Sensefulism: Denotationabilism and Connotationabilism

Hassan Ajami
Hassanajami25@yahoo.com

2021 / 7 / 9


Sensefulism is the philosophical doctrine which says that words and sentences are neither senseful nor senseless, but we make them either senseful´-or-senseless in light of our belief systems and intellectual inquiries. In fact, we create the meanings of concepts and propositions, although concepts and propositions are in themselves neither meaningful nor meaningless. According to sensefulism, words and sentences are characterized by sensefulization, i.e. a process enabling them to possess meanings, given the right conditions, even if they are neither meaningful nor meaningless in themselves.

We form the meanings of words and sentences through fixing the truth conditions, such as “snow is white” if and only if snow is white,´-or-through fixing the assertibility conditions, such as being justified in asserting “snow is white” when we recognize that snow is white. But the truth conditions and the assertibility conditions of the same concept´-or-proposition differ from one theory to another, leading the same concept´-or-proposition to have different meanings in different theories. Therefore, concepts and propositions have no meanings in themselves, but rather we form their meanings in light of the theories which we accept.

For example, the term gravity in Newton’s physics means force, while, in Einstein’s physics, it means the curvature of space-time and not force. And the same applies to any other concept and/or statement, because what is true and/or assertable in one theory is false and/or unassertable in another. Therefore, the concept of gravity has no meaning in itself outside of the context of a given theory, leading to the conclusion that concepts and propositions have no meanings in themselves, i.e. they are neither meaningful nor meaningless outside of a certain context´-or-theory, but we determine their meanings in accordance with our theories.

We assume that words and sentences have denotations (i.e. literal meanings and/or references) and connotations (i.e. nonliteral meanings). Yet this assumption is wrong because otherwise we can’t be successful in accounting for the fact that denotations and connotations actually change. In other words, if there were definite denotations and connotations of words and sentences, then these denotations and connotations wouldn’t have changed. But they change. Therefore, there are no definite denotations and connotations. And hence, words and sentences in themselves lack denotations and connotations, leading to the conclusion that words and sentences are in a continuous process of acquiring their denotations and connotations. This means that any word´-or-sentence only has the ability to possess a denotation and a connotation, and it possesses its denotation and connotation in virtue of the theories which we accept.

In light of these considerations, denotationability is the ability of words and sentences to have definite denotations, while connotationability is the ability of any word´-or-sentence to have a definite connotation. Words and sentences are denotationable and connotationable in the sense that they acquire their denotations and connotations in light of certain theories, and outside of the context of a theory they lack any denotations and connotations, exactly as gravity gains a certain meaning in Newton’s physics, while it gains a different meaning in Einstein’s physics, leading to the conclusion that the term gravity outside the context of a theory has neither a denotation nor a connotation.

From this perspective, denotationabilism is the philosophical doctrine which says that words and sentences have denotationabilities, i.e. abilities to possess denotations, while connotationabilism is the philosophical theory which states that words and sentences have connotationabilities, i.e. abilities to have connotations. And this is why we are constantly searching for their denotations and connotations. Since any word´-or-sentence has a denotationability and a connotationability, i.e. has the ability to have a denotation and a connotation, it is natural that words and sentences are in a continuous process of changing their denotations and connotations, causing them to acquire different denotations and connotations. This is how both denotationabilism and connotationabilism explain why the literal and nonliteral meanings of words and sentences always change. They change because they neither have definite denotations nor definite connotations-;- they only have abilities to possess denotations and connotations.

For example, the word reality´-or-universe has neither a denotation nor a connotation, but rather we are constantly inquiring about and searching for the literal and nonliteral meaning of the word reality´-or-universe. If there were a denotation and/or a connotation of the word reality´-or-universe, then there should have been a universal agreement among all people on the definite denotation and connotation of this word. But there is no universal agreement with respect to the definite denotation and connotation of the word reality´-or-universe (e.g. some physicists, such as John Wheeler, define reality´-or-the universe as being a set of information, while other physicists, such as Max Tegmark, analyzes reality as being a set of mathematical equations, in addition to the fact that, in classical physics, the universe is a set of material atoms consisting of material particles, such as electrons). Therefore, the term reality´-or-universe in itself has neither a denotation nor a connotation, which also explains why we are always searching for its denotation and connotation, and guarantees the continuation of our philosophical and scientific inquiries. If there were a definite denotation´-or-connotation of the term reality´-or-universe, then there would be no reason at all to continue,´-or-even start, any philosophical and/or scientific inquiry aiming at analyzing reality´-or-the universe. Therefore, the fact that our words and sentences lack definite denotations and connotations guarantees the continuation of our inquiries.



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