September 24, 2012

Understanding Locke: is it possible?

 As a warning I should probably tell you that this journal is slightly all over the place. We had talked about Locke in my Rhetoric class over the summer but it was only for a day, a couple hours really, and he was mixed in with Bacon and Hume. So, when I began reading his text "Essay of Human Understanding" I was a little confused. The wording was harder for me to decipher than some of the other works we have read so I'm sort of drawing on the knowledge I learned over the summer to try to fill in the gaps.

What I did take away from the reading was what he began talking about in the beginning of the article. His notion of how we make meaning in words and on their own they don't really have any significance reminded me a lot of I.A. Richards. For those of you who don't know Richards, he had a "Contextual Theorem of Meaning" that which he talks about in two parts: that meaning is contextual and words don't have meaning in isolation. I know we didn't talk about Richards in class but I feel that he built many of his theories of rhetoric around Locke's ideas.

Locke talks about the meaning of words through the context of which we learn them. How when we're younger we either take the meanings that are given to us or figure it out on our own. But no matter which way you find out the  meaning of the word it still has a different meaning to everyone because everyone of us draws on different personal experiences or pasts that make-up the meaning of the word. Some words will carry more weight than others for certain individuals, words like "Love", "Hope" , "Despair", and "Solitude" will each mean something different to everyone. For example the word "Solitude" for me just means to be left alone for a little while usually voluntarily to do my homework or just out of the want to be alone. However, for someone else it may mean something like solitary confinement; being forced to be alone without the choice being given to them.

With this being said I do agree with Locke on this. I feel like words can be very flexible in their meaning and while we may have an outline of what we believe it to mean it could still be stretched to mean something that we hadn't thought of. Another thing that I have questions about is who determines the meanings of words? Is it just through context? How many times the word is used? Like the Oxford Dictionary how they add new words every year, how is that determined? What are the requirements?


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