1. Thoughts, Words and ThingsEdit

Meaning, the central problem of Language, neglected by the sciences most concerned, 1. Its treatment by philosophers to be considered in detail as the analysis proceeds, particularly in Chapter 8. The philosogical approach. Professor Postgate's clear formulation, 2. The failure of Semantics; Breal, 2. F. de Saussure and la langue, 4. The ethnologists; Boas, 6.[1] [2] The development of psychology makes a scientific treatment of symbols possible, 8.

The importance of symbols in all discussion and inquiry. Symbolism the study of their influence on thought, 8. The many functions of symbols. Their function as organizing and communicating reference to be first considered, 9. Their emotive functions postponed till Chapter 7. A convenient diagram of Symbol, Reference and Referent, 10. The relation of Words to things indirect; through Interpretation, 11. The dangers of verbal shorthand, 12.[3] [4] Advance in Science through its rejection. Relativity; Psychoanalysis, 13.

Misinterpretation, 14. Complexities due to misdirection; Lying, 16. Such derivative problems of secondary importance, 19.

The necessity for a theory of Interpretation based on our observation of others, 19. The dubiety of Introspection. Impossibility of a solipsistic account of communication; Baldwin, 20. The variety and omnipresence of Sign-situations, 21. The peculiar place of Symbols, 23.

Triangle of reference (p. 11) [5]


The influence of language upon Thought is of the utmost importance. Symbolism is the study of this influence, which is as powerful in connection with every day life as in the most abstruse speculation.

There are three factors involved when any statement is made, or interpreted.

  1. Mental processes.
  2. The symbol.
  3. A referent -- something which is thought 'of.'

The theoretical problem of Symbolism is -- How are these three Related?

The practical problem, since we must use words in discussion and argument, is --

How far is our discussion itself distorted by habitual attitudes towards words, and lingering assumptions due to theories no longer openly held but still allowed to guide our practice?

The chief of these assumptions derives from the magical theory of the name as part of the thing, the theory of an inherent connection between symbols and referents. This legacy leads in practice to the search for the meaning of words. The eradication of this habit can only be achieved by a study of Signs in general, leading up to a referential theory of Definition by which the phantom problems resulting from such superstitions may be avoided. When these have been disposed of, all subjects become more accessible and more interesting.

  1. "All speech," says Dr Boas explicitly, "is intended to serve for the communication of ideas." Ideas, however, are only remotely accessible to outside inquirers, and we need a theory which connects words with things through the ideas, if any, which they symbolize. We require, that is to say, separate analyses of the relations of words to ideas and of ideas to things. (p. 7)
  2. "All life comes back to the question of our ideas -- the medium through which we relates words to things, ill or well." This is a parody of #Henry James, "All life comes back to the question of our speech--the medium through which we communicate."
  3. Language if it is to be used must be a ready instrument. The handiness and ease of a phrase is always more important in deciding whether it will be extensively used than its accuracy. Thus such shorthand as the word 'meaning' is constantly used so as to imply a direct simple relation between words and things, phrases and situations. If such relations could be admitted then there would of course be no problem as to the nature of Meaning, and the vast majority of those who have concerned with it would have been right in their refusal to discuss it. But too many interesting developments have been occurring in the sciences, through the rejection of everyday symbolizations and the endeavour to replace them by more accurate accounts, for any naive theory that 'meaning' is just 'meaning' to be popular at the moment.