The many different things that are said to mean things seem to have little
in common: people mean to do various things; tools and other artifacts are
meant for various things; people mean various things by using words and
sentences; natural signs mean things; representations in people's minds
also presumably mean things. In Varieties of Meaning Ruth Garrett Millikan
argues that these apparently different kinds of meaning can only be
understood in relation to each other.
What does meaning in the sense of purpose (when something is said to be
meant for something) have to do with meaning in the sense of representing
or signifying? Millikan argues that the explicit human purposes, explicit
human intentions, are represented purposes. They do not merely represent
purposes; they possess the purposes that they represent. She argues further
that things that signify, intentional signs such as sentences, are
distinguished from natural signs by having purpose essentially; therefore,
unlike natural signs, intentional signs can misrepresent or be false.
Part I discusses "Purposes and Cross-Purposes"--what purposes are, the
purposes of people, of their behaviors, of their body parts, of their
artifacts, and of the signs they use. Part II then describes a previously
unrecognized kind of natural sign, "locally recurrent" natural signs, and
several varieties of intentional signs, and discusses the ways in which
representations themselves are represented. Part III offers a novel
interpretation of the way language is understood and of the relation
between semantics and pragmatics. Part IV discusses perception and thought,
exploring stages in the development of inner representations, from the
simplest organisms whose behavior is governed by perception-action cycles
to the perceptions and intentional attitudes of humans.
Ruth Garrett Millikan is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the
University of Connecticut. She is the author of Language, Thought, and
Other Biological Categories (MIT Press, 1984) and White Queen Psychology
and Other Essays for Alice (MIT Press, 1995) and On Clear and Confused Ideas.