Meaning and causal relations

Usage is right
Usage wins
All language is folk language
All language is slang

So where does that leave us and our term “water” and our associated concept of water? We have 1) molecules of stuff somewhere out there in the world in our rivers and streams. These molecules, as we encounter them, cause physical events to occur, which cause still other events, etc. until some event(s) in this chain ultimately impinge in some way upon 2) some mysterious things happening in our heads; and finally we have 3) our observable linguistic behavior, which presumably is caused or influenced by 2). We have a long way to go before we understand 2) and the exact relationship between it and 1) and 3), but once we do understand these things, there will be nothing left to explain about language and meaning. It is sometimes said that meaning is merely mediated by causal connections between the outside world and our minds. I, however, would say that meaning just is those causal connections, plus some mysterious stuff happening entirely within the mind. Any talk of meaning beyond this has no explanatory or predictive power at all. There simply are no facts about the universe, either extrinsic, third-person “scientific” facts, or subjective phenomenal what-its-like-to-see-red-type facts, that are explained by assuming magic meaning rays connecting our thoughts to trees, cars, and the Milky Way galaxy.


from John Gregg, “Language and Meaning”

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