2.22 Meaning and Use

Category: Philosophy of Language

Keywords: wittgenstein, ryle, word, usage, words, talking, signs, verbal, language, expressions, sign, moore, uses, grammatical, remark

Number of Articles: 632
Percentage of Total: 2%
Rank: 4th

Weighted Number of Articles: 598.3
Percentage of Total: 1.9%
Rank: 6th

Mean Publication Year: 1961.2
Weighted Mean Publication Year: 1962
Median Publication Year: 1961
Modal Publication Year: 1961

Topic with Most Overlap: Ordinary Language (0.0783)
Topic this Overlaps Most With: Definitions (0.0442)
Topic with Least Overlap: Quantum Physics (0.00027)
Topic this Overlaps Least With: Thermodynamics (0.00108)

A scatterplot showing which proportion of articles each year are in the meaning and usetopic. The x-axis shows the year, the y-axis measures the proportion of articles each year in this topic. There is one dot per year. The highest value is in 1962 when 5.1% of articles were in this topic. The lowest value is in 1904 when 0.2% of articles were in this topic. The full table that provides the data for this graph is available in Table A.22 in Appendix A.

Figure 2.56: Meaning and use.

A set of twelve scatterplots showing the proportion of articles in each journal in each year that are in the Meaning and Usetopic. There is one scatterplot for each of the twelve journals that are the focus of this book. In each scatterplot, the x-axis is the year, and the y-axis is the proportion of articles in that year in that journal in this topic. Here are the average values for each of the twelve scatterplots - these tell you on average how much of the journal is dedicated to this topic. Mind - 2.4%. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society - 2.7%. Ethics - 0.5%. Philosophical Review - 1.6%. Analysis - 4.8%. Philosophy and Public Affairs - 0.2%. Journal of Philosophy - 1.6%. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research - 2.0%. Philosophy of Science - 0.9%. Noûs - 1.0%. The Philosophical Quarterly - 2.9%. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science - 0.5%. The topic reaches its zenith in year 1937 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 7.4% of the articles. And it hits a minimum in year 1911 when it makes up, on average across the journals, 0.2% of the articles.

Figure 2.57: Meaning and use articles in each journal.

Table 2.50: Characteristic articles of the meaning and use topic.
Table 2.51: Highly cited articles in the meaning and use topic.


This topic is mid-century philosophy of language, especially influenced by Wittgenstein’s later work. It’s tempting to say that it’s influenced by Philosophical Investigations, though as you can see some of this work takes place well before the Investigations are published. Still, a lot of this work turns out to have had a Wittgensteinian influence.

For example, those high points in the graph for pre-war Analysis are largely driven by a few exchanges. One of those is between Margaret MacDonald, A. M. MacIver on how to understand the type/token distinction. The exchange includes at least the following. (I think this is complete, though I may have missed some.)

I don’t know how I ultimately want to feel about this exchange. On the one hand, I’m on MacIver’s side of the philosophical dispute at the heart of the exchange. On the other hand, you could put McIver’s articles in a museum as an exemplar of mansplaining.

MacDonald is notable for several reasons, this exchange not really being one of them. She was one of the founders of Analysis, and then edited it from 1948 until her tragically early death in 1956. She wrote a very important paper on natural rights; it is the only highly cited paper back in Topic 3. And it was her notes, along with those of Alice Ambrose, that got turned into Wittgenstein’s Lectures on Ethics. So there is a Wittgensteinian influence to these pre-war papers too.

I was surprised that this topic didn’t feature more papers in Philosophical Review. I thought Norman Malcolm’s move to Cornell in 1947 would have led to more Wittgensteinian articles here. But most of the Wittgenstein/Malcolm influenced work that turned up in the Review was in Topic 24.