Re: [xmca] sense and meaning

From: Wolff-Michael Roth (
Date: Tue Jul 12 2005 - 10:38:28 PDT

Hi Mike,
my answer became longer than intended--a statement from which you can
take that I wrote this line after the response, itself requiring that
you already know what I am talking about. So my statement presupposes
intersubjectivity (reproduces it) and produces it anew and in
(slightly) differing way

> 1. The question for you. You write: Heidegger says that words do not
> HAVE meaning,
> they ACCRUE to meaning; that is, as Marx, for Heidegger meaning
> precedes sense, is associated with lived-in situations as a whole,
> involving not just individuals but collectives.
> It seems logical to me that from this perspective, words accrue
> meaning. That is

He writes, "accrue TO meaning"

> very much like LSV insisting the word meanings develop -- not just in
> ontogeny but

Physical sounds are part of situations, we hear them as words, which
requires our bodies, which find themselves in familiar situations,
where some utterances are invariant features. It is because we are in
situations that we hear the same sound "rait" as "to write" in one
situation and as "right" in another. We have little control in most
instances about the process of hearing, we just hear. Situations do not
just exist, but we find ourselves in social activities; in familiar
social activities, utterances are invariant features.

What a word means, therefore, has two determinants--one coming from the
activity, socially organized and as a result of progressive and
continuous division of labor, the other in our bodies that always find
themselves in familiar situation, take a stance with respect to action
and perception.

In a few pieces, I therefore attempted to locate word meaning in the
dialectical relation of two dialectical relations:

activity | action (the relation gives us SENSE) and action | operation
(which I think gives us REFERENCE to the concrete conditions, physical
environment). When we dialectically relate SENSE | REFERENCE, we get to
word meaning. . .

Peter wrote a nice piece on meaning in RER, as he pointed out. There is
also a piece I wrote where I ask the question as to what the meaning of
meaning is.

Roth, W.-M. (2004). What is the meaning of meaning? A case study from
graphing. Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 23, 75–92.

> in cultural history as well. But I am less certain about the idea
> that meaning preceeds
> sense.

I do not think that this is what I meant, as is clear from the previous
lines. One of the sources of meaning lies in our embodied experiences,
which predate anthropogenesis.

> In so far as meanings are cultural precipitats that are there when a
> child is born,
> this seems like it must be true.

They are both, cultural and individual, because there is no culture
without individuals who realize it, and there are no individuals as we
know them without the culture (actually, society).

> But how do we reconcile this with the idea, quite explicitly stated
> in Thinking and Speech that "in the beginning was the deed?" 

I read this as our embodied experiences, including hunting, even
division of labor in hunting as has been shown for chimpanzees, and
exchange relations (love for food) and rules (hierarchical relations).
All of the elements for anthropogenesis were there, as Holzkamp shows,
it was some form of contradiction that ultimately led to a qualitative
change-over in the dominant and subordinate functions (not
disappearance) and the beginning of societal (cultural) development.

> Doesn't the active striving ot the
> individual child provide the conditions under which words are
> experienced such that the sense
> post-meeting is conditioned by, and in some sense preceeded by,
> sense? 

I don't think that the child experiences "words," it experiences
recurrent sound patterns in recurring social situations. The word as
word develops only when the child comes to realize objects (including
bodies of other beings) as something different, which emerges
simultaneously of realizing itself as something different from other

Sense is possibly a form of recurrent patterns, for material actions,
too, obtain one sense in one situation, another in a second, and so

> Perhaps the two
> directionalities are always simultaneously part of a single
> contradictory process?

I think you hit the nail on the head. I am not sure where Heidegger
gets that "in interpretation, understanding appropriates itself in an
understanding way," for Hegel says something very similar (in
Introduction to Phenomenology of Spirit: "Since what first appearerd as
the object sinks for consciousness to the level of its way of knowing
it, and since the in-itself becomes a *being-for-consciousness* of the
in-itself, the latter is now the new object), and Ricœur (who just
passed away), again articulates the elaboration of understanding in the
dialectic with explanation during the interpretive effort
("understanding precedes, accompanies, and concludes explanation; but
explanation elaborates understanding" [somewhere in From Text to

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