The dynamic nature of meaning

In Lorenzo Magnani & Riccardo Dossena (eds.), Computing, Philosophy and Cognition. College Publications. pp. 295-312 (2005)
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In this paper we investigate how the dynamic nature of words’ meanings plays a role in a philosophical theory of meaning. For ‘dynamic nature’ we intend the characteristic of being flexible, of changing according to many factors (speakers, contexts, and more). We consider meaning as something that gradually takes shape from the dynamic processes of communication. Accordingly, we present a draft of a theory of meaning that, on the one hand, describes how a private meaning is formed as a mental state of individual agents during a lifetime of experiences, and, on the other hand, shows how a public meaning emerges from the interaction of agents. When communicating with each other, agents need to converge on a shared meaning of the words used, by means of a negotiation process. A public meaning is the abstract product of many of these processes while, at the same time, the private meanings are continually reshaped by each negotiation. Exploring this dynamics, we have been looking at the work done by computer scientists dealing with problems of heterogeneity of sources of information. We argue that a suitable solution for both disciplines lies in a systematic characterization of the processes of meaning negotiation.

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