a description of the real object
we wish to discuss or mention. In the case of artistic, religious, ritualistic,
and other artificial si8lls even the designated object is not a material thing.
By using signs and symbols the people who create poetry, music, myths,
religions, and rituals call our attention to certain ideal, imaginary, unreal
objects which to a greater or lesser extent satisfy our various affective, reflec-
tive, and volitional needs. Here 'designation' is primarily projecting something
which we have created by mind, heart, or imagination. In art designation is
the projection of beauty, harmony, or brute strength. Here colors, forms,
sounds, and movements are merely the material means by which certain
forms of the affective-reflective life of the individual (which as such are able
to evoke similar forms of experience in other individuals) take on objective
existence - not in nature and material reality, but in the reality of the human
spiritual life of an era.
With other artificial symbols the relation of designation is also usually
projection in this sense, although the objects projected differ as to the type
of human needs they satisfy. For example 'god' is a projection of a super-
man,3 a human being with the qualities man possesses in an insignificant
degree, which man longs for but which he cannot attain in existing natural
and social conditions. 'God' and all other fantastic objects designated by
religious symbols satisfy (at least with some people) an enormous intellectual

need to explain the world and life which science cannot explain either tem-
porarily (because of underdevelopment) or permanently (because of the very
nature of the questions). To an even greater extent they satisfy emotional
needs for security, comfort, for hope and the avoidance of death, and for a
justification of suffering and sacrifice.4
Finally various ritual symbols - saluting the flag, rising when one hears the
national anthem, wearing special clothes on particular occasions, kissing the
cross, ceremonies to mark important social occasions, 'designate' in the sense
that they project ideas of an objective character that satisfy the need for
social cohesion and for including the individual in society as a whole. (Ideas
of this sort are 'the fatherland,' 'national honor,' the 'honor of the army,'
'redeeming Christ's sacrifice on the cross,' etc.)

The Specific Features of Linguistic Designation

Since our primary purpose is to explain the meaning of linguistic expressions

encountered in science, the question immediately arises of identifying the
specific features of linguistic designation as opposed to the qualities of that
relation with natural and artificial non-linguistic signs. These differences are
not always sharp: everything that applies for most linguistic expressions also
applies to other signs, and vice versa. But nevertheless these differences in
level, taken all together, are sufficient to speak about the specific quality of
linguistic designation.
(1) First of all linguistic designation is a conventional relation. Not only
does it not indicate any sort of objective physical relation between sign and
designated object, but also it does not entail an obligatory element of qualita-
tive or structural similarity between the one and the other. True, at its first
level of development language contains many expressions that represent
simple imitation of natural objects (onomatopeia). But later there is less and
less of this. Cassirer was the first to formulate a general law of the develop-
ment of language, one that is widely accepted today: language develops from
copy to analogy, and from analogy to symboLS The linguistic symbol is
characterized by its conventional character. 6 The symbol does not designate
the given object because it resembles it, but because people have given the
symbol this function. What is strange is that this is so often overlooked in
modern philosophy. Three decades ago Wittgenstein's picture theory was in
fashion, maintaining that a proposition was a picture of an objective fact,
in the sense that it had the same configuration and the same number of words
as the corresponding facts had elements.' Wisdom attempted to rescue the

theory, attributing to it the character of a program, rather than a description

of the real state of affairs. "Wittgenstein says that propositions depict facts.
But there are hardly any sentences in ordinary speech that portray facts.
Wittgenstein does not wish to state that they do so. He attempts to point to
the ideal which certain sentences try to realize."8
But this theory is untenable in this form. Gilbert Ryle has asked quite
properly how a fact may be similar or dissimilar in structure to a sentence,
gesture, or diagram. "A fact is not an ordered set of components in the man-
ner in which a sentence is an ordered set of sounds ...."9
Ayer has cited an even stronger argument: "If propositions are in any
sense pictures, then there are both false propositions and true ones .... How
then shall we distinguish a true picture from a false one? Do we not have
to say that a true picture agrees with reality while a false one does not? In
that case the introduction of the concept of copying does not serve our
purpose .... "10 He goes on to cite as an example the use of the words 'I am
angry' to indicate anger, while the words in no way resemble in either content
or structure the state of emotion described.
All these arguments stand. Thus, except in rare cases, the designative
relation of linguistic expression is conventional in character. The established
use of an expression in a given society (rather than its qualitative and struc-
tural properties) determines what kind of the object it will designate in the
process of communication.
(2) The relation of linguistic designation is essentially a transitive relation,
which means that when one word designates another, and the latter designates
an object, then the former designates that object also. For example when x
designates the number 2, and the number 2 designates a set of all pairs of
objects, then x also designates a set of all pairs of objects. Other signs external
to language may also have this characteristic of transfer of meaning from one
object to another, but for the most part this is not true. These are primarily
material objects, whose characteristics depend closely upon the given material
conditions. When these conditions are left out of the designative relation, its
transitivity inevitably disappears. For example the divergence of gold leaf
strips in an electroscope indicates the presence of an electrified body. In a
particular situation, then, the fact that a body is electrified means that a
magnet is moving in relation to it. But one cannot say that the divergence of
the leaves in an electroscope means that a magnet is in motion in the vicinity,
for the body in question might be electrified in a variety of ways in different
Artificial, nonlinguistic symbols usually lack the mobility and the ability

to stand for other symbols which is characteristic of linguistic expressions.

One theme of a symphony does not designate a second theme, nor does one
picture refer to another, as is the case with words. This characteristic of
words is the essence of metaphor, which means so much in terms of the
beauty of poetic expression. The transitive character of discursive scientific
expression makes it possible to derme and create highly abstract expressions.
If the words of scientific language were unable to refer to material objects
indirectly through a multitude of levels, theoretical science would hardly
be possible. Theoretical generalizations, and particularly mathematical
expressions, contain terms that refer to real objects only by way of a complex
(3) Finally the relation of linguistic designation is asymmetrical, except
in rare instances. Outside language, signs and designated objects often change
places. This is particularly true with natural signs. Just as a cause may be
a sign of a second phenomenon/ effect, that effect may be a sign of the cause.
When objects A and B coexist permanently, A may function as a sign of the
presence of B, and vice versa.
With artificial symbols such almost complete symmetry is excluded by
virtue of the fact that object A is either selected or specially constructed to
serve as a sign of B. Nevertheless inversion is sometimes possible, particularly
in those cases where a sign which in itself is of lesser importance for some
reason assumes extraordinary importance. Let us assume that for the conduct
of an experiment or for the observation of a natural phenomenon it is essen-
tial to ascertain with a thermometer that the temperature has fallen to n
degrees and that at the given moment t we are unable to see the number of
degrees the thermometer shows. Then the sensory perception of coolness
would be a sign that the mercury in the thermometer has fallen to the level
ofn degrees, while usually the relation is exactly the opposite.
In the pictorial arts quite frequently a symbol becomes incomparably
more important than the designated object itself.ll While the meaning of
an ordinary photograph lies in the fact that it represents a particular person,
many people - otherwise relatively unimportant - have attained importance
by virtue of having posed for portraits by famous painters. When we say that
Rembrandt's son Titus, is that frail, sweet little boy in many Rembrandt
pictures, or that Helena Furman, is that plump, cheerful woman smiling from
numerous Rubens canvasses, then we imply that today these people are only
symbols of something much more important - a manifold artistic message
which is expressed through the representation of their persons. Similarly
if we are acquainted with the works of the impressionists, an encounter with

the landscapes of ArIes, Argenteuil, Martinique, and Montmartre will probably

cause us to comment that these are the landscapes of Van Gogh, Monet,
Gauguin, Renoir, and others. That which was originally designated has now
become a sign. Sometimes this sort of inversion is also encountered in music
(usually programmatic music). For anyone who has been fascinated by "The
Tempest" from Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, the experience of a storm
can become a sign and a reminder of this magnificent outpouring of sound
from the fourth movement of this work. Or having seen the old gates of
Kiev, we may be reminded by them of the beautiful, massive chords of
Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, for which they are now a sign.
The inversion of the components of the relation of designation happens
much less frequently with linguistic symbols, precisely because in and of
themselves they are so lacking in significance that situations rarely occur
in which they may attain any special value. Whitehead is not right when he
overstresses complete symmetry in this case. For example he writes:

Why do we say that the word 'wood' when spoken or written is a symbol of trees.
The word itself and trees themselves enter into our experience on equal terms; looking
at this question in the abstract it would make just as much sense for trees to symbolize
the word 'wood' as for the word to symbolize trees.
This is certainly true and human nature behaves accordingly. For example if one is
a poet and wishes to compose a lyrical poem about trees, one goes out into the forest
in order for the trees to suggest the right words. Thus for a poet in his ecstasy - or
perhaps agony - the actual trees are symbols and the words are the meaning. The
poet concentrates on the trees in order to arrive at the words. 12

Words, and particularly written words, are in a class of objects which

"in themselves are extremely unimportant. It is only when they are taken
together with their mental meaning - the thoughts, concepts, and emotions
they express - that they obtain their extreme importance. But when one
separates them from mental meaning it is impossible to agree with Whitehead
that "The word itself and trees themselves enter into our experience on equal
terms." The strange shapes and sounds we call words provide no shade, give
off no air, provide no heat, and in fact perform no other function of even
apprOximately equal importance. It is only in their application in poetry
that certain words, with their sonorous beauty, become interesting in and of
themselves, without regard to their meaning, in a manner similar to musical
Thus while in some cases the relation of linguistic designations may become

symmetric this occurs very rarely and only in the marginal area of literature.
In scientific language the relation of symbol and desigated object is almost
always asymmetrical.



Having defined certain specific formal qualities of the designative relation

of linguistic expressions as opposed to other categories of signs, it remains
for us to attempt to analyze this relation.
In the preceding section, for the want of a better term, we spoke about
the object referred to directly, as opposed to the other layers of objective
meaning that may be termed indirect objects (of various degrees of media-
tion). It is necessary here to express a reservation. Here the term 'direct'
is used in the sense of 'less indirect than the others.' Actually the designative
relation is always indirect, which follows from the defmition of a sign and
the fact that a sign usually has a mental meaning. In other words a sign
always signifies a symbol in that the sign is related to a disposition, on the
part of the people who use it, to imagine, conceive, or perceive a particular
Moreover indirect designation has two basic aspects or forms:
(1) It may consist in the application of a sign to the given object, in the
sense that a name is used in order to provide an appellation for the object:
this form of designation is usually called denotation.
(2) It may consist in describing the properties which certain types of
objects possess, so that when we encounter a particular object we immediately
know whether we can use the appellation which the given type bears. This
aspect of designation is usually called connotation.
Let us take for an example the term 'vertebrate,' whose denotation consists
in its application as the name for grouping of animals. In other words when
we have a statement in the form of 'This is x,' all objects that may figure
in that proposition as the grammatical subject (in place of 'this'), and whose
predicate may be considered the sign 'x', represent the denotation of the
sign 'x.'
The connotation of the word 'vertebrate' consists in the fact that it
describes an important quality of all animals that may be called by that
term - the property of possessing a backbone.
In other words the question of what constitutes the designative function
of a sign may be broken down into two subquestions:

(1) What objects, things, or persons it may be applied to (what objects

it denotes),
(2) What properties of objects the given sign describes (by means of the
concepts it expresses): in other words what characteristics it connotes.

The Development of the Concepts of Connotation and Denotation from Mill

to Ryle and Quine

The distinction between denotation and connotation as two aspects of the

designative relation derives from John Stuart Mill. 13 He played an enormous
role in resolving some of the insuperable problems of Hobbes' theory of
meaning and of the philosophers who preceded him. Hobbes postulated that
nearly all words were names and that their meaning consisted in standing for
certain objects. The prevailing view was that for every name there was a
corresponding entity which had a type of being (the doctrine of 'unum
nomen, unum nominatur') and that the meaning of sentences was determined
by the meaning of the words of which they were comprised (the atomistic
doctrine of meaning).
At many points in his book Mill also agreed with this view, and because of
this fact his followers encountered great difficulties. But it is to Mill's credit
that at many points he noted certain important factors that contradicted
the theory and required a new approach.
1. Words such as 'is,' 'often,' 'not,' 'of,' 'the,' etc. are not names and do not
designate particular things but rather play the role of auxiliary instruments
for constructing compound names. But even if these are not names themselves
they have a meaning, and thus naming is not the sine qua non of meaning.
2. Two linguistic expressions may refer to the same thing but carry
different messages. 14
3. As opposed to other nouns, the purest type of names - proper nouns
- provide no information at all about the persons and things to which they
Mill accounted for these three factors, unexplianable from the standpoint
of the traditional philosophy of language, by introducing connotation into
the concept of meaning alongside denotation, (which corresponds to naming).
In his view then, word such as 'is,' 'often,' and 'no' could be said to have
connotation but not denotation; proper nouns could be said to have deno-
tation but not connotation; while synonyms could be said to have the same
denotation but differing connotations.

These propositions provided much of the basis for the modern theory
of meaning. But inasmuch as these modern views were intertwined with
traditional ones (Mill left them to contradict one another), and since Mill's
theory was handicapped by a completely irrelevant and obsolete sensualistic
and associationalistic psychology, it eventually fell into oblivion, although
the theory of denotation survived. Mill's followers accepted that meaning
was equivalent to denotation and that every word that meant something was
a name standing for an object. It is well known what difficulties realistically
oriented philosophers of language had at the end of the nineteenth and
beginning of the twentieth centuries, notably Meinong, Frege, Russell and
others, all of whom worked on the basis of these principles. Russell wrote:
"Being is a general attribute of everything and to mention what anything
means is to indicate that it is." 15 The question then arose, what was to be
the being named by the expression, "A circular square is impossible." What
is a circular square? Obviously nothing existing, because it is impossible.
But this is not really nothing, for we nevertheless are saying that something
is impossible, and we cannot leave a blank instead of the words 'round
square.' Are we saying then that the idea we have in our head, the idea
of the circular square, is impossible. The answer is certainly no, for we cannot
say that any idea is impossible. In what sense then is the 'circular square'
the name of a being?16
Russell found a way out of these difficulties by completely rejecting his
original platonism with the assumption that many symbols merely describe
the characteristics of certain possible or impossible objects, but themselves
do not refer to any objects. For example the expression "The King of France
is bald" obviously describes the property of a logically possible person,
but since that person does not exist in reality, the sentence is lacking in
In order to avoid the rapid multiplication of ontological entities that do
not exist in reality Russell proposed a method of philosophical analysis
whereby, by means of suitable translation into other expressions, one would
eliminate from language all nouns and descriptive phrases that create the
illusion of the existence of impossible or problematic entities. The language
in which such a translation would be realized would still be sufficiently rich
to say what had to be said, but would be far clearer, more precise, and critical.
This was Russell's famous theory of description, one of his greatest successes
in philosophy. By adopting it the foregoing phrase about the French King
would be transformed in such a way as to obtain the sentence: "There is
something which is the French King and he is bald, and there is only one

such being." When explicitly formulated in this logical form, such a sentence
does not create problems. How one could state anything about something
when that 'something' has no sort of being. This sentence merely states that
there is a French King and that he is bald - but since he does not exist, the
sentence is false. 17
Although the advantages of this method are not so clear-cut as they
appeared to Russell's contemporaries, Russell and the logical atomists,
and later the logical positivists, undertook the enormous task of funda-
mentally recon~tructing language so as to t'lirninate from it all expressions
that appeared to be the names of objects, but in fact were not. This applied
chiefly to metaphysical expressions, and also to all other abstractions except-
ing the most essential logical apparatus. But it is very important and worth-
while to ask whether this move was nevertheless founded upon the traditional
principle of 'unum nomen unum nominatum.'
All analyses and reconstructions of language were aimed at eliminating from
the categories of names those expressions that could not be said to refer to
objects and retaining in language only genuine names to which this principle
applied (aside from logical terms which in time were deemed to be conven-
tional in nature). Everything that was to be said had to be stated exclusively
in terms of such names (regardless of how clumsy, awkward, and divergent
from ordinary language this appeared structurally). When this principle was
linked to the principle of empiricism, which held that one could consider an
object (something that could be named) o~ly that which could be experienced
directly and that all other objects were quasi-objects that had to be reduced
to the former, a program was created at which scholars worked collectively
for decades, but which fmally came to nothing. After defmite and indefmite
descriptions these scholars eliminated from the class of genuine names expres-
sions such as 'everything,' 'nothing,' 'something,' then numbers, classes, points
in space and time, then physical objects, then universal propositions, and
fmally proper nouns, which were long held to be the best examples of names.
Thus Russell discovered that the name 'Socrates' was in fact a disguised
description equivalent to the expression 'Plato's teacher' or the 'philosopher
who drank,hemlock.' Then ultimately recognition as genuine names was
accorded solely to demonstrative pronouns such as 'this' and 'that.' Thus in
complete contrast to the original Platonism this school of thought arrived at a
design for a language containing (aside from logical terms) only expressions
naming the momentary personal experiences of an individual subject. This
language was not understandable by anyone else or even by the individual
himself, as soon as the content of his personal experience altered.

Moreover Wittgenstein demonstrated that not even the pronouns 'this'

and 'that' were logically proper names, for the things to which they referred
were by no means the ultimate, simple elements of reality that could not
be analyzed further. For example when a red square was indicated, the word
'this' could refer either to the color red or to the square shape.
Thus the entire history of philosophical analysis, i.e. the attempt to
reconstruct language so that it contained solely a logical apparatus and only
those genuine names which designated perceived objects and only in the sense
of denotation, led to the conclusion that meaning could not be reduced to
naming, and that the atomistic viewpoint was untenable.
The reaction to logical atomism and the positivism which is so strong
and widespread in Anglo-American countries assumes a position at the
opposing extreme:
1. Meaning is never denotation. Expressions that have denotation, i.e.
names (and these are rare - most linguistic expressions are not names) lack
any meaning at all. In other words, denotation is not an element of meaning.
2. The meaning of a sentence is not an aggregate of the meanings of
individual words, but is rather a function of a number of possible assertions,
questions, commands, etc.
Of particular interest to us here is the first of these two theses, which
holds that meaning is equivalent to connotation. This pOSition was expressed
concisely by Gilbert Ryle. "The meaning of an expression is never the thing
or person to which it refers." 18 Quine provided a different formulation of
the same thesis in his excellent work From a Logical Point of View,19 saying
that "there is an entire gap between meaning and naming" 20 and that these
were "problems belonging to two fundamentally different regions." 21
Quine came to this conclusion in his sharp distinction of the field of
experience from the field of thought (in which logical and mathematical
laws prevailed). In the former field symbols refer to things that may be
verified empirically. In the latter symbols do not denote, but rather have
connotation, for which the ruling principles are simplicity, applicability,
elegance, and symmetry. Quine explicitly insisted that symbols that mean
something have meaning independently of the being of that which is denoted.
It is precisely because this is not the case with names that he distinguished
naming so sharply from meaning.
Sharp distinctions such as these are always the symptom of an excessively
rough analysis. Deeper and fmer analysis usually shows that wherever we
thought we were dealing with a discontinuity there was also a continuity,
with many nuances and transitions. 22

The fact that there is not an absolute discontinuity between naming

and 'meaning,' or even between denotation and connotation, and that there
is a close connection and unity in the service of objective designation is
evident if we take into account the following insights:
1. Experience and thought are not two sharply delimited spheres, but
rather overlap.
2. Denotation is not a function of 'pure' direct experience. Named entities
are not only empirical objects but also theoretically conceptualized objects.
Moreover objects are not merely things but classes of things, properties, and
3. In view of this fact even the most abstract expressions may have an
indirect denotation insofar as they may be applied so as to take part in
defming a real, directly knowable object. One may thus draw a distinction
between the direct denotation of names and the indirect denotation of
certain abstract symbols.
4. A distinction exists between the actual denotation of symbols that
pertain to actually existing objects in a given space and time, and the poten-
tial denotation of symbols designating objects that might exist under certain
conditions or that are logically possible.
S. Finally one must take into account the relation toward the given
community in whose language the given symbol has its meaning. Accordingly
denotation and connotation can have either a global societal character or
merely a local one.
Here a key idea is the principle of the overlap of experience and thought.
Perception is always conceptual interpretation as well. Thought is not only
based on experiential data, but in the fmal analysis takes as its basic purpose
organization, interpretation, and anticipation of experience.

The Connection between Denotation and Connotation

Accordingly denotation does not involve solely empirical objects entirely
outside the sphere of connotation. And conversely the results of abstract
thought are meanings that cannot be completely outside the sphere of deno-
tation. Perceived objects are always conceptualized and interpreted, and
conceived objects - if thought has led to cognition of truth - are applicable
in principle to experience. Each step in conceptualization - analysis, classifi-
cation, and explanation of a named object - enriches the connotation of
names. And conversely the application of an abstract symbol in order to
construct a certain empirical proposition permits - if the latter was verified -

cognition that justifies a greater or lesser degree of belief in the existence

of certain real objects of a general character (relations, structures).
In other words, the relation of denotation between symbols and objects is
not exclusively a relation of naming individual things and directly perceptible
properties. Objects in reality have properties and relations that can only be
discovered by thought. If we have justifiably taken the position that gravita-
tion is as much a real object as the book on my table, provided certain criteria
of the cognition of objective truth are satisfied, it follows that the term
'gravitation' has denotation just as much as the term 'book.'
Just as the function of denotation is not reduced to a relation to direct
experience, the function of connotation is not reduced to a relation to
abstract thought and to a strictly logical analysis. It is possible to have a
name without any connotation whatever only if it is associated with a direct,
uninterpreted, unanalyzed, unique sensory experience. While there are
philosophers who claim that this is possible, names from ordinary speech
and scientific language are not such symbols. Normally our use of a certain
sign in order to draw attention to a certain object is inseparably bound
up with our (more or less complete) conception of certain (more or less
essential) forms of the object. There can be no doubt that proper names
such as Giotto, Dostoevski, Bela Bartok, and Yakov Sverdlov have a certain
connotation. Even quite ordinary proper names have a connotation in local
communities, at the very least for all the members of a family. What then
about the names of countries, nations, and cities? Or about words that name
material objects we encounter every day.
As soon as we specify a set of objects (or a single object) 0 to which
name A refers, our (entire or appropriately selected) knowledge of object
o begins to crystallize around A. In other words A remains the sign of a
certaip. set of more or less essential properties which, we suppose, characterize
the named object o.
It is true that proceeding from concrete to abstract linguistic expressions,
Le. from the sphere of empirical to abstract theoretical cognition, denotation
is of decreasing relevance as an element of meaning, while connotation
increases in importance. In other words thought is increasingly free from
experienced phenomena and engages in the free constructnion of various
logically possible (not necessarily real) objects. Even the most abstract
symbols of a fruitful, scientificially interesting (Le. applicable) theory include
in their meaning an element of denotation insofar as they imply that under
certain conditions certain real objects might exist which are described by
their connotation. In that denotative function they might lead us astray

and cause us to make predictions that may not be fulfIlled later. But this
would only mean that these symbols are inadequate, not that they are lacking
in denotation and meaning. In the sphere of thought symbols without deno-
tation are those which describe objects whose real existence may not be
verified under any conditions. Although sentences in which symbols appear
with inadequate denotation are false, those whose constituent symbols
lack denotation fail to communicate anything about the real world and are
cognitively meaningless. 23

Direct and Indirect Denotation

It should be noted that philosophers who say that words such as 'apple' have
denotation while words such as 'or' do not, do so because they have observed
a real distinction between them. Whether or not there exists something called
'apple' or even something much more general called 'gravitation' may be
tested in experience. But whether there exists an object which we refer to liy
the word 'or' cannot in principle, be tested experientially.
The existence of such a distinction can lead to a variety of conclusions:
(a) The word 'or' and all other words like it does not refer to any object at
all, and accordingly it belongs to the category of incomplete symbols, making
it merely a part of our linguistic apparatus whereby we connect complete
symbols. Our own defmition of a symbol does not permit such a conclusion.
That which does not refer to another object is simply not a symbol. It is an
open question whether symbols may be defined in such a way that some of
them may be conceived as incomplete in this sense.
(b) The word 'or' is a meaningless symbol. This conclusion is impermissible
for similar reasons. Material objects which in their outer characteristics look
like symbols (groups of sounds, letters, paintbrush lines on canvas, tones)
but lack any meaning are not actually symbols. All sentences containing such
'symbols' are meaningless.
(c) The word 'or' has meaning in the sense of connotation but lacks mean-
ing in the sense of denotation. This is the solution offered by Ryle, Quine,
and many other Anglo-American logicians. We have seen that this tends to
draw an unacceptable distinction between the empirical and the mental. It
implies a nonexistent sharp demarcation line between names with denotation
and without connotation and theoretical symbols with connotation but
lacking denotation.
(d) The word 'or' and those like it ('and,' 'if,' 'then,' 'no' and numerous
mathematical symbols) have no objective meaning but have other dimensions
of meaning - mental, social, linguistic, and practical.

This last alternative is more acceptable than all the others. It can be consis-
tently argued that all linguistic expressions that have objective meaning have
both denotation and connotation, but all expressions lacking one of these two
poles of objective meaning lack the other and in fact lack objective meaning
in general. This is a defensible position, for what is the connotation of the
word 'or' if it lacks denotation? What set of characteristics does it describe,
when there are no objects with characteristics to describe. Analogously one
might argue with good reason that symbols without connotation in fact have
no denotation either. If we do not know of a single defining property or
relation of the named object, how do we know what object is in question?
Nevertheless we must also reject this alternative inasmuch as it introduces
an untenable dualism between symbols that have objective meaning and
those that do not. Where should one draw the boundary between these two
types of symbols? Probably certain logical and mathematical symbols would
remain on one side of the boundary and all others on the other side. But
is this difference actually so sharp?
Let us compare the symbols 'heavy,' 'gravitation,' and 'or.' The denotation
of the first is not controversial: that all material things have greater or lesser
weight may be experientially tested. But the problem of the word 'gravitation'
is more difficult. Whether all things attract one another with a certian force
cannot be tested directly. Nevertheless, this is an assumption that succeeds
in explaining' many of our experiences and on the basis of which many others
may be correctly predicted. Therefore, we believe that 'gravitation' has
denotation - in this case a very general objective relation among things.
The difficulty with 'or' consists in the fact that this symbol apparently fails
to refer to a relation among things but designates a relation among symbols
themselves, a relation among concepts. This is more or less the case. The
relation of alternation or disjunction is chiefly a relation between symbols
and the concepts expressed by them. But the question then arises as to how
it is possible for a sentence as a whole to denote an objective state of facts
and for the terms to denote the constituents of that state of facts while words
like 'or' denote nothing, at least directly. The answer very well may be that
the same fact, for example that Maxim Gorky wrote the novel Klim Samgin,
may be deSignated by the sentence "Gorky wrote Klim Samgin" as well
as by the sentence "Gorky or Tolstoy wrote Klim Samgin." Both sentences
are true, although in the second sentence the word 'or' contributes nothing
to the truth and has no denotative function.
But this is not always the case. Aside from propositions in which the
word 'or' signifies our doubt or ignorance, there are those in which it directly

designates a real relation among objects, as for example, ''The discovery of

nuclear weapons will bring either a lasting peace or the complete downfall
of civilization." An objective relation among the alternatives of future events
such as this may also be expressed by the following description of the dilemma
facing the bourgeoisie of advanced capitalist countries: "either the continued
concentration of capital in the existing public corporations (in which the
shareholders have lost actual direct control over the means of production)
or a shortage of funds for further investment and, by the same token, a
relative decline in profit." Here one may not eliminate the disjunctive 'or' as
in the earlier instance without altering the objective meaning of the sentence.
The relation of disjunction among the two possibilities is here an essential
element of the facts denoted by these propositions. Analagously the other
most general logical connectives 'not,' 'and,' 'if,' 'then,' 'included in,' and
'equal to' refer in different contexts to objective relations of opposition,
conjunction, conditionality, inclusion, and equivalence.
This viewpoint is is not realistic, but rather dialectical and materialistic.
The distinction from realism is the fact that no claim is made that these
abstract symbols in all contexts name corresponding objective relations.
In some contexts they express only our subjective uncertainty or rejection
of objects or the convention of using a symbol in a particular manner (for
example the symbol ':::>' expresses the convention that a complex expression
whose constituents are connected by it is true when the antecendent is false
or the consequent is true). But in such cases the described mental meaning
is secondary and derived. The objective meaning which these symbols have
at least some of the time, is primary. We must know what relation among
objects is designated by the word 'or' in order to use it properly when we
connect symbols which mayor may not denote certain real objects.
The second important difference with realism lies in the fact that in such
instances the objective meaning is indirect and is ascertained a posteriori.
This means that we do not proclaim dogmatically and independently of
experience that, for example, the word 'or' refers to a real relation of the
exclusion of opposites. We arrive at the conclusion that that word designates
that relation - at least indirectly - only when with the use of the word
'or' in empirical propositions we succeed in describing certain real situations
and in correctly predicting certain experiences. The way by which we arrive
at this conclusion may be conceived by the following scheme in which the
connotation assumed for the word 'or' is a relation between two objects
mutually excluding one another so that the existence of the one eliminates
the existence of the other:

(a) We have the proposition "x or y is 1/1" where x, y, and 1/1 are abstract
(b) Let us replace the descriptive expressions x, y and 1/1 with a, b, and f.
Thereby we obtain the empirical proposition "a or b is I."
(c) If we create the conditions in which we can experience that a has
property I, we shall not be able to experience anything about phenomenon
b or we shall ascertain that b has characteristics other than and excluding f.
(d) But if we create the conditions in which we can experience that b
has the characteristic I we see that in those conditions a does not have char-
acteristic I ang we cannot have any experience of it.
(e) Then we arrive at the conclusion that objects a and b exclude one
another with respect to possession of characteristic f.
(0 When we arrive at similar conclusions after substituting other descrip-
tive terms for variables x, y and 1/1 we have good reason to believe that the
symbol 'or' has an indirect denotation, i.e. that it designates a very general
objective relation which we may term mutual exclusion.
It is not necessary here to engage in a detailed analysis of what sort of
objective general relation such words as 'and' 'not' etc. indirectly denote.
We have not exhausted our analysis even for the word 'or' for it appears
that it has a triple objective meaning in ordinary language. First, it can
designate mutual exclusion as in the expression 'war or peace'; secondly, it
sometimes designates the ordinary alternation of objects that are mutually
indifferent (they can be independent and they can supplement one another)
as in the proposition "the collision was caused by the driver's carelessness
or faulty brakes"; and, thirdly, jt sometimes designates the relation of com-
plementarity of various objects, as for example in the proposition "animals
are vertebrates or invertebrates." What is important is to have shown what
we meant by the thesis that even abstract expression can have at least an
indirect denotation. We have seen that, in contrast to the realistic point
of view, we do not postulate the denoted objective relations but we acknowl-
edge them only if practice shows that there are the appropriate specific
relations among concrete objects.
Therefore, the difference between the possibility of experiential verifica-
tion of t1).e objective meaning of the word 'apple' and the possibility of the
application of the objective meaning of the word 'or' is not to be conceived
as the difference between incomplete symbols and complete symbols, between
symbols with meaning and without meaning, symbols with and without
denotation, symbols with or without objective meaning. What we claim is
that the former has direct denotation and the latter has indirect denotation.

Actual and Potential Denotation

Denotation is usually interpreted as actual denotation, i.e. designated objects

are usually assumed to exist in space and time. The symbols which we have
said have indirect denotation refer ultimately to actual objects. The general
relations which they designate may be said to exist in reality only if we
have good empirical grounds to assume the actual existence of the specific
relations relating to them as a species is related to a genus' (for example the
concrete relation of guilt or innocence is a specific case of the general relation
of mutual exclusion).
The question then arises of whether all signs that lack actual denotation
should be characterized as signs without denotation and without objective
meaning. Here would belong linguistic expressions referring to objects that
have ceased to exist but might yet exist again. This group would also include
all those expressions referring to objects of whose existence we cannot be
convinced for the lack of empirical evidence but which cannot be excluded
and may be possible.
This solution is unsatisfactory. Expressions lacking actual denotation
certainly do not all have the same logical status and certainly cannot be
left in the same group without drawing distinctions among them. This can
be proven by comparing the following four expressions:
1. The present king of France.
2. The first man to fly to Mars.
3. Sugar without carbon.
4. A circular square.
There can be no doubt that a significant difference exists between the
first two and the last two. The kings of France used to exist and no one
can say with absolute certainty that there will not be more kings after the
fifth or ninth republic - at least temporarily - as the result of a monarchical
putsch. Similarly there is a certain likelihood that in the future there will
be a person who can be said to be the first man to fly to Mars. These are
expressions for which one must take into account a time factor in order to
assess whether they denote anything or not. They may be said to lack actual
denotation for at the present time they do not designate any present, actually
existing objects. But inasmuch as under certain conditions the objects they
claim to designate might actually exist, these expressions have a potential
denotation and precisely for that reason we understand their meaning.
The second two expressions we have taken as an example differ significantly

from the former two. What we today call sugar necessarily contains carbon
as an element of its chemical makeup. If you remove the carbon you no
longer have sugar. Of course people might adopt the convention of calling
what they now call sugar (or 'sucre,' 'Zucker,' 'sahar,' etc.) by some other
name and using the word 'sugar' from some other chemical compound which
does not contain the element carbon. Until this occurs the expression 'sugar
without carbon' is a meaningless one, not just because it does not refer to
any actually existing thing but also because we cannot even imagine the
possibility of actual existence of such an object. Similarly we cannot even
imagine the possibility of the actual existence of circular squares, and so we
cannot even understand what the expression 'circular square' might stand
for. Such expressions can assume an emotional meaning in a literary context,
but otherwise they lack any sort of cognitive meaning.
Thus far we have implicitly resolved the question of the objective meaning
of expressions that (quast) designate logically possible objects. All objects
in the past, present, or future whose existence is not excluded by the entire
sum of factual knowledge are really possible; on the other hand, the term
'logically possible' may be applied to all objects that can be imagined and
are not contradicted by the rules of logic and the established mental meanings
the words already have. For example if one compares the expressions:
1. 'The man who performed a high jump of 2.4 meters';
2. 'The man who jumped over the house he lives in';
3. The man who jumped up to the sun! ;
we come to the conclusion that the object referred to by the first expression
is really possible, the second is logically possible, while the third is impossible.
Although to date no one has performed a high jump (unaided by a pole or
other instrument) more than 2.34 meters, man's anatomic and physiological
conditions do not exclude the possibility that one day a talented high jumper,
with the necessary training, will jump higher than 2.4 meters. In the second
case there is no actual possibility. Given the existing strength of human
muscles and gravitation it is unlikely that anyone will ever jump more than
the minimum four-to-five-meter height of the average house. But there is
nothing in the concept of a house that would prevent one from imagining
such a low house, that a man might jump over it. In other words such a
feat is logically possible. Finally in the third case the object is logically
impossible for the concept of jumping excludes the possibility of freedom
from gravitation and flying in space.
Although the expressions which refer to logically impossible objects have

no denotation and are cognitively meaningless, expressions that refer to

actually or logically possible objects may be said to have potential denotation.
Where necessary we might draw a distinction between really and logically
potential denotation. But such a distinction is not as hard and fast as one
might assume if one observed the use of the concepts 'logically possible' and
'really possible' by certain highly analytically oriented philosophers today.
These concepts are sometimes presented as disparate to the same extent to
which the empirical world is allegedly disparate from the world of arbitrarily
logical constructs. But once one understands applicability to empirical
theories as one of the criteria for demarcation between logic and playing
with symbols, one could see continuity between real possibility and logical
possibility. The set of really possible objects becomes a subclass of logically
possible objects. The laws of logic are in fact the most general and abstract
elements (assumptions) of real laws, although given in schematic and norma-
tive form (in the form of the necessary conditions of knowing the truth). The
mental meanings of words are the general, invariant elements of a multitude
of concrete representations of individual objects. It follows from this that
the conditions of the logical are, (l) less severe than the conditions of the
real, and (2) that the set of the imaginary objects compatible with them is
significantly larger and broader then the set of real objects, and (3) that
real possibilities constitute a sub-set of the set of logical possibilities.
When we speak about the denotation that is logically potential, we are
unquestionably on the very boundary separating the cognitively meaningful
from the cognitively meaningless symbol. The character of a logical system
as a whole or, to be more precise, its applicability, determines whether we
will be able to attach cognitive meaning to its symbols. What is termed
'interpretation' of a symbolic system or the 'formulation of semantic rules'
for its symbols is not yet sufficient to determine their cogitive meaning, but
is only the first step necessary to discover the direction in which one would
have to explore whether the corresponding symbols have denotation. The
result of investigations will be positive if we conclude that one of the following
three alternatives exists:
1. The symbols of the system may be applied so as to arrive at empirically
verified propositions. This means that the objects attributed by the semantic
rules to the given symbols actually exist.
2. Real conditions may be imagined under which the application of our
symbols would lead to empirically verifiable propositions. It thus follows
that the corresponding objects are really possible.
3. The symbols are so interpreted that corresponding objects may be

imagined without contradicting the laws of logic and the meanings of the
words that are used in interpretation. The question of the possibility of
empirical verification of the existence of these objects remains undetermined
for either objective or subjective reasons. In this case we are dealing -with
logically possible objects.
The further course of investigation will lead to a situation in which
logically possible objects will turn out to be factually possible or even actually
existing, while the others will be excluded from the realm of logical possibility
owing to the discovery of new facts and the corresponding alteration of the
meanings of terms. We then say that the symbols they refer to lack denotation
or even cognitive meaning, although thanks to the rules of semantics we
can understand what they refer to. Consequently the distinction between the
symbols that have denotation and those that do not Gust like the distinction
between various types of denotation) is neither hard nor fast. There is a
region of uncertainty on the border between them because at a particular
moment we may not know whether an abstract theory is applicable or
not. The advance of cognition steadily eliminates some uncertainties but
introduces others.

The Three Meanings of the Relativity of Objective Meaning

One of the reasons one cannot draw an absolute distinction, like Quine,
between naming and meaning or denotation and connotation is that objective
meaning is always relative to the particular society in whose language the
given sign is used.
The thesis that names lack connotation, and thus meaning, sounds correct
at first if we take as context the language of society in general. It appears that
John, Peter, Mary, and Jean refer to people but mean absolutely nothing. Thus
if meaningless names existed, they would be symbols pertaining to objects
whose analysis we have not yet' completed or symbols whose designated
objects are completely unknown to us; on the basis of their morphological
structure alone or on the basis of knowledge of the linguistic customs in
society, we know that they have the function of naming something.
But even such names do not lack the rudimentary elements of connotation
in a general social linguistic context. For example we assume that the names
John and Jean refer to persons, male and female respectively, even if we
do not know what concrete objects the names refer to. Moreover, often we
can determine their ethnic background. In order to differentiate names from
other arbitrarily selected symbols, we must know at least something about

their morphological characteristics and their use in language. This 'something'

is simultaneously a fact about the type of objects the given name is applied to,
thus constituting an element of connotation.
Moreover in order to be able to characterize a symbol as a name, there
must always exist a closer context in which it has a full connotation; in this
case there is associated with it such a full description of an object that no
object other than it can satisfy. Such a maximally delimited context, in which
names assume a maximally full connotation, is the language of the family.
For the wife of a 'John' or the father of a 'Jean' these names unquestionably
mean something. The precision and richness of their connotation is such that
the mere cadence of gait, the sound of a voice in a throng, a look of hair, or
some markings on a piece of paper are enough for someone to conclude,
'That's my John!
The greater the significance of the named object to society at large, the
greater and richer the social connotation of the name (Athens, the French
Revolution, Marx). At the other extreme all individual characteristics are lost
and only one or two general characteristics remain. Only when we know
nothing about the named object, not even what sort of general category it
belongs to (living or nonliving) would we have a name totally lacking in
connotation and meaning. But in that case what would give us the right to
believe that this is a name rather than an arbitrary set of sounds. It thus
follows that outside a social context names would not only mean nothing in
the sense of connotation but also that to that same extent they would name
nothing in the sense of denotation. The word 'Javakuntra' might be the name
of an Indian man or woman, but one would have no way of knowing. With-
out any connotation it has no denotation either.
Along these lines, given the various uses of names one might speak about
the relativity of denotation. But there is another possible sense of the rela-
tivity of denotation: if denotation means a set of named objects that actually
exist or are possible given the belieft of the members of a particular society,
the denotation of a word varies in accordance with the variations of human
thoughts and beliefs. The argument for this viewpoint would go as follows:
one should separate the question of the actual existence of denotation in
the language of partial social groups from the question of the adequacy of
At first glance this point of view seems to lead to an all-round relativism. It
appears that one can say nothing about the denotation or objective meaning
of a linguistic symbol that might be of universal value. For anyone who be-
lieves in the existence of 'anti-matter' this expression perhaps has denotation,

but to others it does not. On the other hand, 'God' is meaningful and denota-
tive in the language of believers, 'Santa Claus' in the language of children,
etc. In other words every expression has denotation in some language - one
could not take a critical position on any of them or deny them an objective
But things do not look so bad if one takes account of a third meaning of
the relativity of denotation, the relation toward the type of language. There
is an unquestioned difference between scientific language, metaphysical
language, artistic language, the language of myth and religion, the language of
morals, the language of everyday routine, etc. Each of these has a different
purpose. The purpose of scientific language is the cognition and communi-
cation of objective truth. The purpose of metaphysical language is the crea-
tion of a rational (albeit anti-empirical) vision of the world and the place of
man in it. The purpose of artistic language is the evocation of emotion and
thought conducive to aesthetic enjoyment. The purpose of mythical language
is the evocation of beliefs that provide a deeper meaning to the totality of life
experiences, in the absence of a rational view of the world, and at the same
time increase social cohesion. From the standpoint of scientific language the
expressions of mythical, artistic, and other languages lack both denotation
and objective meaning .. But in the appropriate context outside scientific
language expressions such as 'Absolute Spirit,' 'Zeus,' 'Moses,' and 'Sir John
Falstaff are denotative: we know pretty well to what objects they refer and
to what sphere of being these objects belong.
Obviously, scientific language and the scientific meaning of denotation
may be taken as the criterion of critical analysis. Then we shall arrive at the
conclusion that only those expressions that satisfy the criteria of scientific
objectivity (communicability, theoretical justification, experiential verifica-
tion and practical application) have denotation. All other expressions cannot
be said to refer to any real objects and do not have objective meaning in the
scientific sense even though they may have it in the metaphysical, artistic, or
mythical sense. In this way we succeed in avoiding the relativism referred to

The entire preceding analysis points to the following conclusion. The modem
tendency to distinguish sharply between naming and meaning and to reduce
the former to denotation and the latter to connotation is unjustified. Names
are regularly associated with at least some elements of connotation. And,

conversely, symbols which have meaning in the sense of connotation usually

denote particular objects. However one should introduce a number of distinc-
tions (such as indirect vs. direct denotation, actual vs. potential denotation)
and a number of relations in which denotation may be understood (the rela-
tion to society as a whole or to smaller social groupings, the relation to
various types of language). The expressions which Ryle and Quine claimed to
have only connotation actually have indirect and potential denotation. The
root of the misunderstanding lies in an unjustifiably sharp distinction be-
tween thought and experience.


Today the atomistic theory of meaning has generally been abandoned. It

is no longer believed that every linguistic sign is a name which represents or
stands for a thing and that once one knows the ineaning of each individual
sign in a sentence one automatically knows the meaning of the entire sen-
tence. As the result of the failure of logical atomism and the entire logical
analysis movement it has been concluded that many linguistic signs are not
names and that their meaning is a set of rules for their use. The meaning of
a sentence is no longer construed as the aggregate of the meanings of its
constituents and is determined by the function it performs in the given con-
text. Gilbert Ryle has expressed this functional viewpoint, which Mill fore-
shadowed, in the following manner:

A consideration of the meaning of an expression is a consideration of what one may say

with it, i.e. to say right or wrong, and similarly what one may use it to ask, command,
advise or make any other type of statement. Here, and this is the normal meaning of
'meaning,' the meaning of a subexpression as a word or phrase is a functional factor of
a field of possible statements, questions, commands, etc.
The meaning of a word does not occupy the same relation toward the meaning of
sentences as atoms toward molecules, but rather compares to a tennis racket in relation
to the hits one may make with it. 24

Ashby describes the new situation and explains the reasons that led to it in
the following way.
It has become common practice among philosophers not to speak about the idea or con-
cept that c6rresponds to a given word or about the meaning of the word, but rather
about its use. The advantage cited of this manner of investigation is that it does not
tempt us to assume that each word in a language must have a metaphysical, psychologi-
cal, or empirical correlative. And this should free us from a considerable amount of
philosophical rubish, like mental and material substance, subsistent entities, abstract

ideas, thoughts without images and un-natural qualities. The claim may be made that a
similar advantage is gained if one does not speak of the proposition expressed by a
sentence or the meaning of the sentence but rather about the way in which it is used in
a particular context. 2S

The initiator of this new conception was Wittgenstein, and in his Philosophi-
cal Investigations he harshly criticized the old realistic atomism and pro-
claimed the motto: "Don't ask for the meaning, ask for the use."
The functionalism of Wittgenstein and his followers represents genuine
progress over atomism. For example it quite effectively frees philosophy of
certain old metaphysical prejudices (for example the belief that the meaning
of a word is the essence of an object and that the meaning of a sentence is
the set of meanings of the individual words). Also it provides an incompara-
bly better methodological basis for empirical research of linguists and lexico-
graphers. None of them actually searches for the hidden essences of the
designated objects; what they in fact do is investigate various instances of
the use of a word in various contexts.
But with its sidestepping of the problem of meaning and above all the
problem of the relationship of symbol and designated object, functionalism
went to the opposite extreme. The functionalists rejected the atomistic con-
ception of designated object but failed to replace it with one of their own.
Instead they satisfied themselves with the linguistic and practical dimension
of meaning. But it is impossible to construct a satisfactory theory of meaning
without a satisfactory conception of the designated object. The assumption
of the designated object is essential in order to explain the very possibility of
interpersonal communication, the very possibility of the fact that people with
completely different cultural backgrounds, different amounts of knowledge
and experience, nevertheless do understand one another. Certainly there is no
need to understand 'designated object' in the old atomistic and realistic man-
ner. By all means it is necessary to have maximal elasticity, comprehensive-
ness, and agreement with many of the elements the functionalists called
attention to.
When one studies Wittgenstein's critique of the classical (realistic-atomistic)
theory of meaning one sees clearly what he attacks and truly succeeds in
refuting and also that the weaknesses he criticizes can be avoided without
resort to the very extreme views he and his followers adopted.
The theory Wittgenstein criticizes has the following major points:
1. Every word has a meaning ... Meaning is the object a word stands for.
Meanings exist independently of the use of language. They are particular
objects and their order must be extremely simple.

2. In comparison with the precision and purity of meanings the actual use
oflanguage is crude.
3. In order to eliminate this crudity a philosopher should discover by
analysis the essence of the designated object and express it in the form of a
definition; then, from knowledge of the essence of the designated object
comes knowledge of how one should use the corresponding word. Resolving
the problem in this manner permits the creation of an ideal language. Witt-
genstein took this position himself in the period of his Tractatus wgico-
4. The correctness of the foregoing analysis may be checked by the pre-
sence of mental pictures. Understanding the essence of the designated object
or the meaning of the designating expression means having a mental idea (a
picture) of that object. In other words understanding and thought are mental
S. It follows that learning a language consists of giving names to objects.

Wittgenstein concentrates his criticism on point (4) of the realistic theory. He
demonstrates that no method exists by which one may know the essence of
the designated object. When one takes a word such as 'reading,' one discovers
that it does not stand for an individual object but rather designates many
differing manifestations of reading which overlap but which lack any com-
mon element which may be termed the 'essence' of reading. Wittgenstein
attempts to show that this applies just as much to material objects as to men-
tal processes. He then draws the conclusion that there exists no criterion by
which one might decide the truth of a statement of the form" 'a' stands for
a" or "sentence 'p' designates proposition p." In Wittgenstein's view it thus
follows that one must also abandon points (l), (2), and (3) of the realistic
theory and formulate an instrumentalist theory. According to this theory the
meaning of a descriptive sentence consists in the role it plays in given situa-
tions in a given cultural context. 26 Just as understanding chess requires fol-
lowing the rules of the game, regardless of the presence of a mental process in
the heads of the players, so too "if someone says a sentence and understands
its meaning, he performs the operations of a symbolic game (calculus) in
accordance with defmite rules."27 Thus in the analysis of meaning, under-
standing, and thought one eventually arrives at the concept of perfonning
certain operations (for example using a symbol) in accordance with a rule.
At first glance it is obvious that Wittgenstein's criticism could not refer to
the dialectical theory of meaning set forth in this work.

1. What we have termed objective meaning is only one dimension of

meaning and not the entire meaning of a word. Since the other dimensions of
meaning are the relation toward other words in language and the relation
toward corresponding practical actions, it thus follows that meaning is not
independent of the use oflanguage.
2. The object designated by a word need not be understood as an 'es-
sence'28 in the sense of a common element of a complex of objects. The
designated object of a symbol is always a structure of individual material
things or mental processes. In some cases this structure is genuinely a univer-
sal property of all individual cases of an entire class (e.g. oxygen, vertebrate,
flowering plants, planets). In by far the more numerous cases the designated
object is a set of (statistically) general properties or relations, implying the
existence of individual objects which will enter into the denotation of a
symbol owing to most of their characteristics, but will not have all the
elements of its connotation. 29 Moreover, it is possible that a word refers to a
number of objects that are not interrelated. This is the case with ambiguous
words. Finally in some instances, to which Wittgenstein attached universal
meaning, we are faced by a situation which Wittgenstein described: a word
refers to several different types of individual objects which are interrelated by
different relations of similarity but which lack common characteristics.
Wittgenstein genuinely succeeded in demonstrating that the traditional
realistic theory of meaning could not be utilized in all such cases. For exam-
ple when one cites everything encompassed by the word 'game' - ball games,
card-playing, ping-pong games, the Olympic games - it is difficult to locate
the common element in all the various activities. There is no essence which
is the object referred to by the word 'game.' What follows from this? It
follows that 'designated object' should not be taken to mean the essence in
the traditional sense. Wittgenstein implicitly proposes a different concept of
designated object: "Games form a family, and just as various similarities
between members of the family (facial characteristics, eye color, tempera-
ment, etc) overlap and intertwine, so here do we see a complicated web of
similarities that overlap and intertwine."3o Since for Wittgenstein this compli-
cated network of similarities obviously represents an objectively existing
structure, in Wittgenstein's argument there is nothing opposed to the dialecti-
cal conception of objective meaning. As has been stressed above, in contrast
to natural signs, objects that are referred to by symbols usually are structures.
But Wittgenstein and his English adherents failed to take account of this
possibility, probably because of their traditional nominalistic preoccupations.
One gets the impression from their further inference that one cannot speak

about objective meaning and that the sole possible alternative is to reduce
meaning to use.
3. A theory of meaning that insists that all meaningful symbols refer to
(very flexibly and broadly conceived) objects does not need to assert the
existence of any principled differences in the degree of clarity, or perfection
between (objective) meaning and use.
One would have to be a Platonist to argue that meanings, in the realistic
sense are perfectly clear and precise ("of the purest crystal," in Wittgenstein's
words 31) while the actual use of signs is muddled; one would have to believe
in the existence of certain spheres of pure ideas that constitute the world
of meanings, independent of man and his knowledge. When one rejects all
traces of Platonism what remains is that designated objects are always objects
of our cognition and they are only as clear, precise, and unambiguous as our
use of the corresponding signs in the given circumstances. When a defmition
or description has provided a sufficiently accurate and defmite account of
the object designated by the defined symbol, then our use of the symbol
will be orderly and precise, and we will know the contexts in which we may
and may not use it. And conversely, if we cannot explicitly identity the
designated object of a symbol (if we cannot provide a defmition), the mode
of use (defmiteness and consistency in following rules) will make evident
the clarity and definiteness of the object designated by the symbol and
whether there is just one object or a number of them.
4. Accordingly the task of the philosopher is not to investigate Platonic
essences in order to construct his defmitions of concepts and then to derive
from them rules for use. The philosopher's procedure may be the reverse.
One may also take Wittgenstein's path (and when one deals with a language
already in use this is the way one must go): first investigate the use of a
symbol in various contexts and then on the basis of the ordered and classified
data of these investigations provide defmitions and then (a step Wittgenstein
did not wish to take), explain that the meaning of a word is not reducible
to its relation to other words (as in a definition); that, rather, the words of
the definiens in fact describe the object designated by the definiendum.
The object may be material or mental; it may be possible or it may even
be unreal. But in no case is this an object in itself nor a Platonic or Husserlian
In constructing a new artificial language, when one wishes to enrich an exist-
ing language or to make it more precise by eliminating existing ambiguities
in it, one may take the opposite procedure (Wittgenstein has no reason to
be ashamed of the sins of youth in the Tractatus). The new meaning may

be introduced by definition, which by relating the defmed term to the other

terms of the language simultaneously describes the designated object. Rules
for use then derive from such definitions - in effect they are implied in the
very definition. With artificial languages (as in a system of symbolic logic)
the use of symbols is completely defmed in two ways:
(a) Undefined terms are interrelated in axioms: their meaning is implied
thereby. In the terminology of some logicians these are 'defmitions in use.'
(b) All other terms are introduced in the system by way of explicit
In any case there exists a complete analogy between the rules for the use
of symbols and the characteristics of the corresponding designated object.
The rules for use of chess symbols 'K,' 'Q,' 'R,' etc. are analogous to the
functions of the corresponding chess pieces. The rules for the use of the
symbol :J are analogous to the logical properties of an objectively given
(but not material) relation.
Changes in our ideas of objects necessarily entail changes in the use of the
corresponding symbols. And conversely, changes in use indicate that we have
altered our conceptions of the designated objects, although we may not be
aware of this. When this discrepancy between the conception of an object
and the function of its symbol is clearly formulated, there is an unavoidable
tendency to eliminate the incompatibility in one of the following ways:
(a) Certain instances of use are proclaimed illegitimate.
(b) Necessary correction in the conception of the object is made in order
to bring it into accord with the use of the sign.
(c) An awareness develops that in practice the given sign has begun to
be used to refer to a new object different from the original one. Then a
distinction begins to be made between two objective meanings - the primary
and the secondary.
Wittgenstein's analyses played a significant role in the fmalliberation of
the theory of meaning from the scholastic 'essentialism' which had long
shackled philosophers. But it was not necessary to negate objective meaning
altogether in the process of denying that meaning was the essence of an
One may put two objections to the viewpoint that all problems of meaning
should be reduced to the question, 'What is the use of symbol x?'
First, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at a valid
general theory of symbols in this way. What are symbols outside of their
relation to designated objects? How can one distinguish the use of symbols
from the use of any other instruments? Either implicitly or explicitly one

must include in any possible explanation certain objective elements to which

the symbols refer.
Secondly, in this manner it becomes impossible to distinguish precisely
between proper and improper use. The only criterion that remains available
to the functionalists is 'counting heads.' If someone uses words contrary to
generally recognized standards his use should be characterized as 'improper.'
But it would not be difficult to point to instances where this conclusion
would be false, and accordingly one must take into account a far more
significant criterion of evaluation. For example, instead of the old use of
the word 'disease' based upon prejudice and superstition, Pasteur and his
followers began to use the word in a new manner, taking into account in-
fectious microbes as the cause. Every attempt to justify this new, unquestion-
ably correct use by appealing to arguments and empirical facts leads to the
conception of the designated object presented above. For we say that there
is an object (in this case a material one) referred to by given symbols,
precisely when the propositions in which that symbol appears as a constituent
are communicable, theoretically justified, and tested in practice.
5. This implicitly replies to the question of the criterion for assessing the
correctness of the analysis of meaning. We cannot assess the truthfulness of
the statement of the form "The word 'gene' refers to the material object
gene" on the basis of the presence or absence of mental images of genes.
On this question realistic atomism is indeed helpless. But this does not
necessarily lead to Wittgenstein's conclusion that one should reject the
problem itself as falsely posed and tum to instrumentalism. The given prob-
lem may be resolved. It may be broken down into two questions:
(a) What are the rules for the use of the word "gene"?
(b) Is there a material object indirectly described by these rules?
The first question assumes a natural language and it may be answered
by empirical investigation. (If a symbol of an artificial language were at
issue we would carry out inspection of its 'logical syntax.') The second
question may be answered by application of the criterion of objectivity
already referred to. If the word 'gene' satisfies that criterion we shall conclude
that the statement, "The word 'gene' refers to the material object 'gene'"
is true. Otherwise, we would conclude that insofar as the word refers to
anything, it does not refer to a material object.
For the successful resolution of this problem it is irrelevant (contrary
to what Wittgenstein insisted) whether a gene is a common element or a
more or less complicated structure comprised of a complex of relations of
similarities between various types of a single family of objects.

6. On the question of what constitutes the learning of language the

answers of atomism and functionalism are complementary rather than
mutually exclusive.
It is not to be denied that in childhood we learn a large number of words
by coordinating them with directly perceptible objects. Anyone who has
observed a three-year-old well knows how tirelessly the child inquires about
things and pictures of things, ''What's that?" One is not satisfied until one
obtains an answer in the form of, "That's a lion," "That's a boat," etc.
But also in childhood, and later more and more, we learn the meaning of
unfamiliar words by gradually noting more and more new possibilities for
using them in certain situations, participating in what Wittgenstein called
the "language game."
Atomists overlooked the role of context and practice in learning meanings.
They assumed a man who was merely curious and questioning, obtaining
explicit explanations and accepting them passively. The functionalists were
much closer to the truth with their assumption of a man who was an active
being, taking part in communication long before all the necessary elements
were clear and learning through practice, by acquiring habits, guessing, making
mistakes, and gradually correcting them. Perhaps the key weakness of the
atomists in this dispute was their inability to explain how it was possible to
know the meaning of words that were never explicitly defined or given as
answers to question. The functionalists have an easy time pointing to a multi-
tude of such cases, for people behave as if they understand the meaning and
always use a word where they should, without ever having learned meaning in
the manner which atomists consider the sole possible way. And it is true that
knowledge of meaning need not be the result of a purely mental process.
But one can point to an element in the explanations of the functionalists
that is shared with the atomists and which opens the possibility of avoiding
the extreme consequences of both.
When he speaks about the functioning of language and the gradual mastery
of its technique in the course of a language game, Wittgenstein usually assumed
that this process took place in a given objective situation. In the very first
example at the beginning of his Philosophical Investigations he speaks about
a mason WId his assistant who learns to provide the necessary tools when his
boss pronounces the suitable words. Wittgenstein says, "A significant part
of training consists in the teacher's pointing to objects, drawing his assistant's
attention to them and simultaneously pronouncing a word."32 Similarly
when a child learns to count, as for example counting apples in a basket,
he pronounces a number of cardinal numbers and for each number must
remove an apple from the basket.

In all the processes of this type we encounter the following essential

1. The learner receives instructions to perform a practical operation
connected with the use of words, at least one of which is unknown to him.
2. In order to carry out this operation he must connect the unknown
word with an object in the given situation.
3. The fact that he has succeeded in associating the right object with
the given word is evident from his performance of his task. When he has
succeeded, we say that he has learned how to use the word.
The atomists leave out of this process all elements except the attribution of
names, the coordination of signs and objects. But it is precisely this element
that Wittgenstein neglects, even though it is so often present in the examples
he cites. A man would never understand mathematics without connecting the
symbols '1,' '2,' and '3' with real sets of objects. In time, of course, he will
learn a number of rules for the use of these symbols which will far surpass his
original conception of the set of one, two or three apples. But in the process
the very numbers 'one,' 'two,' or 'three' will unquestionably assume a whole
set of new characteristics as objectively given, independent of individual
In brief the function of the symbol and the designated object mutually
condition and determine one another. This is merely a special case of the
dialectical relation between practice and the objects with which practical
operations are carried out. Objects, resisting our subjective intentions, con-
tribute to the formation of our practice and the selection of correct and
successful operations from a multitude of possibilities. And conversely, in
the course of practical activity we shape and select objects as something
defined and structural, something whose various properties and relations
are known.
Just as practice constantly tends to come into harmony with objects
but constantly surpasses the preceding conception of objects, so in language
there are two dialectically opposing tendencies: the establishment of harmony
between the function of words and their objective meaning, and the constant
upsetting of that harmony.



The concept of objective meaning only becomes sufficiently concrete when

it is broken down into its specific types corresponding to various types of
symbols and the various functions which they are capable of carrying out.

This type of analysis may be carried out in a variety of ways, depending

on the various possible classifications of symbols. In order to concretize
the concept of objective meaning and avoid all possible misunderstanding
it suffices to distinguish the types of objective meaning with reference to
the following three ways of classifying symbols.
First, symbols may be classified into three groups with respect to the
type of symbolic function and, consequently, with respect to basic dimensions
of mental meaning:
1. Cognitive,
2. Emotive,
3. Prescriptive.
Second, with respect to the basic types of cognition, a rough and provi-
sional division of all cognitive symbols is first made into two large groups: 1.
scientific and 2. metaphysical, then subdividing scientific ones into:
(a) Descriptive,
(b) Explicative,
(c) Instrumental,
Third, symbols may be classified with respect to semantic category into
the following four groups:
1. Words,
2. Descriptions,
3. Sentences,
4. Functions.

The Objective Meaning of Cognitive, Emotive, and Prescriptive Symbols

Before saying anything about the objective meaning of the various types
of symbols it must first be said that we shall refer here to symbols that
successfully perform their symbolic function. In other words, we take into
account only socially recognized, communicable symbols that genuinely
designate something. For example we shall deal with the objective meaning
of meaningful and true sentences of various types. Or, with respect to emo-
tive symbols, we take account only of those symbols that genuinely express
or evoke feelings.
In the discussion of the various dimensions of mental meaning we stated
that classifications of signs should not be construed in a very rigid way. In
various contexts signs may perform various functions. When we refer to
cognitive, emotive, and prescriptive symbols (a division that corresponds to

Morris's distinctions between 'designators,' 'appraisors,' and 'prescriptors,')

many symbols belong in all three groups; in various contexts and even in
one and the same context they may perform all three functions at once.
With this relativity in mind one may say the following about the difference
in the objective meaning of the aforementioned three types of symbols:
1. Any object may be the objective meaning of cognitive symbols provided
it is known. When a symbol (in the given context) performs a cognitive
function then the designation of an object is nothing other than informing
or indicating its being there, drawing attention to it as something objectively
2. In the case of emotive symbols the designated object is a certain
structure of human feelings independent of any individual emotional process
of the particular type although it encompasses the invariant elements of all
of them. For example 'Help!' designates fear from an immediate danger.
Here 'designation' is not indication or drawing attention to an object (in
this case a structure of feelings). Here to 'designate' means to express those
elements of a complex personal feeling that are interpersonal and socially
communicable. This difference may be seen easily with symbols that may
have both an emotive and cognitive character. For example when we say
that the Italian fascists unjustifiably and unjustly called those who took the
side of the partisans 'traitors,' this word merely provides an indication of an
objectively existing type of people (who left one social group and joined
the rival one). In this context it is completely free of any negative emotive
meaning. But when one says that Yugoslav General Nedic proved himself to
be a traitor during the German occupation of that country during World
War II, then the word 'traitor' has a strong emotive meaning, particularly
if it is clear from the context that the statement derives from fellow country-
men who loyally resisted the invaders in wartime. It does not so much
provide an indication, as in the instance above: it primarily expresses a feeling
of disdain for this type of person. This feeling differs from case to case, but
it had an objective general structure, and in this specific, expressive sense
this structure is the 'designated object.'
3. With prescriptive symbols the objective meaning is a certain type of
human action that is desired, recommended, ordered, or forbidden. The
sentences 'Honor your word,' 'Always tell the truth,' 'Don't kill,' the ordinary
interjections 'Come on,' and 'Stop' express more than a subjective attitude
(desire, impulse, or interest) on the part of the speaker, but also designate
the type of behavior expected. Here to 'designate' is not to inform or express
but to stimulate a certain type of activity, something objectively given.

The distinction is easily recognizable in the example of a symbol that in

various contexts may obtain any of those three: a cognitive, emotive, or
prescriptive meaning. The sentence "An honest man keeps his word" may
provide information that in a particular historical society those people
were considered honest who kept their word (there were certainly societies
where such a demand was not unconditional - for example where it was
not dishonest to deceive a man of another tribe). Moreover it is easy to
imagine a context (for example a creditor and debtor who failed to return
a debt on time) in which such a sentence would express disapproval, condem-
nation, and disdain for such a type of behavior. Finally in most cases the
above-mentioned sentence, although ostensibly indicative in syntactical
structure, refers to norms of social morality and thereby stimulates a certain
type of behavior.
In all such cases one should pay attention to the distinction between
objective and mental meaning. The distinction is often completely clear,
as with cognitive symbols that refer to material objects. No one will identify
the concept or idea of the Danube with the actual river called 'Danube.'
But with cognitive symbols that refer to mental processes and with emotive
symbols that distinction is less clear: in both cases one may think that there
is only mental meaning. But one should draw a distinction between the
subjective disposition to experience a concrete mental process upon the
manifestation of a particular sign and the objectively existing (intersubjective)
structure of that type of process (regardless of whether it is aroused by
the action of the symbol or not). For example the word 'hypnotized' is
associated, by all who understand its meaning, with a disposition to imagine
a particular mental state. This is the mental meaning of the word. Its objec-
tive meaning is a set of objective general characteristics of the mental state
of all those persons who are under hypnosis. Similarly the emotive mental
meaning of the word 'hero' is a concrete subjective disposition (varying from
individual to individual) to feel admiration toward a type of extraordinarily
courageous and resolute man. The objective meaning of the word used in
an emotive way is constituted of the objective elements of social character
in such a type of expression of admiration. Precisely because of this the
emotive meaning of the word 'hero' or 'coward' in the given contexts may
be understood even by those who do not have a disposition to experience
such a feeling.

The Objective Meaning of Various Types of Cognitive Symbols

When we attempt to draw distinctions among cognitive symbols we must

start with the fundamental fact that certain cognitions can be confirmed by
experience directly or indirectly and tested in practice, while others can-
not. The former group includes scientific knowledge and empirical belief
which because of its triviality stands beyond the bounds of science. The
second group includes all the achievements of philosophy imputed to be
metaphysical. Here we encounter propositions which, aside from certain
emotive elements, chiefly address the mind and claim to offer cognition; they
often communicate quite clearly certain statements about the universe and
man's place in it, and at times one fmds in them anticipations of future
scientific discoveries. But what separates them from science is that at the
given moment experience is irrelevant for evaluating their worth - it neither
confirms nor refutes them. Similar in character are the many beliefs which are
found in the common-sense world view of the ordinary person who concerns
himself with neither science nor metaphysical philosophy. Finally certain
elements of this type of cognition are to be found in mythical and religious
thought, although even more than metaphysics these are filled with emotions
and other nonintellectual admixtures.
When we analyze the symbols used to express scientific and everyday
empirical knowledge we see that there are differences between the following
three types:
1. The first describes certain empirically knowable objects. Such symbols
express what in science is called factual knowledge. We call these descriptive
2. The second type explains factual knowledge. These symbols formulate
scientific laws and hypotheses. We call them explanatory symbols.
3. The third type serves as an instrument that ensures maximally true
description and explication. Included here are mathematical symbols used
to attain exactness and various logical and methodological rules that ensure
that scientific symbols achieve a maximal adequacy to their designated
objects. These are instrumental symbols.
1. The objective meanings of descriptive symbols are always real objects
which at a particular point in time, either in the past or in the present, were
actually given and (intersubjectively) empirically verifiable. Examples of these
are expressions such as 'Hannibal,' 'the Flood of Yang-tse-Kyang,' 'the
Depression of 1929,' 'electric power,' etc. The examples show that the
objects referred to by descriptive symbols may be individual things (persons

or events) or they may be highly complex sets of things and events named by
a single term. Moreover, since certain predicates are descriptive in character,
such as 'white,' 'heavy,' 'in the middle,' and 'precede in time,' the objective
meaning of such expressions are all properties and relations capable of being
directly observed. Finally, entire sentences can be descriptive, such as 'Wagner
was born in 1813,' 'The Balkan mountain range is located east of the Dinaric
Mountains,' and 'The ruby is red and very hard.'
2. There are no hard-and-fast distinctions between explanatory and
descriptive symbols. Just as with all other classifications, here too one should
take into account the function performed in a given context. Thus one can
hardly fmd a descriptive symbol that in a particular context cannot perform
the function of explaining a description of a phenomenon perceptible to the
senses, so that as opposed to instrumental symbols both may be treated as
descriptive in the broader sense of the word. Conversely one may say that
even explanatory symbols describe certain general properties and relations.
Taking into account a broad area of indeterminancy between these two
groups of symbols, one may say that explanatory symbols are distinguished
from descriptive ones with respect to their objective meaning in the following
(a) The designated objects of explanatory symbols, although real, are
not directly perceptible; they are only in a certain constant and necessary
connection with directly perceptible objects. In this manner their existence
may be indirectly verified. For example gravitation explains weight, free
fall, the ballistic trajectories of various projectiles, and the shifting of certain
points of light seen on the sky through a telescope. And conversely gravita-
tion is verified through experience of all these phenomena. The behavior
of people suffering from hysteria is explained by the existence of certain
suppressed, unconscious desires. The latter is verified by the former.
(b) Explanatory symbols refer also to potential objects such as natural
laws and mental dispositions. Such objects are manifest through actually
existing, directly observable phenomena. These objects are usually what
is invariant and universal in such phenomena - only insofar as they actually
exist. Thus (particularly in the natural sciences) the symbol that expresses
them usually takes the form of a function containing at least one variable
and which is converted into a descriptive sentence when descriptive symbols
take the place of the variables. Characteristically objects designated by
explanatory symbols are real even if at the given point in time none of the
phenomena by which they manifest themselves actually exists. They are
nevertheless real in the sense that they will necessarily manifest themselves

if the necessary conditions present themselves. This is what should be meant

when these are said to be not just actually but also potentially.
(c) Finally, in the case of certain explanatory symbols, such as those
that form scientific hypotheses, designated objects are not real but are on
the boundary between real and imaginary objects. This means that there is
some experience (certain descriptive statements) which makes their existence
probable to a certain degree, although only additional practice will either
confirm or deny this.
3. Instrumental symbols, unlike the two previous groups, never refer to
material objects. Similarly, they never refer to mental processes as something
given in the heads of people, either with respect to actual processes or existing
Here one must draw a distinction between mathematical and philosophical
(logical, ethical, and aesthetic) instrumental symbols. The former designate
mathematical ideal objects, i.e. objects constructed by abstracting elements,
aspects, or tendencies of real objects and by performing other successive
operations with them (for example a pair of real. objects -+- the natural number
two, -+- minus two, -+- one half, -+- two squared, -+- the root of two, -+- the root
of minus two, etc.) Mathematical symbols perform an instrumental function
to the extent to which they are applicable to systems of explanatory symbols.
This means that they may be interpreted by putting in their place explanatory
symbols so as to yield explanatory sentences and functions which are mean-
ingful and which may be proven true by further interpretation with descriptive
symbols. Inasmuch as mathematical symbols are linked in ordered and
coherent systems, the successful application of a set immediately entails
the possibility of application of all correlated sets. This is the source of
the great instrumental and anticipatory role of mathematics. But the rea-
son one may not say that mathematical symbols refer to real objects is
their great abstraction and possibilities of various interpretation. There
is nothing in the nature of mathematical symbols that would necessarily
lead to a fruitful interpretation and application rather than one producing
meaningless statements.
In logic we encounter three types of statements. The first type explains
how and, in what forms we actually think when we discover truth. In this
function of analysis and explanation logical terms obviously belong to highly
abstract explanatory symbols. The referents are the real laws of thought -
the thought leading to discovery of truth. Such statements are encountered
in the theoretical portion of informal logic.
In modern formal logic we encounter instrumental symbols analogous

to mathematical ones. A system of symbolic logic is a structure of symbols

derived from a number of basic combinations by means of explicitly formu-
lated rules of formation and transformation. Semantic rules explain what
kind of objects are designated by these symbols, and these are chiefly ideal
objects. The schemes of inference may but, allegedly, need not necessarily
be applicable. As with mathematics, if the schemes are applicable they are
capable of playing a significant instrumental role. As opposed to mathematics,
which supplies special sciences with structures of numbers, spatial forms,
and highly diverse groups and transformations, an applicable system of mathe-
matical logic offers to a corresponding special scientific theory a structure
of consistent and irrefutable thought and proof. But when it is not applicable,
the scientific and general cognitive character of the system is uncertain.
Finally the normative statements, rules, and methodological principles
of an informal logic perform the function of instrumental symbols in the
sense that they lay down the conditions which explanatory and descriptive
scientific propositions should satisfy in order to be objectively true. Their
objective meanings are certain objective norms and general demands which
any scientific cognition should meet. These demands are objective in character
to the extent that they are communicable, theoretically justified, and socially
applicable. The applicability of a norm is different from the applicability of
a mathematical or logical formula. The latter involves a structure of variables
which are replaced by special scientific expressions (either descriptive or
explanatory). But applying a norm means satisfying the condition which it
expresses, as for example the condition of the defmition of an expression,
a condition of inference, of verification, etc. If one formulates a norm which
other members of society are prepared to accept, we say that the norm is
objective in nature. When there are a number of mutually exclusive pretenders
to objectivity, the decisive criterion is material adequacy. The question arises
of the ultimate consequences of the application of a norm at the level of
descriptive propositions. Norms that orient us wrongly in the construction
of descriptive propositions and ultimately in practice cease to be socially
acceptable and thus objective.
Having thus seen the sense in which logical norms are objects, the ques-
tion arises of the type of object they belong to. Had the condition which
the norm expresses been universally met in the actual thought of people,
there would have been no sense in formulating it in normative form. The
proposition, "Classification is performed by the division of the extension
of a concept into two or more subordinate concepts," is not a norm but
a statement of what common sense suggests. A norm is actually a partly

real, partly ideal object. It is real to the extent that it already exists as a
tendency in the thinking of some people. It is ideal to the extent that it
represents a boundary toward which the further development of social
cognition ought to aspire ('ought' with respect to a particular goal, in this
case cognition of objective truth).
A similar situation prevails in both ethics and aesthetics. If description and
explanation of positive morality and of the prevailing conception of art belong
in the fields of ethics and aesthetics, then accordingly we encounter only
descriptive and explanatory symbols. However, the basic function of ethical
and aesthetic symbols is instrumental and consists in defming the criteria
for assessing moral and artistic values. As in logic (but in another field), the
task of ethics and aesthetics is to precisely defme and theoretically justify
norms and to put them into practice. Since precise de fmition , theoretical
justification and practical application of norms may become the subject
matter of a higher level inquiry: here too - as in logic - there may be a need
for a more abstract, meta-theoretical discipline (meta-aesthetics, and meta-
ethics). Here symbols play an even more clearly instrumental role, i.e. they
are to an even greater degree a means rather than an objective in themselves.
The ultimate end of all these fundamental, theoretical investigations are
results in the experiential field.
4. This is what separates the foregoing groups of symbols from the expres-
sions we encounter in metaphysical philosophy and from the mythical-
religious symbols that have a primarily rational rather than emotive character.
Anaximander's 'apeiron,' Parmenides' 'unique unmoving being,' Plato's "ideas,'
Aristotle's 'entelechy,' Aquinas's 'trinity,' 'Descartes' 'res cogitans,' Spinoza's
'Deus sive natura,' Leibniz's 'monads,' Hegel's 'Absolute Spirit,' Whitehead's
'eternal object,' Brightman's 'personalities' and Scheler's 'supreme holy
values' claim to explain something to us, but they are unrelated to experience.
Thus the propositions in which these symbols play a role escape application
of the basic criteria of objective truth. They address our intellectual capacities
of cognition in order to inform us about objects which we cannot know:
at very best we can intuit them or believe in them on other rational grounds,
but at worst we may be convinced that such symbols are meaningless.
We are faced, then, with these alternatives:
(a) As with scientific hypotheses, the objective meaning of a metaphysical
symbol is an imaginary object whose existence is still undetermined but
plausible. This plausibility has no empirical basis (and thus such a meta-
physical proposition differs from scientific hypothesis), but may rest upon
certain purely rational considerations (for example similarity with certain

metaphysical doctrines of the past that later won theoretical recognition -

the atomistic theory, Heraclitus's dialectics, Descartes' theory of the relativity
of movement and its unchanging total quantity in the world, etc.)
(b) The objective meaning of the given metaphysical symbol is an unreal,
fantastic object constructed from the abstracted, extrapolated, or hyper-
trophied elements of real things and processes.
(c) The metaphysical symbol in question is incommunicable and unclear,
with an uncertain objective meaning.
The metaphysical symbols belonging to groups (b) and ( c) (mythical and
religious symbols also belong here) may be said only to claim to perform a
cognitive function, without actually succeeding. In other words, as cognitive
symbols they are worthless. But this does not preclude their great emotive
value. In other words metaphysics cannot be rejected out of hand. In part' it
holds great potential cognitive value (group (a)). In part it may be highly
meaningful as artistic prose or the instigator of powerful human feelings.
And in part it may contribute to the exercise of imagination and other
spiritual functions which modern man is apt to ignore.

The Objective Meaning of Symbols Belonging to Various Semantic Categories

All cognitive symbols are divided according to semantic category into (1)
words, (2) descriptions, (3) sentences, and (4) functions.
From a semantic standpoint sentences are particularly important. It is
only to sentences that one may attribute truth (as well as meaning). Only
they may be used to assert something that may be confirmed or refuted
by experience. All other semantic categories of symbols obtain a specific
objective meaning that is mediated by sentences - words and descriptions
as constituents of sentences and functions as abstract schemas which yield
sentences with the substitution of variables. This is why many traditional
logicians considered judgments rather than concepts the basic form of logic.
In this connection it is no accident that the propositional (sentential) calculus
has played such a fundamental role in mathematical logic. For this reason
one should dispense with an order of increasing complexity and begin im-
mediately with sentences.

The Objective Meaning of Sentences

The objective meaning of true descriptive and explanatory sentences is

a real fact. Specialists and methodologists have often drawn a distinction

between facts and laws. Facts would be the designated objects of descriptive
sentences and laws the referents of explanatory sentences. But in a more
general philosophical sense even laws are (general and necessary) facts: to
that extent one may say that even explanation is a description of facts.
The objective meaning of false descriptive sentences is the imaginary
relation of objects tested by experience not to correspond to a real relation.
In the case of hypotheses there is a probability of the adequacy of imaginary
relations to real ones.
As we have seen, metaphysical sentences claim to refer to the rela-
tions of objects whose existence or nonexistence it is impossible to decide
The objective meanings of mathematical sentences (as in arithmetic and
descriptive geometry) are the relations of ideal objects.
Finally logical, aesthetic, and ethical rules refer to certain objective norms,
i.e. the ideal boundaries toward which these rules tend to direct the develop-
ment of scientific discovery, morals, and art.

The Objective Meaning ofNegative Sentences

The objective meaning of negative and modal sentences presents a special

problem. Many writers have denied the existence of any objective correlate
of negation (e.g. Erdman and Russell) or the modality of possibility and
necessity (Hartman).
Russell thought that acknowledgement of the existence of negative facts
should be avoided by conceiving of sentences in the form 'non-P' as synonyms
of sentences in the form 'P is false.'33 At other points he explained negative
judgments in a psychologistic manner - as conflicts between sensory percep-
tion and certain mental associations. The sentence, 'There's no cheese in the
drawer,' is a result of disagreement between what is seen at the given place
and certain associations of the word 'cheese.' 34 Instead of a detailed discus-
sion of this and many other analyses of negative sentences (this extremely
difficult problem could be the topic of a separate study), let us attempt to
resolve the problem here from the standpoint of the dialectical theory of
Negative sentences, to the extent to which they are meaningful and true,
signify objective relations of opposition between two objects. One of these,
mentioned explicitly, does not exist in the given situation; the other, only
implied but not explicitly mentioned, is actual. For example, when we say,
'The US economic system in 1982 is no longer primarily one of private

enterprise,' we are referring to the objective relation of opposition between

two types of economic system: private enterprise and the undescribed system
existing in the US in 1982. Similarly the objective meaning of the sentence,
'A body located a thousand kilometers from earth is outside the pull of
the earth's gravitation,' is the objective opposition between the situation
of the body (in this case still attracted by the Earth) and the property of
being free from the earth's gravity.
The relation of opposition is actually a set of more specific relations:
(a) In the sentences, 'He is not here,' 'There is no bread in the house,'
etc. negation simply means the lack (privatio) of a property or relation.
(b) The sentences, 'This is not Serbia,' 'Tonight's presentation was not
as good as usual,' denotes a difference. Here the negative expression implies
the existence of another object which in the given relation differs from the
one mentioned but in some other relations is similar to it.
(c) The relation of polarity may be found in the sentence, 'You are not
healthy.' Negation is here the opposition of two incompatible objects, which
fully embrace the universe of discourse.
Thus negation is not merely our subjective operation, but it may be just
that. The relations of health and illness, presence at one point and absence,
possession and nonpossession of a property, etc. are objective relations,
independent of the individual consciousness of whoever formulated the
corresponding negative sentence.
As previously suggested, as opposed to other sentences which may des-
ignate relations of opposition, negative sentences typically mention only one
of the opposed objects and merely imply the other. When we say, 'Belgrade
is not in Czechoslovakia,' we have opposed to Czechoslovakia the country
Belgrade is located in without specifically mentioning it.
Let us distinguish two types of cases here. In the first case the implied
object is known and could be described with a set of positive sentences.
For example when I say, 'It's not yet daylight,' darkness is implied as
the opposite of daylight. When I throw a six-sided dice with a number on
each side and say, 'It's not a Six,' I can describe the objective meaning of
the opposite of six by means of a disjunction of five sentences, each in the
form of, 'It's an x,' where 'x' stands for the words 'one,' 'two,' 'three,'
'four,' and 'five.' In each case the negative sentences have the same objective
meaning as the corresponding disjunctions of the positive sentences that
provide a full description of the implied object. Here then, different sentences
with a different mental meaning would have the same objective meaning.
But in many other cases we cannot imagine an equivalent set of positive

sentences with the same objective meaning as the object designated by the
negative sentences. This is the situation when we have identified one of a set
of possibilities but do not know what the other possibilities are nor how
many there are of them. (An example would be to draw from a hat a slip
of paper with a number without knowing what other numbers are to be
found on the remaining slips.) In such a situation to say 'It's not a six' would
not permit us to describe the implied object with a set of positive sentences.
It would remain totally undefined for us, although in itself it is fully deter-
mined. It is precisely via a series of negations, and oppositions to something
else which is not objectively given in the given situation, that it is progressively
delimited and defined.

The Objective Meaning ofModal Sentences

Many philosophers have considered model sentences only to be expressions

of the degree of our knowledge, not referring to objects that would differ
from the objects designated by ordinary assertory sentences. Thus from that
point of view problematic sentences or statements of probability express
our uncertainty about the existence of a fact, while apodictic sentences
express our complete certainty (conviction, assurance) that the sentences
in question correspond to a true state of affairs.
This is an acceptable explanation of the mental meaning of modal sen-
tences. But they also have an objective meaning. The distinction is easily seen
in the simple model we have already used to explain negative sentences. When
we throw a dice we may hide it from ourselves before we see it, saying, 'Maybe
it's a six!' With this sentence we express our uncertainty with respect to an
event which is already determinate and real 'in itself.' When we say, 'There is
a 1/6th probability of a six,' we have expressed our incomplete knowledge in
the situation. We know that the six is one of six possible outcomes but we do
not know which of these six possibilities has in fact come about.
When we see what number comes up and it is a six, in saying, 'It's a
six,' such an assertoric sentence serves merely to express our knowledge
about the given fact.
But when we say, 'It's necessarily a six,' or 'It had to be a six,' (provided
- as mentioned above - that we are saying what we actually are thinking)
we thus have expressed our acquaintance with those factors which have
brought it about that all other possibilities have in fact been ruled out. Such
is the case if we knew that opposite the six side there is a grain of lead. The
mental meaning of an apodictic sentence is the knowledge that the statement

expressed by a sentence is the consequence of another (general) statement

or set of statements.
If we say, 'it is a six by accident,' we have thus expressed our conviction
that the (unquestionably true) assertoric proposition, 'It's a six,' is contrary
to what should have happened based on previous knowledge of the given type
of event. But depending upon the situation (or context), a different inter-
pretation is possible. If we have not had any previous knowledge that would
justify the greater probability of one of the various possibilities happening,
then the sentence, 'It's a six by accident,' may merely represent our belief
that there is no law that would generally favor one of the possibilities and
that after a sufficient number of rolls of the same dice we would come
to the conclusion that each side would come up about the same number
of times.
In all these cases modality expresses the degree and quality of our
But the modality of sentences often also refers to the objective properties
of the situation in which we formulate them.
For example, if before rolling the dice we say, 'Maybe it'll be a six,'
that 'maybe' expresses not just our uncertainty about something that is
actually quite determined, but it also refers to the objective indeterminacy
of something about to take place.
The sentence, 'There is a 1/6th probability of the six coming up,' expresses
not just our incomplete knowledge. It refers to one of six objective possi-
bilities. One cannot accept Hartman's argument that something exists only
if all conditions are provided for its existence, and if all conditions for its
existence are provided it is not just a probability but a reality. In this con-
nection Hartman is speaking about the existence of objects 'in themselves.'
If one takes away man and speaks of things 'in themselves,' then only that is
real for which all conditions' are provided, and this is a 'reality' in a sense
that excludes objective existence of possibility, necessity and chance.
But everything looks quite different from the perspective of man and
human practice. Then, in addition to a host of other natural conditions,
man also is an objective condition of their existence such as they are. All
those conditions, natural and human, are in fact constraints that reduce
more and more the field of open logical possibilities of future state of affairs.
Before we act some alternatives are still open. Human operations, whether
physical or mental, determine which possibilities will be realised. In this
perspective a clear distinction manifests itself between possibility, existence,
necessity, and chance - as objective categories.

Objective possibility is everything for which certain natural conditions are

given, but the quality of human practice determines whether it will become
Thus, in the above example in order for the appearance of the six to be
a possibility there must exist the material that makes up the dice and the laws
of mechanics which determine that, once thrown, the dice will roll and fmally
come to a halt. When all such conditions are provided and the dice are cast,
to say that the appearance of the six is one of six objective possibilities means
that how it is thrown will determine which of the six (and no more) numbers
we will get. 'Possibility' here is not the term for our incomplete knowledge
of the material facts but a term for an objective event which is incompletely
determined and which will fmally become determinate and actually existing
only if we perform a practical operation of the appropriate quality. If the
exact quality of the operation were determined precisely in advance, and we
would invariably be able to perform the operation of that quality, possibility
would cease to exist and everything would be known: 'It'll be a six,' 'It won't
be a six.' But the fact is that man is relatively free in his actions and the
quality of the operation is more or less objectively unpredictable.
Thus the category of objective possibility also entails an element of
ignorance: this is inevitable as soon as we talk about objects for us rather
than in themselves. Concepts of them must include subjective elements of
knowledge or ignorance. Since the outset we have, therefore, insisted that
there is no such thing as absolute objectivity. The heart of the matter is that
there is a clear distinction between two types of cases - some encompassed
by the term 'subjective possibility' and others which we have referred to with
the term 'objective possibility.' In the former case our ignorance is with
respect to the natural conditions of an event; in the latter case it is with
respect to the quality of human actions in the given natural conditions.
As opposed to possibility, whatever is existent has all its natural and
human conditions met. When we make an assertoric statement we merely
indicate the fulfillment of the conditions without discussing the nature of
fulfillment with respect to the conditions.
The latter is precisely what we do when we pronounce apodictic sentences.
When we say, 'The six had to come up,' or 'Six necessarily came up,' we are
stating that the appearance of the Six was objectively determined by a certain
set of natural and human conditions. I may have two different things in mind
here. One is: the action of natural factors in the given instance is so strong
that human action is irrelevant. For example, "All living beings are necessarily
mortal.' The same is the case when our sentences refer to events beyond the

realm of human action, as for example, 'The planets necessarily revolve in

eliptical orbits around the sun.'
There is a something else in all those cases where human practice determin-
ing an event is so regular that it may be treated as a constant rather than a
variable. For example in the statements, 'In Naples anyone who engages in
a commercial transaction on the street is necessarily going to be defrauded,'
and 'All of Isac Stern's concerts are necessarily at a high artistic level,' the
term 'necessarily' refers to the constancy of behavior of Neapolitan street
merchants and Stern's musicianship.
Finally, sentences like, 'The six came up accidentally,' may refer not just
to our inability to explain unpredictable phenomena and to our ignorance of
the laws governing such phenomena but may also designate objective chance.
Objective chance means either (1) genuine deviation from that which should
occur according to the laws operating normally in a given field, or (2) an
event whose origin was brought about by at least two opposing laws whose
interaction cancelled out or neutralized each other.3S
In order to conceive necessity and chance as objective categories one has
to understand their relativity and, in this connection, the ever-present factor
of subjectivity. In other words one may speak about necessity only with
respect to a system of objective conditions and factors which we have taken
into account. When we speak about the necessity of the rotation of the
planets we take into account the laws governing the solar system. When we
speak of the necessity of death from leukemia and advanced cancer we take
into account physiological laws in the context of the state of medicine at a
particular point in time, as for example 1982. The enclosure of the frame-
work of a system which is actually always open is the human, subjective
element in the concepts of objective necessity and objective chance.
Chance refers to anything that has not taken place under the conditions of
a particular given system, even if in the framework of a conceivable broader
system it could be construed as a necessary event. If a star of enormous mass
came into close proximity of the solar system, and by the pull of its gravity
affected the rotation of the planets, in observing their rotation in the frame-
work of the solar system alone we would have to conclude that chance
elements affected their movement. But if we broaden our field of observation,
(our model) taking into account new law, the movement of the planets would
still have to be explained as a necessary one.
In broadening or narrowing the field of observation, we can establish
that what was necessary with respect to one system will be a chance event
with respect to a broader or narrower system. For example when the system

in question is a set of atoms of a particular light source, then it is objectively

a chance occurrence whether one atom or another will at a particular mo-
ment emit a quantum of light. When we take into account a macrosystem,
comprised of a light source and other bodies in the environment, the emission
of light by the light source as a whole once again is necessary, regular, and
Thus modal sentences not only express the level of certainty of our
knowledge but also designate the degree of determinacy of the objects
themselves in relation to various systems of objects.

The Objective Meaning of Words

What we are to discuss in this section is not just the objective meaning of
words, but in general of the constituents of the sentences of a cognitive
language. This means that one should also take into account the symbols
which make up the sentences (formulas) of artificial languages. For the lack
of a term to cover both types, we shall use the term 'word.'
Words may be classified in various ways, some of which are more suitable
for our purposes than others. For example if we proceed upon the gram-
matical division of words into nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. we
quickly realize that it is difficult to speak about their objective meaning
outside the context in which they are given. Therefore one has to take
account both of the syntactic function which a word performs in a sentence,
as well as the semantic function they can perform in talking about the
language itself.
It is possible, then, to divide all words into object-words and meta-words
(depending upon whether they refer to extra-linguistic objects or linguistic
expressions and, accordingly, fall into the class of object-language or
meta-language). The term 'object-word' differs in meaning from Russell's
interpretation of the term. According to Russell the characteristics of 'object-
words' are as follows:
1. Their meaning is learned in confrontation with objects.
2. They do not assume the meaning of other words in order to be under-
standable (as is the case with the words 'than,' 'or,' 'nevertheless,' etc.)
3. Each of them can form an entire clause, as for example when one
says, 'Fire!' 36
Russell obviously had in mind only descriptive words - and in fact only
relatively few of them - those a child fust learns in connecting words' directly
with experience. In this connection the term 'object-language' has a much

narrower meaning than is usually the case, as for example with Tarski 37
and other modern logicians. Here we are using a broader meaning than
Russell's and a narrower one than Tarski's. On the one hand, we have in
mind also words that designate abstract scientific objects, the ideal objects
of mathematics, and even unreal objects. And on the other hand, we have
restricted ourselves only to cognitive indicative sentences which are usually
primary in logical investigations.
Under those assumptions we might divide all object-words into two
1. Words referring to an object about which a statement is made in
the sentences. In ordinary language these are usually nouns serving as the
subject of the sentences, and in artificial languages these are arguments of
quantified functions.
2. Predicates, i.e. words which express what is stated about the given
3. Words that provide qualitative or quantitative specifications about
the thing referred to. These are called 'attributes' in ordinary language, and
'operators'in artificial languages.
4. Expressions of negation which transform assertions into denials.
5. Words that connect simple sentences into complex ones. These are
conjunctions or logical constants.
6. Modal words that more closely defme the character of the connections
between subject and predicate.
(1) Words that perform the function of the subject of a statement are
usually treated by Aristotelian logicians as the subject of the statement made
in the given sentences. This view is outdated today for it leads to a false
concept of the structure of the statement. For example in the statement,
'A molecule of ozone consists of three atoms of oxygen,' ozone is not the
only subject of the statement (as in the classical schema'S is P), for both
ozone and oxygen are said to stand in a particular relation to one another.
The classical schema can be said to hold true only in a (syntactically and
semantically) modified form - if one grants that S can be a set of things
(connected to one another by a particular relation) and if one excludes
the copula 'is' which lacks a universal meaning, for instead of identifying
and including classes in the statement, numerous other relations which are
not expressed by 'is' may be expressed. Thus we would obtain the formula
'Sop,' which is merely another way of expressing the formulas 'f{x),' or
'{(a)' (here J would be P and 'x' or 'a' would be S). One might even write
P{S). This formula would have the advantage that S would have the necessary

generality to encompass both cases in which the subject of the statement is

a variable and a constant, when there is one subject and when there is more
than one.
The role of the subject of the sentence in this broader sense is usually
played by nouns, although verbs, adjectives, and other words may also
do so. (For example in the sentences, 'It is better to know than to have'
and 'Blue is prettier here than pink.') Thus it follows that it is difficult
to specify the type of object refered to by the subject of a sentence. Its
objective meaning may be a thing, an event, an activity, a property, or a
relation (as in the sentence, 'Causality is of more fundamental significance
than simple difference or coexistence.').
(2) When a predicate is conceived in the broad sense as anything stated
about a subject it clearly follows that:
first, it may not be restricted only to one attribute or determination of
a class in which the given subject is to be included; and
second, it does not need a special copula with the subject, for it already
entails a relational definition.
(a) The simplest predicate in linguistic terms is one expressed with the verb
'to be,' as for example, 'it is raining.' Here 'is' has an existential meaning. It
does not refer to any particular object but, under certain conditions in which
the sentence is stated it defmes the category of objects to which rain belongs
- the category of actually existing objects.
(b) In addition to the auxiliary verb 'to be,' other verbs also may be the
sole elements of predicates, i.e. in the sentence, 'Guido Cantelli conducts.'
Here the objective meaning of the predicate is an objective action.
A large number of predicates are comprised of two words and take the
form of 'is x' or 'are x.'
(c) In the above schema 'is x,' the 'x' may refer to a proper name. Here
we have statements of names, such as 'That is Zoran,' and 'Up ahead is
Belgrade.' The objective meaning of the proper name is an individual person
or thing.
(d) When 'x' is an adjective, we are dealing with an attributive statement,
in which the objective meaning of the predicate is a statement that the
object in question has a particular property (e.g., 'Jasmine is white.').
Finally, if 'x' is any other type of noun, we obtain sentences such as 'The
evening star is Venus,' 'Venus is a planet,' and 'Every planet is an ellipsoid.'38
Here there are actually three sentences that differ in logical structure, although
the difference is obscured by their linguistic form, particularly the ambiguous
verb, 'is.'

(e) The first type has a structure that can be expressed by the formula
'a equals b.' The objective meaning of the predicate here is identifying the
individual object in question with a different individual object.
(t) The structure of type two may be expressed by the formula,'a B.'
The predicate here signifies that the given individual object is a member of
a class of objects.
(g) Finally, the structure of the third type is best expressed by the formula
A C B. The subject discussed is a class which is a part of another broader
class of objects.
These are all the basic logical types of sentences in which the predicate
refers to a single object and which can be encompassed by the traditional
structural schema of predicative judgment. The incompleteness and lack of
clarity of the schema was evident in the foregoing analysis, which indicates
clearly that the symbol 'is P covers a number of different, unspecified
Thus far we have examined primarily simple sentences with a one-place
predicate. In many such sentences the function of predicate (or subject)
is not performed by individual words but by sets of words which as a whole
designate an object. These are descriptions, which we will examine separately
We still must discuss the group of sentences with multi-place predicates
taking the form 'R (A, B ... ),' as for example: "Entry into a denser environ-
ment is the cause of the refraction of a light wave'; 'Point A is located between
points B and C'; etc. The predicate of these sentences ('is the cause,' 'is
located between,' etc.) always signifies an objective relation between two
or more objects. There are various types of relations, depending upon the
different properties taken as a criterion of classification:
(a) According to the number of objects they link, there are dyadic, triadic,
tetradic, pentadic, etc. relations.
(b) According to the quantitative defmition of the linked objects we
can distinguish such relations as 'many-one,' 'many-many,' 'one-many'
and 'one-one.'
(c) Finally according to its logical properties relations may be classified
as transitive or intransitive; symmetric, asymmetric, and nonsymmetric;
reflexive and nonreflexive.
(3) More precise specifications of the subject of a statement may be
provided in a wide variety of ways. For example if we are speaking about
Belgrade we may speak about ancient Belgrade (attribute), Belgrade as the
capital of Yugoslavia (apposition), Belgrade under German occupation

or other conditions, Belgrade in 1982 (temporal parameter), Belgrade in

Yugoslavia as opposed to other Belgrades in the world (territorial parameter),
Belgrade as experienced by the speaker or the group of people to which he
belongs (personal or group parameters).
We usually express ourselves elliptically and do not cite all these modifying
features, conditions, and parameters explicitly. In so doing we save time and
gain consciousness, while losing exactness and concreteness. But in any case
if these modifying expressions are not explicitly contained in sentences, in
order for communication to work and succeed, they must at least be suggested
by context. Their objective meaning is always a property or properties of
the object discussed, the time and space in which it is given, certain important
conditions surrounding it in the given time, and fmally certain relations
toward a certain group of human beings in whose cognitive perspective the
given object is an object (let us recall that it is always 'for us' rather than
'in itself).
In studying these various categories which play such an important role
in concrete thought and communication, formal logicians (concerned with
abstract and formal rather than concrete thought) have concentrated upon
and carefully studied just one parameter which might be termed the parameter
of generality (quantity of judgment, as the traditional logicians usually
termed it).
The degree of generality of a sentence, i.e. the fact that the concept of
the subject is taken as a whole or only partially, is expressed in ordinary
language by such words as 'some' or 'all.' In artificial languages this role is
played by a special type of operator called a quantor {universal quantor (x)
or existential quantor (3x. In some artificial languages there is a special
symbol that signifies that the object in question is individual (Ix). In ordinary
speech there is usually no need to use any special word to indicate the in-
dividuality of the object in question, for it is usually implied either by the
use of a proper name or a very particular description. When the context
fails to make this clear, the words 'a' or 'an' are used: 'A man came up to
me in the street.' In such cases the use of a noun without the use of 'a/an'
or 'some' may imply that the term is meant in a general sense.
There has not been a major problem about the objective meaning of
words for the category of individuality. The individual exists objectively
as a concrete individual thing, event, or being. But since the very birth of
philosophy there have been debates about the problem of the objective
existence of the general and the particular. As is well known the nominalists
and, later, the conceptualists have denied that there is an objective meaning

of words expressing the general (universals), while realists have often con-
ceived of the objectivity of the general in an idealistic manner, as something
independent of individual real objects and even taking primacy over them
(ante res). Some contemporary formal logicians have eliminated the problem
of universals as a philosophical problem from the agenda. They have replaced
the intensional language of universal and particular as qualities with the
extensional language of universality and particularity as quantitative cate-
gories of classes. For them the formula '(x) {X' states that all the objects of
class x have property t, while '(3x) {X' states that some of the objects of
class x possessing property t do exist. In many cases such an interpretation
may be accepted, with one reservation: universality in the true sense is
very rare. In actual life we encounter classes whose boundaries are poorly
separated from other classes and are in fact bounded by areas of vagueness,
whose objects have some properties which do place them in that class, and
some other properties which do not, or properties which exist in certain
conditions and do not in others.
In the function, 'Every man is x,' there is a very limited number of words
that may be used in place of 'x,' so that the resulting sentence is true. This
is the case with most sentences that begin with 'every' and 'all.' Accordingly
one must decide whether such sentences, with their claims to universality,
are false and do not refer to their intended objects adequately, or whether
an elastic objective meaning should be attributed to the parameters of
generality: they would refer to classes of objects taken in their entirety
with the inevitable exceptions of those members which, although in other
essential dimensions belong to the particular class, do not belong to it in the
given dimensions (with respect to the given property or relation). In other
words, in most cases, particularly in descriptive sentences, the universe of
objects to which a predicate is attributed in a general manner is not strongly
fIXed. This the first essential characteristic of a dialectical conception of the
general. The second was suggested by Hegel with his conception of the
'concrete universal.' This means that the universal is not an independent
object beside the particular ones, but rather a property or set of properties
or relations which in various specific ways is possessed by individual objects.
When we say, 'all people are conscious beings,' the universality indicated by
th word 'all' implies that individual people are conscious in various particular
The establishment of the objective meaning of the words which signify
particularity ('some,' 'type x,' 'group of cases x,' 'there are some x's which
... ') does not constitute a particular problem once we resolve the problem

of the words which signify universality. The reason is that the particular is
always general in relation to the individual, and specific with reference to
the more general. This type of word serves to designate a part of a set of
individual objects which differ from the other parts of a given set by the
possession of a certain property or relation (which is refered to in the predi-
cate). Here once again the boundaries between the parts of a set are not
necessarily sharp, and the property in question manifests itself in various
ways in the individual members of a given part of a set. For example when
we say that some people are engaged in philosophy it should be understood,
first, that there are no sharp boundaries between those who engage in philos-
ophy and those who are engaged in literature, science, theology, or politics,
and, second, that everyone who is engaged in philosophy does so somewhat
(4) In our discussion of sentences we said that the objective meaning
of negative sentences (when true 39) is an objective contradiction between
an explicitly mentioned object, - which in the given situation or connection
is not really given - and the implied real, given object which remains more
or less indeterminate.
A negative word itself (in the context of a true sentence) signifies a rela-
tion of real contradiction in the above sense. When do we say that a relation
is a relation of objective contradiction? Speaking in these terms, are we not
dangerously close to metaphysical speculation? Every explanation should
begin from negation in the context of true descriptive sentences. When
we say, 'Oxygen is not flammable,' while using the words 'oxygen' and
'flammable' in the customary meaning, the words 'is not' indicate that if in
the presence of oxygen we carry out operations necessary to yield the experi-
mental effects we express with the word 'flammable,' we will experience
other effects, but not those. For example if we open a pipe in which oxygen
has been gathered during the electrolysis of water and if we apply a lighted
match, a strong flame will burst forth, but it will not penetrate the inside of
the pipe, as would be the case if the gas would begin to burn.
In sum, if during the practical testing of a negative sentence we experience
something other than or the very opposite from what we would expect if
the sentence were positive rather than negative, we have the right to say
that in this case the word 'is not' signifies an objective, actually existing
contradiction. This all applies also to explicative and instrumental negative
sentences, with the distinction that one may speak about the objective
contradiction as objective meaning of their negative words to the extent
that they are applicable to descriptive negative sentences.

(5) The basic words of ordinary language joining simple sentences into
compound ones are 'and,' 'or,' 'if ... then,' 'since,' 'as soon as,' 'although,'
In the generally accepted artificial languages a primary role is assumed
by words whose meaning corresponds at least partially to the words 'and'
('v'), 'or' ('A'), 'if ... then' (':)'). These are the 'logical constants.'
The question of the objective meaning of logical constants is so complex,
much debated, and controversial, that an entire monograph could be devoted
to it.
Many logicians have resolutely asserted that such linguistic expressions
lack any objective correlate in reality or that their correlates exist in certain
'ideal,' 'logical' objects independent of the real world.
Thus, for example, in abandoning his original realistic viewpoint,40 Russell
sharpened his criticism of realism precisely on the question of the existence
of logical constants. He held that there are no constituents of reality which
correspond to logical constants. Thus on the subject of the meaning of the
word 'or' he said, "Not even the most vehement Platonist would assume that
a perfect 'or' is placed in heaven and that the 'ors' here on earth are imperfect
copies of the heavenly formula." 41
Russell proceeded from a negation of the Platonic standpoint to the
opposite extreme of nominalism: "Logical constants, if we can say anything
definite about them, must be treated as a part of language, and not as a part
of what the language speaks about."42
In criticizing Russell's position the American realist James Feibleman
noted that the area of being does not encompass just actual things: it also
encompasses unactualized possibilities.43 In his view, "the relation 'or'
is a relation of altemativity, which is a logical possibility, an unchanging
relation which actual things can have (but need not have) and which is
(since it can exist) regardless of whether or not it exists at any special time
or place."44 On the basis of that his reply to Russell is as follows: ''The
logical constant 'or' is a symbol which appears in some statements. When it
appears in true statements and sometimes when it appears in partially true
statements, 'or' has one objective core1ate, the relation of altemativity."45
Feibleman calls his point of view 'modified realism.' This form of realism
is more flexible than the naive realism of Meinong, but it is not without
Platonic elements. For Feibleman altemativity is a logical possibility and
accordingly he attributes it with being independently of any specific spatial
and temporal determination. But the relation of altemativity could not have
the character of a logical relation if it were not based on certain real relations

among things that exist in space and time. In other words the word 'or' (and
the corresponding symbol for disjunction) can exercise its logical function
only if in the actual application of a given logical system it manifests itself
as the constituent of at least some factually true statements. And this means
that it signifies certain really possible relations. When one asks which relations
these are it is necessary to note certain distinctions within the meaning of
the conjunction 'or' and in the corresponding symbol for disjunction.
In ordinary speech the word 'or' is used in a threefold sense (and not
in a twofold sense, as is ordinarily considered):
1. Alternation, which means that at least one of the constituents of
a compound statement is true:
'He did it out of ignorance or carelessness.'
'The instance of sensory aphasia was caused either by the rupture of
a blood vessel or by thrombosis.'
2. Complementarity, which means that all the constituents are true:
'Vertebrates are mammals or birds, or reptiles, or amphibians, or fish.'
3. Mutual exclusion, which means that if one of the constituents is true,
the others must be false, e.g.: 'The patient will live with a damaged brain
or die.' (Statements such as these are governed by the law of excluded middle
and the law of noncontradiction.)
The first two meanings are usually treated jointly as the inclusive meaning
of disjunction and the last as the exclusive meaning.
To what objective constituents of the structure of material reality do
alternation, complementarity, and mutual exclusion correspond?
1. In the first of the cited meanings, disjunction expresses the set of real
possibilities that merely differ among themselves and at least one element
of the set is actualized. Thus in the above example at issue is a disease which
maybe caused by one of two causes or by both and it is irrelevant whether
both are given; one by itself would be enough to cause the disease. They
are in a relation of indifferent variability. Aside from this causal meaning
alternation also has a dynamic meaning when it is used to express a relation
of different possibilities of the further development of a process, only one
of which will become reality. For example:
'Her son is very talented - he will certainly become a writer, musician,
or philosopher.'
On the condition that at least one of these possibilities is real, the state-
ment is correct - alternation here does not preclude the realization of all
listed possibilities.
2. In ordinary speech the objective basis of complementarity of consti-

tuents is the complementarity of opposites in the physical world. Here

opposites represent parts that complement one another to form a whole.
Accordingly the complementar~ty of opposites is such a relation of mutually
separate parts with reference to the whole, that exhausts the whole. With
every classification we tend to divide one genus into species which are mutu-
ally complementary.
3. The objective basis of the exclusive meaning of disjunction is the mutual
exclusion of opposites. One may at first think that this is the relation which
Hegel called contradiction. In fact this is just one element of Hegelian con-
tradiction - relative unity and the interpenetration of opposites is lacking.

In symbolic logic two different symbols are used where in ordinary language
we would use the word 'or.' One of them stands for disjunction (V) and the
other for incompatibility {Schaeffer's constant ('I'. A complex disjunctive
statement ('p V q') is true whether both elementary constituents 'p' and 'q'
are true or whether either of them is true. On the other hand one compound
statement in which the symbol for alternative negation ('p/q') figures as a
logical constant is considered true only if one elementary statement is true
an the other is false or the reverse.
The question arises as to how one can say anything here about the objec-
tive meaning of the symbol V and'/, when instead of the variables 'p' and
'q' we can place instead any arbitrarily chosen statements such as; 'Belgrade
is the capital of Yugoslavia,' and 'Kangaroos have begun to take up philoso-
phy.' In many possible interpretations of a symbolic formula we derive false
or meaningless statements in which the conjunction 'or' has no actual objec-
tive meaning. But there must exist at least some interpretations that can lead
to factually true statements. In generally accepted systems of symbolic
logic one encounters formulas that result in factually true statements (Le.
logical laws) in every interpretation of their variables. If this were not the
case there would be no reason to consider a system of symbols a logical
system. Accordingly even logical constants have an objective meaning, even
if of an extremely general and abstract character. To the extent that variables
linked with them represent a general form of a multitude of differing possible
sentences, logical constants as well represent a general form of possible 46
general relations among facts. Some of these relations are real, actually given
relations of alternation, complementarity, mutual exclusion of opposites,
etc. What is important in this case is that the general forms mentioned here

are objectively given in the structure of reality itself, regardless of the con-
sciousness of any individual subject.
The same is the case with the objective meaning of other logical constants.
Conjunction, which is expressed in ordinary language by the word 'and'
and in symbolic language by the symbol 'f\' signifies the unity of opposites,
such as in the statement, 'Human individuals are working and rational beings.'
The manner in which unity differs from the complementarity of opposites
is evident when we compare this statement with the statement, 'Human
individuals are either male or female.' Not every person is both male and
female but some people are male and some others are females. But every
person is both a working and a rational being. These two characteristics
come in indivisible unity. Human action differs from that of animals in that
it is consciously guided and rationally based. Human rationality differs from
animal rationality in that it has creative practice as its content and produces
ever new goals and means of human activity.
The conditional words, 'if ... then' and the corresponding symbols for
implication express a possible conditioning of opposites. In ordinary speech
we try to use 'if ... then' in order to build meaningful statements only; when
in addition these statements are true it is not difficult to see that they express
a real causal relationship, as for example:
'If we bombard the nucleus of the atom with fast neutrons then the result
is the splitting of the atom.'
In symbolic logic implication is expressed by the symbol ':)', the use
of which is governed by a highly abstract rule: the complex expression p :) q
is true if the antecedens (P) is false or the consequens (q) is true - or, in
other words, of four possible cases it is false only in the case that p is true
and q is false. Here we note a divergence from ordinary language, where
in most cases compound implicative (hypothetical) statements are untrue
if the antecedens is false. But in both science and ordinary language we
encounter statements in which the ante cedens is false or both the antecedens
and consequens are false, but the statement as a whole is logically correct,
as for example:
'If there exist absolute space and time we can draw a distinction between
genuine and illusory movement.'
'If ether exists, then absolute space and time also exist.'
In order that such logically correct statements not be proclaimed a priori
false, the logical rule that explains the meaning of the symbol for implication
is highly elastic and permits a multitude of meaningless interpretations of
implicative formulas. But the objective meaning of implication does not

always appear as a real, actually given relation of implication, but rather as a

potential form (structure) of conditioning which in some instances is really
given in the structure of the facts themselves.
In this sense Peano's constant ('e') signifies the general form of an in-
dividual object belonging to a class and constant equivalence ('=') signifies
the general form of the partial identity of objects which differ from one
another in other aspects. For example two classes may differ from one
another in content but are equivalent to the extent that they have the same
The solution proposed here permits us to avoid the difficulties of both
extreme nominalism and Platonic realism. The symbols that link sentences
must have a certain objective basis: if one assumes that these are symbols
without an objective meaning one cannot explain .why substituting one such
symbol for another leads to altering the objective meaning of a compound
sentence of which it is part. With a suitable interpretation and application of
the formulas 'p v q' and 'p " q' we obtain descriptive sentences which refer
to completely different types of real facts.
But it does not thus follow that the symbols that connect sentences refer
to objective connections which exist per se in ideal form, independently
of our consciousness or concrete facts. The objective meanings are, first and
foremost, the elements of the structure of the facts themselves, the general
types of relations among the facts. Secondly, this type of symbol is often
used in such a way that the compound sentences yielded by such symbols
are meaningless or false. But what justifies their existence in language is
the fact that without these symbols we could not adequately and precisely
describe complex, real events and facts.
Thus words that perform the function of logical connectives refer to
general, really possible relations of events and facts.
(6) The objective meaning of modal words refers to: objective possibility
(as with the words 'perhaps,' 'it is possible,' 'it is likely'), objective necessity
(as with the word 'necessarily,' 'inevitably,' 'must') , and objective chance
(as with the word 'accidentally').
We show the objectivity of these modalities according to the same schema
that applies to all other general objective relations.
There is first of all the question of testing the objectivity of descriptive
sentences, which is carried out in the following manner.
1. With hypothetical sentences such as, 'It is possible to survive cancer
and recover,' the following conditions must be met in order for us to conclude
that the word 'possible' refers to a factual possibility:

(a) The sentence must be communicable.

(b) There must exist theoretical reasons that back up the assertion of
possibility, as for example: 'Medicine has advanced greatly; many diseases
once considered incurable can be cured today.' A sentence like, 'It is pos-
sible to return to life a month after death,' would have to be ruled out
as unfounded.
(c) Experience would have to show that at least in certain instances
cancer patients have actually been healed.
In the case of other modal sentences comprised of descriptive words but
which cannot meet condition (c), (e.g. the possibility of human settlement
on the moon) we are referring to real rather than factual possibility. If the
sentence is not comprised solely of descriptive terms and if the theoretical
considerations in question are more mathematical and logical in nature than
scientific, we shall speak about logical possibility. The criterion of objectivity
of possibility in all such cases will be condition (c') rather than condition (c):
(c') Explicative and instrumental hypothetical sentences must be applicable
to descriptive sentences, i.e. there must be some experience relevant to an
evaluation of their value.
2. The criterion for testing the objective necessity of apodictic sentences
contains the following conditions:
(a) Communicability,
(b) One must know the true statements from which, based on logical rules,
the given apodictic sentences follow.
(c) Practical verification must be successful in all instances.
When these conditions are met we have the right to say that the word
'necessarily' refers to objective necessity.
3. Finally in the criterion of objective chance, the following two con-
ditions are important in addition to the condition of communicability (a):
(b) One must be acquainted with the system in relation to which reference
to chance is made. In other words one must know the set of true statements
from which, on the basis of logical rules, the corresponding apodictic state-
ment would follow (obtained by substituting the word 'necessarily' for the
word 'accidentally'). Also one must bear in mind a possible statement outside
that system from which a statement opposite to the apodictic statement can
be derived.
(c) In at least some cases experience must confrrm the opposite to the
apodictic statement, i.e. a statement which contains the word 'accidentally'
or the expression 'not necessarily' instead of the word 'nece!;sarily.'
When these conditions are met we may justifiably speak about the objec-

tive chance of descriptive statements. With explicative and instrumental

statements the procedure is the same as before (the condition being: applica-
bility to descriptive statements).

The Objective Meaning of Descriptions

A description is a group of words which refer as a whole to a single object.
Russell's examples of descriptions are classic: 'the author of Waverley,'
'the present King of France.' But Russell limits himself only to descriptions
that 'describe' particular living beings and things - most certainly because
he believed that one could speak only of the existence of such objects. But
there is no reason to accept such a restriction in view of the various meanings
we have attributed to the terms 'existence' and 'object.'
On the other hand in his theory of description Russell came to the con-
clusion that even proper names 'describe' because the objects named can
be analyzed. Accordingly we usually deal only with apparent names which
are 'covers' for descriptions - in language there are very few words that
are not in fact descriptions. 47 This was one of the paradoxes of logical
atomism. If one does not assume such a divergence between naming and
analytical description there is no reason to arrive at such a conclusion.
Both names and descriptions designate objects. Names do it by directly
referring to them. Descriptions do it in a mediated say, by using a num-
ber of words to explicitly analyse the designated object and to uniquely
identify it.
The purpose of Russell's theory of description is to create a method of
analyzing descriptions that would allow him to eliminate the metaphysical
implications of many deSCriptions. The theory covered descriptions comprised
of words each of which had its own meaning, and so one obtained the impres-
sion that the entire complex had to refer to some type of being. Otherwise
the statements in which they appeared would have to be meaningless 48
- which was not the case. Russell rejected Meinong's theory of unreal objects
(such as the 'golden mountain,' the 'circular square,' etc. In his view, "Logic
deals with the real, like zoology, although with its more abstract and general
characteristics. " 49

There is just one world, the real world: Shakespeare's imagination is part of it, and the'
thoughts he had while writing Hamlet are real. The thoughts we have when reading
the play also are real. But it is precisely the essence of literature that the thoughts,
feelings, etc. are real only in Shakespeare and his readers, and a more objective Hamlet
does not exist as a supplement to them. 50

Russell is completely in the right in saying that there is no additional objec-

tive Hamlet. But he would certainly not deny that in the thoughts and
feelings of Shakespeare and his readers or audiences there are identical
elements, objective in the sense of independence of elements of subjective
interpretation by any of them (or even Shakespeare himself), and that pre-
cisely for this reason those who have read or viewed Hamlet can communicate
with one another. When we describe such objective elements with a group
of words we obtain a description which might read as follows: 'The Danish
prince, tormented by doubt as to whether his stepfather had killed his father,
too meditative to be decisive in practical action.' The objective meaning of
the description is Hamlet as something objectively given - in the thoughts
and feelings of concrete persons and, once created, independent of any
individual person.
Because such objects truly do not exist as independent real beings, but
only as an element of other real processes, they must be taken in the abstract,
classified as unreal, and there is nothing the matter with this when one
bears in mind the above meaning attaching to the word 'object.' Meinong's
conception of unreal objects is totally different, as may be seen from the
fact that he considered it possible to construct true sentences with words
which describe such objects. This is of course a profound blunder. Such
sentences are outside the sphere of statements that may be true - whether
in the sense of factual truth or in the sense of logical truth. There can be no
truth (in the ordinary sense of the term) in the statement, 'Hamlet is an
avowed sceptic,' but only in what is implicitly meant, that Shakespeare
created his Hamlet as a sceptic.
Otherwise in connection with descriptions there are no other specific
problems. They can perform the function of either the subject or the predi-
cate of a sentence. For example:
(a) 'The second element in Mendeleev's system has an atomic weight
of 4.'
(b) 'DUrer's Apostles Peter and Paul are located in the Old Pinakothek
in Munich.'
Here the function of subject is exercised by the description, 'The second
element in Mendeleev's system,' and 'DUrer's Apostles Peter and Paul.' The
former refers to a particular type of constitution of atoms - the element
helium. The latter refers to a set of two individual things - two pictures
by Albrecht DUrer.
The function of predicate is performed by the descriptions, ' ... has
an atomic weight of 4,' and ' ... is located in the Old Pinakothek in Munich.'

Both refer to relations - the former the relationship of the weight of the
helium atom to the weight of an oxygen atom, and the second the spatial
relation with respect to the place where the two cited pictures are located.
What typically characterizes deSCriptions is that they are able to refer
to entire structures of objects - sets and systems of individual things and
events, and relations among properties and relations.
One might further analyze descriptions into individual words and examine
particularly the objective meaning of various types of nouns, adjectives,
pronouns, verbs, conjunctions, prepositions, adverbs, articles {in most lan-
guages other than SerboCroatian they playa highly important role in logiC).51
But for the purposes of logic one need not go that far. Moreover there is a
question of whether this is at all appropriate. It is increasingly difficult to
talk about the objective meaning of symbols the more they are removed
from context and viewed in atomistic rather than functional terms.

The Objective Meaning of Functions

In the language of mathematics and symbolic logic functions are expressions

containing at least one variable. The feature that distinguishes sentence
functions and descriptive functions is that the substitution of a descriptive
word, or constant for the variable, generates a sentence in the former case
and a description in the latter one. An example of the former is 'x is green,'
and of the latter 'three degrees north and one degree east,of x.'
In everyday language the role of variables is performed primarily by
expressions containing the indefinite pronouns 'someone,' 'something,'
'somebody', 'whoever,' 'whatever,' 'anyone's,' etc.
Functions refer to properties and relations of objects of which at least
one is indefinite. By introducing the concept of the indefinite object we
draw a distinction between those instances where an object appears indefmite
to a subject because one does not know its defmition (which others know),
and those cases where the object is indefmite regardless of the ignorance
of any individual subject.
The functions in which the variable expresses the ignorance of the subject
have the same objective meaning as the corresponding descriptive sentences
obtained from them by the appropriate substitution of variables. But they
retain different mental meaning and to that extent differ in overall meaning.
Our problem concerns the functions whose variables refer to objects
which are indefmite regardless of the knowledge or ignorance of individuals.

Examples are primarily socially accepted and communicable concepts whose

content is indefmite or insufficiently defmite, as for example the concept
of the cause of cancer or of the beautiful in aesthetics.
But material objects as well can be objectively indefinite. This statement
ostensibly contradicts the common-sense belief that things are completely
defmite even if we do not know their determining categories. This belief is
often expressed in philosophical literature. Russell, for example, wrote:
"Of course it is quite clear that everything that exists in the world is definite:
if a man is in question, then it is a definite man, and not any other. Accord-
ingly one cannot find in the world an entity such as man (in general) as
against specific people." 52
It is implied in this assertion that in the world only concrete objects exist
'in themselves,' possessing all their categories, while abstract and indefmite
objects, to the extent that they are objects, are exclusively the result of
man's abstract thought. But it is senseless to say that objects are definite
'in themselves': where there is no indefmiteness there is no defmiteness
either, just as there is no darkness where there is no light. It is inconsistent
to want to speak about anything which is completely external to man and to
attribute to it human mental categories one of which is definiteness.
And so we must note once again that we can say something about objects
only in relation to man, who by virtue of his practice and his conceptual
and symbolic apparatus comes to know them. And an integral component
of that apparatus is the definite - indefinite opposition. Each of these two
concepts is relative. It is meaningless to speak about some objects as defmite
without acknowledging others as indefmite. To say that object A '~ definite
in relation to object B which is indefinite is to imply that in addition to
properties and relations identical to both, A has an additional property or
relation. And, conversely, we ordinarily do not call objects of which nothing
is known 'indefmite,' but use that term for objects which lack certain charac-
teristics with respect to others. Finally when we say that a body has an
indefmite color or form, we are not thereby saying that it is colorless or
shapeless, but only that it lacks any known color or form.
Moreover when we say that, according to the Heisenberg principle of
indeterminacy the position or speed of an electron under observation
is indeterminate at a given moment, we don't deny that an electron 'in itself'
has a 'determinate' speed and 'determinate' position at one and the same
time. But nevertheless we cannot say anything about that determinacy 'in
itself.' What we do know about electrons is that a precise determination of
the place where it is located entails uncertainty as to its speed of movement

(Le. an inability to determine the speed according to the method used to

measure macrobodies). And the converse also is true.
Moreover we today can justifiably say that every phenomenon is objec-
tively indeterminate that occurred in the past and left only a few traces
from which one can conclude that the phenomenon existed, while some of
its characteristics remain shrouded.
One can also characterize as objectively indeterminate everything that
will manifest itself to us only in the future even though it has actually already
taken place - Le. a gigantic disturbance on the sun which we will see eight
minutes later - the time it takes for the light waves to travel to the earth.
It is in this sense that one can call indeterminate the future consequences
of increased radiation to which people are being exposed today.
A particularly important type of indeterminate object refers to general
objects. The very acknowledgement of the objective existence of generality
implies the objective existence of indeterminacy. In relation to individual
and particular objects the general object is always partially indeterminate:
it lacks a multitude of characteristics which these possess. If 'man' is the
name for the totality of universal and necessary characteristics of individual
and concrete persons, and if man objectively exists in this sense (and not just
as a Platonic entity), then certainly the specific characteristics of individuals,
nations, races, and "classes are lacking, and to that extent man is something
Moreover there exists one additional significant type of objective indeter-
minacy. Whenever we encounter the phenomena of the objective overlapping
of the scope of two classes, as the field of two properties or relations, so that
one cannot say that a particular set of objects belongs to one class rather than
another, we can say that these objects are indeterminate.
Finally perhaps the most important type of indeterminancy from the
dialectical standpoint is that which manifests itself in all dynamic objects
in motion and development. An object which moves mechanically is and
is not at a particular place at a given moment. An object developing at a
given moment both has and has not certain qualities, and to that extent
is indeterminate. Again the term 'indeterminacy' is used relatively, in opposi-
tion to 'determinacy.' Usually we consider to be determinate those objects
whose exact position and qualities are known. Some may claim that the
above Zenonian method of describing bodies in motion is also a method
of determination and that there is nothing indeterminate in the way Zeno
formulated the contradiction of movement. The former may be accepted, but
the latter cannot. In relation to the total absence of analysis of movement,

both Zeno's and Hegel's analysis of movement constitute determination. But

with respect to objects which are at rest within a system and have relatively
determinate qualities and place, objects that move and develop within a
system are (relatively) indeterminate.
Many Marxists whose epistemological beliefs lean toward vulgar materi-
alism and realism and away from Marx's Theses on Feuerbach believe that the
sentence, 'An object in motion is and is not at a particular place at a parti-
cular moment,' testifies to an inherent contradiction of things 'in themselves,'
apart from man and human kind. That this is not the case is evident from the
fact that in applying this sentence to concrete processes it can always be for-
mulated so that the contradiction disappears. Everything depends upon the
meaning of the terms 'given moment' and 'certain place.' In order for them to
be defmed more precisely one must choose a unit. of measurement, and how
we select that unit determines whether the sentence assumes the form of
contradiction and refers to an indeterminate object, or whether the form of
contradiction disappears and a (relatively) determinate object is described.
For example if object A travels half a meter per second and if we define
'moment' as a second (t) and 'place' as a square meter (m), its movement can
be described with the sentence, 'A at moment t was located at place m.' In
this context object A is determined. But if with the same unit of time we take
a square centimeter as the unit of position (m!), we have to formulate our
observation as follows: 'A at moment t was located and not located at point
m 1. But if as the unit of time we now take a hundredth of a second we again
obtain a noncontradictory statement. One might, on the one hand, say that
there is no system of measurement in which one could not fmd phenomena
which could be described only with contradictory statements. (Hegel is right
to this extent.) But, on the other hand, there are no such phenomena which
in an appropriately selected system of measurements could not be described
without contradiction and, accordingly, with more determinacy. (This bears
out Pap in his criticism of Hegel. 53)
The term 'system' here should not be understood subjectivistic ally . Units
of measurement such as 'centimeter' and 'second' are not at all purely subjec-
tive, albeit human. At issue are man-made, social (intersubjective) symbols
selected t'o designate certain objective relations. And just as movement is
relative to an objectively given coordinate system (which can be determined
for man only if man designates it with some symbols, (coordinates), and just
as the same object may be at rest with respect to one system, and move with
respect to another, such an object may be more or less determinate or indeter-
minate according to which system of symbols and corresponding concepts we

use to describe it. In any case the further development of our practice can
eliminate the (relative) indeterminacy of many objects known to us. For
example we may discover methods for deriving facts about electrons without
their present interaction with photons of light. We may discover the cause of
cancer. We may discover new data about events of the past. We may create
such precise networks of concepts that many objects now located in areas of
vagueness between two classes may become determinate, etc.
Until this occurs some objects of cognition remain relatively indeterminate,
and when they cease to be so, newly discovered objects will take their place.
Moreover in the exact sciences there is a progressively greater use of the type
of symbol referring to indeterminate objects - abstract symbols referring to
real objects of a very universal character and ideal objects. For example the
algebraic 'x' is any number, the 'm' of physics is any mass, the 'N of chemis-
try is any atom of nitrogen, in political economy Kc is any constant and Kv
any variable capital, etc. The interpretation which is (via definition or a se-
mantic rule in the appropriate metalanguage) provided to these symbols
partially restricts the field of their indeterminacy, but to that extent, also
of their applicability. They obtain even closer determination by the context
in which they are used. Sometimes they are implicitly fully defmed by con-
In the functions of the language of logic, variables have a greater degree
of indeterminacy than any other variables. Thus 'x,' 'y.' 'z' refer to all the
objects to which one attributes a property (which appear as arguments of a
function). Symbol 'x' refers to any class; 'I,' 'g,' and 'h' are symbols for
predicates - referring to properties and relations. Such symbols as 'p,' 'q,'
and 'r' express statements and refer to any facts. But once again we see that
in their indeterminacy designated objects are nevertheless partially determi-
nate: at least the most general category to which they belong is specified.
And also the use of every such symbol of a variable in a function relates it
to other symbols and thus determines it more precisely.
The least determined objects are those designated by the most abstract
philosophical categories such as 'object,' 'subject,' 'being,' 'reality,' and
'consciousness,' but even these are determined by reference to one another
and by contrast. And if they are not determined in this manner, they are
determined by use. The most abstract of all terms which philosophers have
succeeded in formulating - entity - still has a minute element of determi-
nation by the very negation of everything that is determinate.
But, conversely, there are no symbols which refer to objects so determined
that they do not include any elements of indeterminacy. This applies least

to words such as 'this,' 'that,' 'now,' and 'here,' which representatives of

logical analysis have considered to be perhaps the only true names, the only
symbols that refer to something completely concrete, individual, and definite.
In a sense 'now' and 'here' are variables, like all other words, which inevitably
have a universal, intersubjective character. The sentence, 'Rain is falling now'
performs like the function, 'Rain is falling (t).' In place of 'now' or 't' one
might place various concrete time values, such as:
'Rain is falling on February 24,1923.'
'Rain is falling on September 1, 1949.'
As with the function, 'Rain is falling (t),' each such statement is meaning-
ful for a particular time and may be true or false (although in and of itself 't'
is much more general and thereby less definite, for it encompasses 'now' and
all other terms of time).
The conclusion of this analysis is that there is a continuous transition
between determinate and indetermined objects, that one may refer to the one
and the other only in relative terms, and so there is only a conditional distinc-
tion between functions, on the one hand, and sentences and descriptions, on
the other.


1 Jean Piaget, La representation du monde chez I'enfant, Presses Universitaires de

France; The Child's Conception of the World, Kegan Paul, 1929.
2 Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, London, 1932, pp. 28-31.
3 "The man who in the fantastic reality of heaven, where he sought a supernatural
being, found only a reflection of himself, will no longer be tempted to find only a sem-
blance of himself, - a non-human being - where he seeks and must seek his genuine
reality" (Karl Marx, 'Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right:
Introduction, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. R. C. Tucker, II ed., W. W. Norton. New
York, 1978, p. 53.)
4 "Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic
in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its
solemn complement, its general basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic
realization of the human being, inasmuch as the human being possesses no true reality.
Thus the struggle against religion is an indirect struggle against that world, whose spiritual
aroma is religion. .. . Religion is the sigh of an oppressed being, the sentiment of a
heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people" (Ibid.,
5 Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Vol. I, Ch. 5.
Cassirer believes that a characteristic of the symbolic level is that the relation of
similarity that determines the representation of the object by the symbol becomes in-
creasingly partial and undefmed. In the discussion of symbols we have seen that it is
difficult to speak about similarity of symbols and designated objects.

6 One should allow for the fact that the conventional character of a linguistic sign does
not imply the conventional character of the concept or proposition it expresses.
7 Wittgenstein does say at other points that the relation of copying is a similarity of
structure embodying the existence of a rule whereby if we have the one we can construct
or reconstruct the other. But similarity of structure entails much more than the mere
existence of such a rule. Here we have in effect two explanations that do not agree with
one another.
8 John Wisdom, 'Logical Constructions,' Mind, 1931, p. 202.
9 Gilbert Ryle, 'Systematically Misleading Expressions,' Proceedings of the Aristotelian
Society, 1931.
10 Alfred J. Ayer, 'Verification and Experience,' Ibid., 1936-7, also Foundations of
Empirical Knowledge, London, 1947, p.106.
11 The designative relation is often a deep and many-layered one. First of all we have
the object directly referred to, but in addition there may be a number of objects indirec-
tly referred to. A portrait refers directly to the person who has posed, but ultimately and,
indirectly it refers to an objective reflective-affective structure. Thus the meaning of a
picture never consists in what it directly represents. This is why it is difficult to under-
stand the full meaning of a work of art without a significant cultural background and a
special emotional and intellectual predisposition.
12 Alfred North Whitehead, Symbolism, Its Meaning and Effect, An Anthology,
Northrop and Gross, (eds.), Cambridge, 1953, p. 538.
13 John Stuart Mill,A System of Logic, B. I, Ch. II, Section 5, London, 1865, VI ed.
14 In noting this factor Frege drew his famous distinction between 'Sinn' and 'Bedeu-
tung.' 'Bedeutung' corresponds to denotation, and 'Sinn' to connotation.
15 Russell, The Principles of Mathematics, Cambridge, 1903, Section 427.
16 See Urmson, Philosophical Analysis, Oxford, 1956, pp. 22-3.
17 Bertrand Russell, 'On Denoting,' Mind, 1905.
18 Gilbert Ryle, 'The Theory of Meaning,' British Philosophy in the Mid-Century,
London, 1957,pp. 247-8.
19 Quine, From a Logical Point of View, Cambridge, Mass., 1953.
20 Ibid.,p.9.
21 Ibid., p. 130.
22 It should not be concluded that in principle cognition of continuity is primary. The
process of .cognition develops in an analytic - synthetic manner. This means that if the
basic task of investigation at moment tl was to eliminate unjustiilably harsh distinctions
and to identify certain continuous connections, at moment t2 analysis will again take
primacy and lead to the posing of new distinctions and to the reappearance of the dis-
continuities in the previously established continuity. Thereby we attain a higher theore-
tical level where the demand for synthesis once again prevails, etc.
23 Here we refer to meaninglessness in the sense of absence of cognitive meaning. But
cognitive criteria of meaning are not universal. In the context of a literary work a cogni-
tively meaningless statement may have an artistic meaning.
24 Gilbert Ryle, 'The Theory of Meaning,' British Philosophy in the Mid-Century,
25 R. W. Ashby, 'Use and Verification,' Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society VIII
(1956), 140.
26 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford, 1953, Sections 199,206,241.

27 Ibid., Section 81.

28 The term 'essence' is generally unclear and encumbered with scholastic interpre-
tations. A good part of what one wants to say with it may be expressed more precisely
by the terms 'identical' (,invariant,' 'constanf), 'necessary,' 'relation,' 'structure.'
29 For example the object referred to by the word 'man' is an upright, rational mammal
who works. But there are mammals who belong to the class of men but who are not
upright, are not rational, and have never worked in their lives.
30 Wittgenstein,op. cit., Section 66.
31 Ibid., Section 97.
32 Ibid., Section 2.
33 Russell,An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth, London, 1940, p. 38.
34 Ibid., p. 79.
3S It is in this sense that Kant, proceeding upon the conception of mechanical law as
the sole form of necessity, considered all the phenomena of life to be unavoidably
accidental, asserting that, "nature viewed as a simple mechanism could have developed
differently in a thousand ways ..... (Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, Berlin, 1922, Section
36 Russell, An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth, New York 1940, p. 25-6.
37 Tarski, "Der Wahrheitsbegriff in den formalisierten Sprachen," Studfiz Philosophica,
Vol. I, 1935, p. 261-405.
38 According to what was stated above about the revision of the traditional concept
of predicates in sentences of this type, the predicate may be just the verb 'is' if the
emphasis is upon the relation. But if the context makes it clear that the purpose is to
define the evening star (in the rust case), Venus (in the second), or planets in general
(in the third), the entire expression 'is -' is the predicate.
39 When a negative sentence is not true it does not signify a real contradiction but
rather expresses an arbitrary and unfounded opposition of concepts.
40 In the Introduction to the second edition of The Principles of Mathematics Russell
decisively abandoned the conception on which the entire work is built.
41 Bertrand Russell, The Principles of Mathematics, 2nd ed., 1938, p. IX.
42 Ibid.
43 "What are invariant relations, what are propositional functions other than possi-
bilities which are capable of being actualized but never require this in order to show
their being?" (James Feibleman, A Reply to Bertrand Russell's Introduction to the
Second Edition of 'The Principles of Mathematics,' in The Philosophy of Bertrand
Russell. The Library of Living Philosophers, Vol. V, Evanston, 1946, p. 161.
44 Op. cit., p. 159.
4S Ibid., p. 160.
46 Russell often asserted that mathematics and philosophy were sciences of a possible
world. Wittgenstein made the statement for philosophy as a whole. Our investigation
is not directed at phenomena but rather at what might be called the possibilities of
phenomena. This means that we think about the type of statements we make about
phenomena. (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Oxford, 1953, Section 90,
47 "We can even go so far as to say that in all knowledge that can be expressed in words
- with the exception of the words 'this,' 'that,' and several others whose meaning
varies on various occasions - there are no names in the strict sense of the word: what

appear as names in fact are descriptions." (Bertrand Russell, Introduction to Mathe

TTIIZtical Philosophy, 2nd ed., London, 1920, ch. XVI, p. 178.)
48 Op. cit., p. 97.
49 Ibid.
so Meinong, Untersuchung zur Gegenstandstheorie und Psychologie, 1904.
51 In the Introduction to MatheTTIIZtics Russell devotes two chapters to 'an analysis of
the defmite article (op. cit., p. 95).
52 Russell, Introduction to MatheTTIIZtical Philosophy, p. 173.
53 Cf. Pap, Elements of Analytical Philosophy, New York, 1949.


We can begin to understand the nature of signs and their meaning only by
establishing a direct connection between signs and corresponding objects,
i.e. corresponding experiences and thoughts. This is how we learn the mean-
ing of some signs during the first years of our life. Later, we rely more and
more on these signs in order to indirectly learn meanings of a multitude
of new signs. Undoubtedly, we are here dealing with a new dimension of
meaning, different from the two discussed previously. This can be con-
firmed by comparing how the following individuals interpret the word
"Paris" .
(a) A man who has never seen Paris and cannot remember what he has
read or heard about that city, but who always associates the word "Paris"
with an idea, an imaginary picture.
(b) A man who lives in Paris and has a detailed first-hand knowledge of
the city, but has not thought a lot about Paris, and perhaps would not be
the right person to give someone a verbal description of the city.
(c) A man who only knows that "Paris is the capital of France and the
cultural center of the world", a sentence he memorized after reading it
None of these three people could be described as someone who doesn't
know at least one semantic dimension of the word ''Paris''. To be sure, these
dimensions are usually interwoven, not separated the way they are presented
in our examples. The process of imagining an object is usually stimulated
either by direct perception or by reading or listening. Before we realize that
an object is the objective meaning of a word, what we usually do is either
become familiar with its image or get its description or verbal defmition. Thus,
all of these three dimensions are actually closely interconnected. However,
this should not prevent us from distinguishing them and constructing ideal
situations in which these distinctions will be made evident.
Thus, linguistic meaning is the relation of one linguistic sign to other
signs in one linguistic system. Analogous definitions could be formulated
for non-linguistic signs. Furthermore, in order to explicitly express their
meaning, we can relate linguistic signs to non-linguistic ones (photographs,
schemata, diagrams). Although closely related to linguistic meaning, this

aspect of meaning will not be included in our inquiry, which relieves us

of the difficult task of rmding an appropriate name for it.
In order to be able to analyze linguistic meaning, one should determine
the nature of language and the characteristics of the symbolic systems called
The following functions distinguish language from other systems of
1. Language is an instrument used to express, but also to constitute and
to form, thoughts, feelings, and other psychic processes. To use traditional
philosophic terminology, language is both an organon and a logos.
2. Language is a structure of symbols used by man to designate different
kinds of objects which are independent of any individual's consciousness.
3. Language, as such, is an activity (energeia) which is a medium used
by people to communicate and coordinate their praxis. As indicated in the
chapter on symbols, the following characteristics differentiate linguistic
symbols from all others:
1. Linguistic symbols do not necessarily resemble the objects they denote.
2. Some elements of language (e.g. words) have a ftxed meaning, relatively
independent of their context (this is why dictionaries are possible).
3. Elementary signs interconnect and form complex meaningful units
in accordance with established syntactic rules.
4. Some linguistic signs can usually be substituted by other signs (synonyms
and deftnitions).
s. Language is characterized by reflexiveness - it can talk about itself on
different levels. This remarkably improves its aptitude for abstract thought. 1
Some general features of linguistic meaning can be inferred from these
basic facts about language:
1. The connection between a particular linguistic symbol and other symbols
is established with the purpose to explicitly express mental and objective
meaning, which are initially given only implicitly and more or less on a
subconscious level. By expressing them explicitly we more closely determine
and form mental and objective meaning. Only when they have been for-
mulated by language (as a definition) do these other dimensions of meaning
become clear, intelligible, discursive - something that can be consciously
manipulated (changed, complemented, abolished, etc.).
2. The relation of linguistic meaning to mental and objective meaning is
similar to that of a structure of symbols to a mental structure, or to a struc-
ture of objects. This means that we can relatively freely choose the symbols
to express some thoughts and thus indirectly express some objects. However,

once this choice has been made, we cannot arbitrarily establish relations
between linguistic expressions; these relations have to be in accordance
with the factual structuring of thought, and, indirectly, of objects.
3. Rules concerning word use and the defmitions constituting the linguistic
meaning of a symbol are an invaluable instrument of communication. These
rules enable us to understand, albeit in a quite abstract way, what general
elements in other people's thinking are expressed by an unknown symbol, and
what objects it pertains to. This is a necessary condition for the participation
in the praxis of others (be it cooperation or conflict).



The Problem of the Role of Language

Few things play such an important role in our life as language; yet we are
not quite aware of it.
When we report our impressions to others, we tell them about our thoughts
and emotions, and are usually unaware of the fact that what reaches our
interlocutors is nothing but words. Our interlocutors interpret these words
in accordance with their own experiences, and are convinced that they know
what objects, thoughts, and emotions we are talking about. What they forget
is that they have, in fact, only heard our words, and that everything else
is a more or less appropriate superstructure.
And this is not all. We observe, say, the sea, and contemplate its color,
its clean and transparent water, the pleasant sound of its waves. Silently
we enjoy it, and although we know that this is a definite experience, we are
completely unaware of the role of language in the forming of this experience.
For this huge mass murmuring in front of us is infmitely variegated - every
moment there is at least a slight change in the way it reflects the sun's
photons, a difference in the configuration of its waves, a variation in the
manner in which water particles collide with pebbles and cause the vibration
of air molecules. In fact, although we always experience different color
shades, di.fferent sounds, different feelings of pleasantness and beauty, we
always form our unspoken words in the same way: "blue", "transparent",
"murmur", "pleasant", "beautiful", etc. When we, at a given moment,
attempt to analyze our experience, what we first fmd in it are definite ele-
ments - colors, sounds, odors, movements, forms, desires, emotions. We
can express them with words, convey them to others, objectivize them;

this is when we often discover that the experience of those who have been
in a situation similar to ours shares certain elements with our experience.
There is only one way we can attain this defmiteness and objectivity: by
establishing a correlation of some constant elements of our experience and
the appropriate words. Some elements of experience cannot be brought into
such a correlation - there are no words to fit or encompass them. This part
of experience has a purely subjective character, but it is also undefined,
diffuse, elusive - no analysis can approach it and we are unable to remember
it. We are usually unaware of the fact that on the richness of our language
depends how determined our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings are. We
are even less aware of the fact that objects for us are the way they are because
of the characteristics of the language we use when we think or talk about
them. 2
It is interesting to note that man started pondering the problems of
language and communication at a rather late date. In his book on operational
philosophy, Rapoport correctly points out that ancient myths, fairy-tales,
and proverbs anticipate almost all the problems of modern man - except those
pertaining to language and communication. 3 The eternal motif of man's
struggle for self-preservation in an inimical nature is the basis of myths about
evil gods and demons. Stories about flying carpets and seven league boots
are dreams realized by modern technology. The problem of predicting the
future is the basis of all stories about prophets and prophecies, and some
social problems are anticipated in stories about evil kings. However, nothing
in ancient folklore and mythology indicates an awareness of the numerous
problems stemming from the fact that between man and man, man and
reality, even between man and his inner life there is language - sometimes
a potent mediator, sometimes an awesome, insurmountable barrier.

Basic Ideas about Language Throughout the History of Philosophy

Traditional philosophy postulated the identity of mind and word, even an

identical structure underlying mind, word, and being - expressed by the
triple meaning of the fundamental concept of logos. According to Bergson,
traditional philosophy is based on a faith in language, on a high opinion of
its value. Rationalists do not view language as a problem because they see no
discrepancy between its terms and concepts and the essential characteristics
of being (universals). However, when a culture is in a period of crisis, sceptics
enter the scene who separate words, thoughts, and objects. Thus, according
to Gorgias, if being is, it is incomprehensible and cannot be known by man.

Even if it were knowable, it would be ineffable and incommunicable. Accord-

ing to Aenesidemus, only one sort of sign denotes something that really
exists: signs which we have perceived in the past simultaneously with the
things they denote. These are so-called commemorative or reminiscent
signs. All others, which Aenesidemus terms "indicative" are not true signs
because they refer to the unknown; dogmatists are wrong when they say
that these signs refer to something existent. 4
However, the sceptics had to reckon with such giants of philosophical
thought as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, who not only made great efforts
to restore the faith in language but whose impact on subsequent philosophical
thought was far more decisive than that of the sceptical school. Speaking
through Socrates, Plato in his Cratylus vigorously opposes the view, advocated
by the Sophists, that language is based on convention. It is obvious that
Plato, like the later realists, accepts the assumption that language and its
categories faithfully reflect the structure of reality. All the basic features of
Aristotle's logic are conditioned by the characteristics of the Greek language.
Descartes carried on this tradition - despite the scepticism inherent in
his method of universal doubt. His thesis about innate ideas implies the
innateness and the universality of the language by which they are expressed.
According to Urban,

He (Descartes in a letter to Mersenne) believes in the inseparable character of the relation

of reason and language. As in all forms of knowledge, there is always one ground form of
knowledge, the human reason, so there must be in all different languages one language,
the universal, rational form of language. The demand for a Mathesis universalis includes
in it, for all parts of knowledge which are not mathematical, the demand for a Lingua
universalis. s

All rationalists after Descartes, especially Leibniz, worked toward the reali-
zation of this ideal. Even in our time, when the imperfection of ordinary
language and the differences between its grammatical structure and the
logical structure of thOUght are a truism, we encounter the old realist idea
in a new guise. According to this new realism, ordinary language should be
replaced by an ideal, artificial language whose syntax will express not only
all the characteristics of a universal logical structure of thought, but the
absolute structure of reality as well. This was the conviction of the young
Bertrand Russell when constructing the language of his Principia Mathematica.
However, Russell merely shifted the application of traditional Platonic
realism from ordinary language to an artificial one.
There were several renewals of Greek scepticism: first in the philosophy

of late scholasticism, then in the nominalist refutation of the real existence

of universals. There are, it seems, words which do not denote anything.
Francis Bacon went even further in his critique of language when he con-
vincingly demonstrated the existence of words which systematically deceive
us. John Locke is the true father of modern philosophy of language. The
first among philosophers to fully grasp the problem of language, Locke
gave the first clear formulation of the thesis that language as an instrument
of expression participates in the process of cognition to such an extent
that this process cannot be properly studied without a previous study of
language. 6
As a rule, the entire school of empiricism relied, with its one-sided in-
sistence on sensory experience as the source of knowledge, on Locke's
thesis about language, and, as time went by, focused more and more on
the analysis of language. After all, this was the ideal way of building a phi-
losophy which would postulate neither a material substance and real essences
nor abstract mental entities. Thus Berkeley vigorously attacked the theory
of abstract ideas, and Hume doubted the objective existence of things and
their necessary causal relationships, and the objective existence of God and
the soul; he even doubted the existence of our "Self' as a unique entity.
Only immediate experience and language remained beyond doubt. All
abstractions were interpreted as conventional linguistic signs, either empirical
or logico-mathematical.
In addition to these traditional forms of rationalism and empiricism,
two of their variants appear in the philosophy of the late 18th and the early
19th centuries.
The transcendentalism of Kant and his followers first appeared as a reac-
tion to the scepticism of 18th century British philosophy. Kant himself did
not devote much attention to the problems of language; we have to turn
to Humboldt for significant ideas about language. According to Humboldt's
main thesis, which is analogous to Kant's insistence on the role of the tran-
scendental a priori forms of thought in the structuring of sensory experience
and the constitution of the world of objects, linguistic forms are not only
a vehicle by which knowledge is expressed, but also the means of exploring
the unknown. Thus by examining language one can learn the most profound
truths about the world. 7 There is, in the transcendentalist philosophical
approach to language, one true and seminal thought, which Cassirer elaborated
on in detail: Language is a constitutive factor of our entire knowledge about
the world. However, the transcendentalist approach overemphasizes the
importance of language because its view of language is based on an idealist

theory of knowledge. Transcendental philosophy of language cannot accept

a material reality which exists independently of language and thought. "The
limits of my language are the limits of my world" says Urban. This is a way
of getting rid of the relative discrepancy between language and the world,
which is partly responsible for the problem of language. Once again, a unity
of the mind, language, and the world is established, reminiscent of the tradi-
tional concept of logos. Only this time the theoretical framework is epistemo-
logical, not ontological. Instead of a naive, totally unjustified assumption that
language reflects in itself the ideal structure of reality, we have a far more
refined thesis: The a priori mental forms contained in language structure our
experience, thus forming the world as the object of our knowledge (the only
world that can be the object of scientific and philosophical investigation).
However, some old misconceptions persisted. Instead of providing solutions,
this one-sided hypostasis of identity at the expense of differences, of synthe-
sis at the expense of analysis, ignored a number of problems related to lan-
guage. It should be immediately pointed out that this idealization oflanguage
does not jibe with the fact that language is capable of generating prejudices
and misconceptions, that it does not only unite people but also separates
them. That language can separate is corroborated time and again by its practi-
cal use. After all, this particular feature of language is what makes its trans-
formation and improvement a necessity.
In order to explain this dimension oflanguage, philosophy oflanguage had
to pass through a stage when language was understood as a dynamic, natural
phenomenon, not as the immutable expression of the totality of the mind.
Language was conceived as a tool whereby man, in his desire to dominate
his world, adapts to his environment and controls it. The basis for this view of
language, this Schritt vom Geist zur Natur, was provided by Darwin's evolu-
tionism. Man's dethroning had to lead to a new view of language: language,
like its creator, man, is merely a part of nature; it emerged from similar
yet less advanced forms of animal communication. Furthermore, language, as
a result of external forces and in accordance with natural laws, exists and
develops in time, and should be studied by the methods of the natural scien-
ces. This approach to language accounts for a variety of behaviorist, pragma-
tist and instrumentalist theories of language. 8
One of the great merits of this conception of language is that it created
some basic preconditions which enabled man to grasp a number of problems
pertaining to language and to work on them in a concrete way, utilizing the
methods of the empirical sciences. But, once again, one aspect of the method
was overemphasized, and this led to an analysis of language which was

diametrically opposed to the idealist view. Only the external physical dimen-
sion of language was taken into .consideration. As language was understood
only as a form of objective, physical human behavior, unsurmountable diffi-
culties pertaining to the problem of meaning cropped up. Unable to talk
about the act of imagining, about conscious intentions, and all the other
mental processes which, although inseparable from language, do not fall into
the realm of objective, empirically perceptible behavior, all the behaviorists
could do was approach the problems of meaning with an impoverished
theoretical apparatus, suitable only for the study of mechanisms of stimulus
and response and applicable to rather undeveloped and primitive languages. In
fact, the behaviorists were trapped by an old misconception. By eliminating
any relative independence of mental processes, and by completely reducing
them to overt verbal behavior, they postulated, once again, the identity of
language and thought, thereby overlooking all the problems stemming from
the fact that language and thought are inextricably connected but not identi-
cal. And that is not all. Wishing to remain within the domain of perceptible
natural phenomena, the behaviorists started talking about material reality in
terms of natural environment, thus denying it any structure or form. Accord-
ing to them, there is no other general structure than that of verbal behavior.
What we have here is a monism of language and linguistic practice - as
opposed to the early monism of the substance and the later monism of the
In contradistinction to all of these types of conceptions of language,
derived from traditional rationalism and empiricism, transcendentalism, and
behaviorism, humanist dialectics relies on a very flexible conceptual apparatus
which enables it to determine the relations between language, the human
psyche, and material reality. The general form by which we could, on a rather
abstract level, represent these relations is the concept of the unity of oppo-
sites, or the concept of the relative identity of three different classes of
phenomena. Of course, these assertions would not tell us anything if we did
not analyze these relations.

Language and Thought

First we will discuss the relation between language and man's mental life.
The first thing that can be said about this relation is that language parti-
cipates, as an instrument, in the objective social expression of our subjective
thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. The upshot of this fact is that verbal behavior

is one of the most important objective empirical sources for the study of a
subject's mental processes.
However, these facts about language do not mean that aU possible objec-
tive knowledge about the mental processes of a subject is derived from his
verbal utterances. There are forms of non-verbal behavior that are also accessi-
ble to the methods of empirical study. Forms of non-verbal behavior can
serve as a basis for objective conclusions - with a high probability of accu-
racy - about a subject's mental processes. In some cases gestures, physiolo-
gical reactions, actions can be more valuable than verbal utterances as indi-
cators of the processes of our conscious and subconscious mind. For instance,
Aglaya Yepanchina's actions, in Dostoyevski's The Idiot, tell us more than
her words about her love toward Prince Mishkin.
However, one sort of mental process is more closely tied to language
than aU others, and verbal behavior is the most reliable key to its understand-
ing. What we have in mind are thought processes. By observing someone's eye
and mouth expressions, grimaces, gestures, body movements, etc. we can
learn about his emotions - his anger or jealousy, for instance, but we get
minimal information about the content of his thoughts. By measuring the
strength and the frequ~ncy of the bio-electric waves in the cortex, which
probably constitute the physiological basis of thought, we could learn some-
thing about the effort behind thinking, its intensity, and the excitement
involved in thinking, Such measuring devices could serve as lie-detectors,
although there are several reasons why they would be unreliable. For example,
if something excites one very much because it is rare and unusual, it is not
unlikely that one might react very emotionally to a true statement during the
test. The inverse could be true as well. At any rate, direct, external manifesta-
tions of thought and its accompanying processes tell us far too little about its
content, its qualitative aspect.
We can learn more about thought from practical actions - when man's
thinking is followed by attempts to solve problems emerging in his relation
with nature and with other men. There is a great deal of truth in Dewey's
thesis that every thought represents a plan of action. The character of an
action can tell us what kind of thought planned it. Thus practical meaning is
a dimension of meaning. Yet this way of uncovering the content of thought
processes can be very arduous and complicated. There can be a considerable
time difference between a thought and the corresponding action. The realiza-
tion of an action can, owing to various factors, differ from the plan. What we
have to do, instead of looking at an isolated action which can include signifi-
cant departures from the plan, is to take into consideration the entire physical

praxis of the given subject. But again, highly abstract thought may be isolated
from physical praxis. Anyway, we can base our judgments about thought
on praxis only if we follow a special kind of reasoning by analogy - which
has a limited cognitive value.
Language is by far the most reliable indicator of thought. In fact, language
presents the dialectical unity of two sorts of processes. Language permanently
associates strictly determined material processes (sound production by the
larynx, the creation of particular ink or printing color patterns) with particular
thought processes. These two sorts of processes are structurally similar. What
this means is that there are invariant types and relations in the multitude of
varying linguistic signs. On the other hand, our highly varied mental life
contains invariant dispositions of imagining certain objects, of recognizing
them when we see them, and of correctly using the terms which denote
them. There is such functional connection between the two that the appear-
ance of the sign normally provokes a corresponding disposition and, conver-
sely, the manifestation of a mental disposition (directly provoked by other
physical or mental events) tends to reproduce the sign or at least to evoke an
idea of it. One fact about language is essential: both types of relations -
those included in signs and those included in the structure of mental disposi-
tions - have a social character. They are invariant elements of thought and
of language of all members of society, and not only of isolated individuals. In
this sense language is a medium connecting different individual thought pro-
cesses, and also it is the expression of both individual and social thought.
Because of its external physical aspect, language is an objective phe-
nomenon which can be subject to scientific investigation like any other
natural phenomenon. Because the external realm of meaning and the
realm of thought are connected in a regular and constant way, language
can serve as an outstanding tool for the study of thought. In this respect
language has a significant advantage over other forms of praxis because
of the rellltive fIXedness of its subjective and objective elements and because
of its c01l3iderable invariance, simplicity and regularity. When, for instance,
a person decides that a dogmatic interpretation of Marxism discredits it,
and that one should therefore fight against dogmatism, in praxis the thought
can be expressed in many ways. In many cases we would not even know
how to interpret the behavior of this person, not being informed of his
decision. However, if this person decides to verbalize his thoughts, all he
needs is one sentence. Although we cannot tell from one sentence whether
the person uttering it sincerely believes in what he is saying, in most cases
there can hardly be any doubt about the thought that he wished to express.

Contemporary empiricists, following Hume, Wittgenstein and especially

behaviorist psychology, have made great efforts to prove that there are no
such things as mental processes independent of linguistic processes which
express them. Thus as early as 1947 Ayer, following Ryle, wrote that the
process of thinking could not be distinguished from its expression. However,
Ayer allows the possibility of thoughts that cannot be expressed. Thus he
asserts, in a less radical way, that when a thought is expressed, thought
and expression constitute one single process. According to Ayer, thought
is not a process parallel to speech; nor is understanding a mental act follow-
ing words. 9 But Ayer does not wish to be compared to those behaviorists
who reduce thought to certain movements of the larynx. Although thinking
is frequently accompaned by these movements, this connection is contingent.
Therefore, saying that someone's thinking is not accompanied by movements
of his speech organs is not a logical contradiction. In Ayer's view, a more
flexible - and still convincing - way of undermining the myth of thought as
a mental process is by saying that in all those cases when people think without
"saying certain words aloud, they say them to themselves." 10 According
to Ayer, this inner speech cannot be equated with any series of physical
movements. 11
In fact, the novelty of this seemingly audacious and revolutionary negation
of the mental character of thought lies in its idiosyncratic interpretation of
terms. When we talk about language or speech as the expression of thought,
what we usually have in mind is the external, physical side of language. We
see language as a system of signs, and speech as a physical process whereby
sounds are produced. But language can be understood in a much broader
sense, as a system of signs which includes their meaning. If we accept this
broader definition of language, we can call someone's speech not only fluent,
rapid, and grammatically correct, but also clever, strong, etc. In this case
language is understood as a unity of thought and its expression. Thus, when
someone thinks and simultaneously expresses his thoughts in oral and written
signs, we will, if we accept the narrow defmition of language, describe this
as two parallel processes. However, if we accept the broader definition of
language, we will see only one process.
However, there are two more types of phenomena that behaviorists, both
radical and moderate, fmd difficult to account for.
The first type is represented by thought which is not expressed by written
or spoken linguistic signs. The second type is represented by signs which are
not accompanied by any interpretation or understanding - for instance,
signs produced by machines, parrots, the feeble-minded, persons talking in

their sleep, infants. The behaviorist conceptual apparatus is far too limited to
make those distinctions. There is such a chasm between a parrot's gibberish
and a scientist's silent meditation that it is quite unjustified to equate both
phenomena with speechY If we wish to refute the idealist thesis about the
dominant role and the independent existence of the mind and of mental
processes, we needn't go as far as reducing thought to speech - or inner
speech. What really contributes to the refutation of mentalism is the mere
fact that linguistic signs, or, at least, their representation, are a constitutive
element of every articulate and defined thought process.
We shall apply the term "speech" only to those cases where physical signs
are actually being operated with. Because linguistic signs are by defmition
material objects, speech is always a material process. (In our terminology,
the expression "inner speech", is paradoxical). On the other hand, thought
as an eminently mental process would not be possible without the represen-
tations of linguistic signs and their structuring and organizing role. There is
no doubt that movements of the larynx do occur during thought processes;
they accompany the representation of the signs that would be actually
spoken if the person engaged in thought opened his mouth and allowed
the air to flow through his speech organs. The aim of this discussion is to
dissociate our position from both behaviorism and idealistic mentalism
and transcendentalism. The representation of signs is an inner mental process
which can be reduced neither to any external physical process nor to a
material operation with signs as objects. On the other hand, the thesis that
organized, articulate thought requires linguistic signs (or, at least, the repre-
sentation of signs) convincingly invalidates the transcendentalist view of
language as a secondary expression of the mind which is superordinant to,
and independent of, language. Historically speaking, inner (silent) thought
could have emerged only as a superstructure to previously developed thought
which had already been expressed verbally. Only when man acquired the
habit of thinking aloud and in the context of social communication could
he have started to, so to speak, suspend his speech mechanism and substitute
the spoken and written word by word representation. These are the main
phases of this development.
1. The pre-symbolic phase of language. The aim of speech is not providing
information about objects, but securing the satisfaction of biological needs.
Examples of pre-symbolic language are cries by which early man expressed his
feelings (the expressive function of language is already developed), suggested
certain attitudes and practical operations (the directive function), achieved
social cohesion (in rituals or simple exchanges of words - whose meaning was

immaterial), etc. Pre-symbolic language has two stages: one is exemplified

by the individual making his first effort to communicate with others despite
the fact that his signs have not yet acquired social meaning. Animal sounds
and infants' babble are examples of this stage. The other stage is represented
by speech which, although cognitively meaningless, has expressive and pre-
scriptive meaning.
2. Speech with all dimensions of meaning, and capable of expressing
thought - first through concrete representations, then through abstract
3. The possibility of replacing the sign by its representation in the process
of thought formation arises in highly developed societies, when man is able
not only to talk about material objects but about speech as well, and when
the links between linguistic signs and the appropriate dispositions toward
imagining objects have been firmly established. This is how silent thought
or, as the behaviorists would say, silent speech, emerges.
4. However, the above-mentioned phases do not exhaust the dynamic rela-
tion between language and thought. Until now, we have discussed language
only as a social phenomenon and an instrument of social communication.
But the most advanced individuals transcend the social framework of speech
and thought. Their thought is richer and more complex because it draws
from a web of symbols which go beyond the generally known and accepted
symbols used in society or in specific fields. To be sure, these individuals
can, if they wish, establish a strictly defmed relation between their thought,
their specific system of symbols, and social language - and thus achieve social
communicability. However, they do not have to, and sometimes they don't,
and this renders their thought objectively unintelligible. Hegel (especially
some portions of his Logic) is a case in point. Unfortunately, such exceptional
talents and geniuses are greatly outnumbered by those who also depart from
normal standards, but in a different direction - confused persons, eccentrics,
and psychopaths, who leave the framework of language because they are
unable to conform to it.
This discord between language and thought can be approached in two
ways - depending on how we define the concept of language. If we decide
to define language as a strictly social phenomenon we will say that only
those signs can be termed "language" which function, among other things,
as a means of communication in a given community. But we can also propose
a defmition of language which may include private languages. If we accept
the second defmition we can still deny the existence of thought that cannot
be expressed verbally. However, owing to the many awkward consequences

of the second definition, we shall opt for the first. Thus our defmition
includes the social aspect as one of the necessary elements of language.
Therefore our example of the discord between language and thought should
be described as a case in which thought of individuals transcends the limits
Even if the individual does not use any specific personal symbols and
remains within the limits of social (generally accepted) language, thought
contains its own experiental associations, and therefore cannot be totally
reduced to language. Even when we establish, beyond doubt, that language
is a form of thought - a form of its constitution and also of its practical
expression, the fact remains that language, like every other form, is invari-
ability within variability, and identity in a large number of individual cases
that differ from person to person, from moment to moment.
There is always something unique in the thought of an individual. When
different persons think about Father, Mother, Country, Philosophy, Friend-
ship, their respective thoughts are at least a shade different: invariant elements
of meaning, defmed by identical terms, are abstracted from different experi-
ences and cannot be completely separated from these experiences. We all
have different parents, we have read different books, participated in different
conversations; we have different friends and have experienced friendship under
different circumstances. Finally, the thought of an individual in different
periods of his life distills his life experience, is concretized by different per-
ceptions, colored by different emotional tones, and influenced by different
desires and practical purposes.
Language glosses over many of these differences, and executes so to
speak, a cruel but useful unification. This has unfortunate consequences for
poetry. In its desire to express the fullness of individual existence, poetry
incessantly struggles with the poverty of language. There are thousands of
ways to hate or love, yet just a few puny words to express these feelings.
Something unique, unrepeatable has to be expressed by old, repeatable
words. This is why poets seek new metaphors, forge new words, add new
shades of meaning to old words, create new, seemingly meaningless, word
combinations. And poets do all this, using their specific methods, in order
to convey a specific content to a small group of people with a particular
psychological constitution. This is how poetic language gradually ceases to
be clear and universally intelligible.
The situation is different in science. Science, especially in the phase of
theoretical investigation (and to a lesser degree in the phase of practical
application) seeks general facts and structures. The language of science,

if it is to grasp these facts as accurately and objectively as possible, should

strive for maximal simplicity. P.oetic metaphors can make a scientific text
more interesting and more readable, but they will also diminish its clarity
and render it vague. The intellectual content expressed in a mathematical
formula by, say, a Planck or a Schroedinger is intelligible for the scientist
who works in the field and knows the technical language used in it. All
elements of perception (which is by defmition one-sided), of imagination,
emotion, volition, in other words, everything pertaining to the subjective,
experiental connotation of symbols has to be discarded as meaningless in
this process of conveying scientific thought through language. The required
uniformity of meaning is a liminal concept even in sciences, and especially
in the empirical sciences. Selection of a research programme, interpretation of
data, choice of hypotheses, decision to stop further testing are phases of
research which are not sufficiently regulated by methodological rules and
are open to the impact of preceding experiences, cultural biases, interests
and emotions. In terms of categories this feature of scientific language could
be defmed as a divergence of content from the established order of actual
life. In other words, there is a divergence between thought, which is concrete,
dynamic, and enmeshed in experience - and static linguistic forms and its
underlying logic. Insofar as this is true, the concept of generality in science
should be understood as concrete generality.
What we have had in mind in our discussion of thought so far was discur-
sive, carefully articulated logical thought. Non-discursive, intuitive thought
transcends the framework of language even more than discursive thought,
and in a different way. This is why philosophers who consider contemplation
and intuition the only trustworthy sources of knowledge remain dissatisfied
with language. Already in Plato's Seventh Epistle, where one fmds none of
that unlimited confidence in language prominent in Cratylus, we read that
no intelligent man will ever be so excessively audacious to put in language
the things his mind has contemplated. Because it uses physical signs to
represent meaning, language is for Plato merely the first step to knowledge.
As long as thought remains in the sphere of "existence", it can only strive
to express pure being, but can never attain it. This is why language can never
express the content of purely philosophical knowledge. 13
This point of view is shared by the neoplatonists and by many later mystics.
One of its representatives in modern philosophy is, naturally, Bergson; yet his
is a moderate variant. According to Bergson, language is by nature dead and
unable to express the dynamics of reality. However, language can lead us to a
point where we will be able to transcend it and enter the realpI of the ineffable.

It should be pointed out that intuitive thought is still thought. Despite

the fact that language is unable to express it adequately, intuitive thought
can lead great thinkers to significant insights. However, two claims can
be disputed: first, that intuitive thought is free and independent of any
system of symbols; second, that it produces knowledge and leads to objective
truth. There is no doubt that intuitive thought relies on some non-linguistic
symbols (e.g. visual symbols, images): this is what gives it an internal structure.
The so-called contemplation of oriental mystics most likely isn't thought at
all but, rather, a vague, diffuse state of a consciousness oblivious to all events
around it. In any case, purely intuitive thought falls short of knowledge.
Insights gained by intuitive thought can at best be used as fertile hypotheses
in a real process of cognition - which would include logical discursive
thought and empirical verification.
Our analysis of the relation between language and thought clearly shows
why they cannot be equated. First of all, some processes in which signs
are used are not consciously determined or rationally understood. These
processes can be triggered by conditional reflexes, and by mechanisms
(e.g. machines). According to purely objective, behavioral criteria, what
these machines operate with is language. But language is here divorced from
thought and, naturally, this discrepancy creates serious problems. When
we encounter a (non-human) organism which correctly utilizes linguistic
signs, we shall hardly accept that it thinks what it says or that it thinks at all.
On the other hand, we have cases where thought processes seem to occur
without speech. In normal discursive thought the connection between lan-
guage and thought is not severed since the representations of linguistic signs
participate in the thought structuring process. Yet thought can transcend
language in many ways. Sometimes the discrepancy between thought and
language is such that we get instances of more or less total unintelligibility.
In some cases interpretation is possible only if we manage to identify the
symbols used by the subject and translate them into a socially communicable
code. But even when persons wishing to communicate among each other
use the same set of generally accepted symbols, it will be possible to interpret
what they are saying only if the different specific conditions under which
their thought has developed are taken into consideration. These conditions
determine the specific experiential connotations of shared symbols.
Our analysis of language and thought implies that experience transcends
the limits of language even more so than thought. In other words our entire
psychic life is reducible to language even to a lesser degree than thought.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that language is a structure, a form through

which our entire psychic life is constituted. (For example, unconscious

instincts and complexes are usually connected to certain symbols.) Thought,
and psychic life in general, reflect objective practical reality only insofar
as they are structured by language. This is what Marx means when he says
that language is the direct reality of thought. We could, following this line
of thought, defme other forms of human praxis as the indirect reality of
thought. Another fragment about language, pertinent in this context, comes
from The German Ideology:

Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exists also

for other men, and for that reason alone exists for me personally as well; language, like
consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity. of intercourse with other men. 14

Language and Material Reality

There are two diametrically opposed views about the relation between
language and material reality. According to the first, there is a necessary
connection between language and material reality. This view is characteristic
of primitive man's mythological thought and of common sense. But it is also
present in the speculative methods of traditional realism, rationalism, and
objective idealism in philosophy. According to this view, language mirrors
the structure of reality; in other words, language and reality are identical.
The second view, which comes later and as an exaggerated reaction to the
naive realism, claims that language is a system of freely selected and purely
conventional signs. From this point of view the very question about the
relation between language and external reality is meaningless.
Here is a third humanist-dialectical alternative: Two facts indicate that
language and material reality are neither two aspects of one logos, nor that
language simply mirrors reality in such a way that its elements bi-univocally
correspond to material objects. First, there is not a single symbol in language
which could not be substituted by some other symbol, or whose meaning
could not be changed. Second, there is no language which could be ideal
for all aspects of human communication and praxis. In other words, there
has to be at least one sphere of phenomena for which a given language would
be deemed less adequate than some other language with a more or less dif-
fereut vocabulary and syntactic structure.
The upshot of the first assertion is that the relation of actual and potential
linguistic signs toward corresponding deSignated objects is many-to-one (and
not one-to-one), and that our choice (which is nevertheless limited by the

exigences of social acceptability and by the specific laws of language develop-

ment) determines which of the numerous potential signs will be selected to
symbolize a given material object. Therefore, the meaning of individual
symbols does not necessarily have to correspond to the essential charac-
teristics of one specific sort of object. Thus there is no ontological basis for
assertions about the true meaning of a word.
The upshot of the second assertion is that there is no (and probably
there will never be) perfect, ideal, universal language whose structure is
identical to that of reality. In order to avoid any confusion we should point
out that when speaking of ordinary language as "universal" we assign a
specific meaning to "universal". Ordinary language is universal insofar as it
is based directly on objective social experience. That is why all artificial
languages must be translatable into ordinary language in order to be commu-
nicable. However, ordinary language is not universal if we defme "universal"
as universally applicable. A physicist can hardly use ordinary language for
his theoretical work. We often find ordinary language terminologically
sparse and structurally inadequate when we wish to describe some specific
experiences or express highly abstract thoughts. For that reason we resort
to a variety of technical languages which are - within their limited domain
- superior to ordinary language.
On the other hand, language does not have a purely conventional character,
if it is practically applicable at all. That language is a form of thought and
cognition and an instrument used to coordinate social praxis means that it
can function well only if it is adjusted to the structure of material reality. A
language not conditioned by material reality (disparate with it) would not be
capable of performing some of its essential functions. This kind of language
could be a system of truly conventional signs, capable of expressing and form-
ing a person's thought; perhaps this system could be socially applicable - in a
game or some ritual. However, thought expressed and formed by such a
language could not be characterized as knowledge, the social praxis inspired
by this language would only satisfy man's need for creating and maintaining
social cohesion, but not the need for mastering the elemental forces in his
social and natural environment.
In fact, language is connected to material reality in the following ways:
1. Because of its external aspect, language itself is a material phenomenon;
all of its signs are material objects and inevitably carry in themselves the
"nature of the natural whole". Some functions of language directly depend
on the purely physical qualities of signs. For instance, whether a speech
will have a particular effect on a mass audience and stimulate certain activities

will largely depend on the strength and timbre of the speaker's voice, the
repetitions in his speech, its rhythm and duration. The cognitive function
of language depends much less on the physical aspects of signs, although there
are certain words which are constructed to resemble, as much as possible,
the object they denote - such are onomatopaeic words.
2. There are causal relations between operations with linguistic expressions
and material reality, and these are often not mediated by thought. Namely,
in many cases long practice can make a person react verbally to a material
object in a direct, automatic way. This phenomenon has been remarkably
elucidated by the empiricists (Russell, Wittgenstein, Ryle, Ayer, and others)
in their effort to destroy the Cartesian "ghost in the machine" myth, i.e.
the old idealist assumption that the mind is a primary entity independent
of language. Thus, for instance, in his well-known Inquiry into Meaning and
Truth Russell writes:

c...) In like manner, a black object may cause you to say "this is black" as a result of
a mere mechanism, without any realization of the meaning of your words. Indeed
what is said in this thoughtless way is perhaps more likely to be true than what is said
deliberately; for if you know English there is a causal connection between a black object
and the word "black" which there is not between the same object and the name of a
different colour.
Words may result from the environment just as directly as the sound "ow" when I am
hurt. C .. ) The difference between a cry of pain and the word "black" is that the former
is an unconditioned reflex, which the latter is not; (... )
People who have learnt a certain language have acquired an impulse to use certain words
on certain occasions, and this impulse is analogous to the impulse to cry when hurt. IS

This generalized conclusion is a purely behaviorist one and cannot be upheld

because of the fact that using a word usually involves understanding its
meaning. This is what constitutes the fundamental difference between purely
reflexive speech operations and the conscious use of words. However, lin-
guistic signs can be used reflexively, and this use can have a great practical
significance as an indicator of an extraordinary adjustment to certain repeat-
able types of situations.
3. Of course, the thought-mediated relation between language and
material being is of a crucial epistemological importance. The character of
this relation depends on the cognitive value of the thought expressed by it.
Working out strategies in a chess game is a thought process, but it in no
way leads to a knowledge of the objective truth about reality. Thus the
language of chess does not mirror the structural qualities of reality. Things
are different with ordinary languages and the technical languages used by

scientists. Whenever we have a logically coherent written or spoken text

which orients our praxis in such a manner as to ensure its maximal effective-
ness, the only rational explanation of this situation is that the linguistic
structure of this text relatively corresponds to the structure of the relevant
sphere of material reality. Therefore, to the extent to which language success-
fully performs its functions it really is a reflex of an extra-linguistic reality.
And not only a reflex. Language participates in the process whereby man
constitutes that reality for himself.
This creative role of language is realized in two ways. We first set our goals
in a linguistic form - without language we cannot even imagine the object
which will be created by our praxis. Once created, this object bears the
imprint of language. Furthermore, we formulate our entire knowledge about
reality by language. This still does not mean, as we shall see, that, "the limits
of my language are the limits of my world", but it does mean that language
participates, as a constitutive factor, in our view of the world. When scientists
and philosophers had only ordinary language with its predicative sentences
at their disposal as an instrument to formulate their vision of the worlds, it
was necessary for them to start from the most general assumptions about the
world as substance with its attributes. However, according to the world view
of modern physics, which operates with a strictly relational language, things
almost vanish - relations, structures, functions remain.
When we attempt to think about the relation of language and the material
world in itself, independent of our consciousness (not our view of the world,
the world for us), we cannot resort to comparisons between language and the
world. However, we can venture the following assumption:
If ordinary thought, and especially physical experience, transcend language,
the material world does too, and to a far greater extent. Throughout the
history of human praxis man has been continuously surprised by new kinds
of phenomena with their unpredicted qualities and relations. Language
focuses on the relatively invariant elements in a flux of phenomena - even
personal nouns denote only a constant form in a process of incessant flow
and transformation. Language fails to capture many significant connections
and distinctions - therefore, its structure is only partially adequate to
material reality. It is well known, for instance, that there are several different
relations behind the word "is". The imperfection and the sparsity of language
become quite apparent when we encounter a new sphere of phenomena for
which we lack any structured apparatus of symbols. A typical example is
the shock we experience nowadays, decades after the scientific theories have
been formulated, when we attempt to express, using a generally communicable

language, our reliable and experimentally verifiable knowledge about micro-

physical phenomena and about the relativity of time and space. Here our
traditional common-sense language of solid, determined, three-dimensional
things localized in absolute space and time, completely ceases to function.
Therefore, we must be aware of the problem inherent in the fact that
there is a relative discrepancy between language and material reality. This
discrepancy can be seen on both the syntactic and the semantic levels of
language. Both the vocabulary and the grammatical structure of language
are relatively inadequate to designate material reality. Ordinary language