`Chair` And the Phenomenon of Chairs
Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on August 17, 2007
I want to give another example how in discussing what words refer to, we don’t need to assume some intra-mental concepts, in which the meaning of the term would be ‘encoded’ (be it as a list of necessary and sufficient conditions, genus/differentia, as nodes in theories, through prototypes, etc…), but as a relation to something which appears as content of our intentional acts.
I said that ‘bachelor’ is in such way related to a phenomenon of bachelorhood, a real phenomenon which appears in the specific context of social relations (but might not appear in others). That the phenomenon is dependent on the context, doesn’t make it any less real, just not self-subsistent. That is, its existence depends on the existence of the particular context. The word ‘bachelor’ then picks out one of those persons that share with each other the particular position in society organized by particular principles. In such way, though the ‘bachelor’ is not some intra-mental concept (as I think nominalists would say), and while also there is no assumed essence which is shared by all bachelors, the term picks out some aspect of reality. In such way one can be externalist about phenomenon of bachelorhood, and claim that the word ‘bachelor’ picks out something in the world (though in a roundabout way – only through the phenomenon of bachelorhood which appears on level of society, and only then applying it to a particular person as a part of that phenomenon).
I think same can be said about chairs. I think one shouldn’t search for some definition of what makes a chair, but look at chairs as particular phenomenon that appears in certain kind of societies. From that point of view, to explain meaning of ‘chairs’ we don’t look for a definition which every chair has to fulfill. Instead we talk about the phenomenon of chairs. And that there is phenomenon of chairs is unproblematic. People have factories in which chairs are produces, chairs are manufactured, sold and bought. Chairs come in different dimensions, styles and colors, and people usually place them in their homes, sit on them while they are eating something, to take a rest, to read, and so on.
So the phenomenon is there, and because it is there, we can become aware of it. And because it is phenomenon, and not something essential which is found in every chair, people have space to play with the individual chairs, which while being weird in some way are part of the phenomenon.