Philosophical Studies

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 33–47 | Cite as

Meaning and synonymy in natural languages

  • Rudolf Carnap


Natural Language 
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  1. 1.
    This distinction is closely related to that between radical concepts and L-concepts which I made inIntroduction to Semantics. The contrast between extension and intension is the basis of the semantical method which I developed inMeaning and Necessity. Quine calls the two theories “theory of reference” and “theory of meaning,” respectively.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    R. Carnap, “Meaning Postulates,”Philosophical Studies, 3:65–73 (1952).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    W. V. Quine, From aLogical Point of View: Nine Logico-Philosophical Essays (1953). For his criticism of intension concepts see especially Essays II (“Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” first published in 1951), III, and VII.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    M. White, “The Analytic and the Synthetic: An Untenable Dualism” in Sidney Hook, ed.,John Dewey: Philosopher of Science and Freedom, 1950, pp. 316–30.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Some philosophers have indeed defined the intension of a predicate (or a concept closely related to it) as the class of the possible objects falling under it. For example, C. I. Lewis defines: “The comprehension of a term is the classification of all consistently thinkable things to which the term would correctly apply” (“The Modes of Meaning,”Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 4:236–50 (1944)). I prefer to apply modalities like possibility not to objects but only to intensions, especially to propositions or to properties (kinds). (CompareMeaning and Necessity, pp. 66f.) To speak of a possible case means to speak of a kind of objects which is possibly non-empty.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    After writing the present paper I have become acquainted with a very interesting new book by Ame Naess,Interpretation and Preciseness: A Contribution to the Theory of Communication (Skrifter Norske Vid. Akademi, Oslo, II. Hist.-Filos. Klasse, 1953, No. 1). This book describes in detail various procedures for testing hypotheses concerning the synonymity of expressions with the help of questionnaires, and gives examples of statistical results found with these questionnaires. The practical difficulties and sources of possible errors are carefully investigated. The procedures concern the responses of the test persons, not to observed objects as in the present paper, but to pairs of sentences within specified contexts. Therefore the questions are formulated in the metalanguage, e.g., “Do the two given sentences in the given context express the same assertion to you?” Although there may be different opinions concerning some features of the various procedures, it seems to me that the book marks an important progress in the methodology of empirical meaning analysis for natural languages. Some of the questions used refer also to possible kinds of cases, e.g., “Can you imagine circumstances (conditions, situations) in which you would accept the one sentence and reject the other, or vice versa?” (p. 368). The book, both in its methodological discussions and in its reports on experiences with the questionnaires, seems to me to provide abundant evidence in support of the intensionalist thesis (in the sense explained in §3 above).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Y. Bar-Hillel in a recent paper (“Logical Syntax and Semantics,”Language 30:230–37 (1954)) defends the concept of meaning against those contemporary linguists who wish to ban it from linguistics. He explains this tendency by the fact that in the first quarter of this century the concept of meaning was indeed in a bad methodological state; the usual explanations of the concept involved psychologistic connotations, which were correctly criticized by Bloomfield and others. Bar-Hillel points out that the semantical theory of meaning developed recently by logicians is free of these drawbacks. He appeals to the linguists to construct in an analogous way the theory of meaning needed in their empirical investigations. The present paper indicates the possibility of such a construction. The fact that the concept of intension can be applied even to a robot shows that does not have the psychologistic character of the traditional concept of meaning.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Johnson Reprint Corporation 1955

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rudolf Carnap
    • 1
  1. 1.University of California at Los AngelesUSA

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