Dissertation, Emory University (2013)

Jacob Rump
Creighton University
Given the undeniable influence of the linguistic turn, it is common to characterize epistemology in the twentieth century as centrally concerned with meaning. But many of the early twentieth-century figures who helped to inspire that turn did not characterize meaning exclusively in terms of language. In response to contemporary accounts that tend to limit the scope of meaning to the semantic, pragmatic or conceptual, I use the work of Husserl and Wittgenstein to argue for the importance of non-linguistic aspects of lived experience (Erlebnis) to the theory of meaning, situating the project historically as a legacy of Kant's Critical epistemology and systematically in terms of contemporary debates about the role and status of nonconceptual content. I argue in Chapter One that a robust theory of meaning must take account of the way the conditions of the possibility for meaning are determined by intrinsically value-bearing features of everyday experience, features that are not themselves inherently linguistic or conceptual. Most contemporary nonconceptualist accounts of perceptual experience fail to adequately theorize the role of the nonconceptual on its own terms, reducing nonconceptual elements of experience to that of mere "fodder" for conceptualization and ignoring the epistemic role the nonconceptual plays in determining structural conditions of possibility. This can be overcome through a transcendental-constitutional approach that examines the full range of experiential structures--including those not mediated by language or concepts--by which meaning is constituted. Tracing a series of parallel developments in the theories of meaning of Husserl and Wittgenstein in Chapters Two through Five, I argue that--despite important differences--both authors' later conceptions of meaning necessarily include accounts of its relation to an inexact, non-linguistic dimension of experiential life: the lifeworld (Husserl) or form(s) of life (Wittgenstein). What appears from the standpoint of linguistic and conceptual analysis to be an unfortunate inexactness is in terms of the later conceptions of both philosophers not the result of incomplete analysis, but of a recognition of the ontological primacy of the lived and fundamentally social phenomenon of meaningfulness that characterizes our experience in a way that outstrips conceptual and linguistic representation.
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