Post-Modern Truth?

Murphy writes: "Second, Scott has said that–consistent with his weird post-modern view of what truth is–the meaning of a writer’s post depends on what the readers thought he meant, not what he intended to mean."

I don't think this notion of a statement's meaning is "post-modern" at all.


Computer code: I intend to square x + y and assign the result to z. But I write "z = x + y^2". The meaning of that is to assign y squared plus x to z. Even though that is not what I intended.

Natural language:

When John Cleese says, "My hovercraft is full of eels," it means something about a futuristic ship being full of snake-like fish. The fact that he meant to ask, "Do you have matches?" does not change that fact.

In fact, it is claiming that the meaning of our utterances depends upon what we intend them to mean that really gets us sunk in the post-modernist soup: I can say anything at all -- "I intend to blow up Bob Murphy's new house" -- and claim that all I really meant by it was that I am happy Bob has a new place.


  1. I am not going to defend the particular wording I used--I get what you are saying as a critique of the words that I typed. (Ironic, since that's the very issue under dispute--I am chuckling.)

    However, what I *meant* to say was a very valid critique of what Sumner's position is, and I think you would agree with me if I could find the post where he explained his view.

    Suppose I type, "Yesterday I dropped off my overdue books at the pubic library."

    Someone says, "Whoa, do you think Bob meant 'public' library or do you really think he went to a pubic library?"

    Are you telling me Gene that we have to only look at what I wrote, and not try to get inside my mind?

  2. Let me try it another way, Gene: If I understand Scott's position (assuming he was being serious), he was saying that there is no fact of the matter about what (say) Matt Yglesias *really* meant by a statement on his blog. Rather, Yglesias' actual intended meaning can only be socially constructed by the community of readers.

    In the same way (I think I'm accurately stating Scott's view), it is nonsense to ask what is truth in physics or chemistry. "Truth" is simply the body of propositions that the leading experts in those fields endorse at a particular time.