Meaning without Theory

in Journal of the Philosophy of History
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There is a core conflict between conventional ideas about “meaning” and the phenomenon of meaning and meaning change in history. Conventional accounts are either atemporal or appeal to something fixed that bestows meaning, such as a rule or a convention. This produces familiar problems over change. Notions of rule and convention are metaphors for something tacit. They are unhelpful in accounting for change: there are no rule-givers or convenings in history. Meanings are in flux, and are part of a web of belief and practical activity that is in constant change. We can perhaps salvage some point to appeals to fixed frameworks if we treat them as “as if ” constructions designed as crutches to enable us to improve on literal readings of the texts by making more sense of the inferential connections and practical significance of their content at the time.

Meaning without Theory

in Journal of the Philosophy of History




S. KripkeWittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An Elementary Exposition (Oxford: Blackwell1982).


P. Boghossian“The Rule-Following Considerations,” Mind 98 (1989) 507–549 509.


Q. Skinner“Conventions and the Understanding of Speech Acts,” Philosophical Quarterly 20 (1970) 118–38 135.


Q. Skinner“Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas,” History and Theory 8:1 (1969) 3–53 53.


Skinner“Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas” 31–32.


Skinner“Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas” 53.


Skinner“Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas” 52.


For useful discussions see R. Lamb“Recent Developments in the Thought of Quentin Skinner and the Ambitions of Contextualism,” Journal of the Philosophy of History 3:3 (2009) 246–265 and R. Lamb “Quentin Skinner’s Revised Historical Contextualism: A Critique” History of the Human Sciences 22:3 (2009) 51–73.


S. Turner“ ‘Contextualism’ and the Interpretation of the Classical Sociological Texts,” Knowledge and Society 4 (1983) 273–291.


Q. SkinnerVisions of Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2002) 4–5.


S. Turner“Webs of Belief, Practices, and Concepts,” Archives européennes de sociologie/European Journal of Sociology 3 (2010) 397–421.


A. O. LovejoyThe Reason the Understanding and Time (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press1961) x.


N. Tarcov“Quentin Skinner’s Method and Machiavelli’s Prince,” Ethics 92 (1982) 692–709 695–6.


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