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'MEANING' AN EXPERIMENTAL PROBLEM AND NOT A PROBLEM OF PHILOSOPHY OR OF SPECULATIVE PSYCHOLOGY

psychology

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'MEANING' AN EXPERIMENTAL PROBLEM AND NOT A PROBLEM OF PHILOSOPHY OR OF SPECULATIVE PSYCHOLOGY

This type of argument brings us perilously close to the so-called problem of meaning. I should like to say frankly and without combativeness that I have no sympathy with those psychologists and philosophers who try to introduce a concept of 'meaning' ('values' is another sacred word) into behaviour. At every point we would describe all of psychology in terms of what we see the organism doing. The question of meaning is an abstraction, a rationalisation and a speculation serving no useful scientific purpose. In our seminary at Johns Hopkins University during the past year we went over the various formulations of meaning of the psychologists and philosophers. A more barren wilderness of words it has never been my lot to meet. From the bystander's or behaviourist's point of view the problem never arises. We watch what the animal or human being is doing. He means what he does. It is foolish to ask him while he is acting what he is meaning. His action is the meaning. Hence, exhaust the concept of action and we have exhausted the concept of meaning. It is a waste of effort to raise a problem of meaning apart from actions which can actually be observed. To answer what the church means to men it is necessary to look upon the church as a stimulus and to find out what reactions are called out by this stimulus in a given race, in a given group or in any given individual. Parallel with this query we can carry out another as to why the church calls out such and such responses. This might take us into folk lore and into the influence of the code upon the individual, into the influence of parents upon children, causing the race to project the father and mother into a heavenly state hereafter, finally into the realms of the incest complex, homosexual tendencies, and so on. In other words, it becomes like all others in psychology, a problem for systematic observation and experimentation. I have emphasized these general statements about meaning in this connexion because it is often said that thinking somehow pecu- [p. 104] liarly reveals meaning. If we look upon thinking as a form of action comparable in all its essential respects to manual action, such speculations concerning meaning in thinking lose their mystery and hence their charm.









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