New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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8
PROBLEMS IN MEANING
reporting any external state of affairs; the conceptions, not the referents, are accented. At the other extreme, conceptions symbolized by simple, basic words like "red" and "go" Bertrand Russell's "object-words"are directly derived from the referents themselves: "Their meaning is learnt (or can be learnt) by confrontation with objects which are what they mean, or instances of what they mean." 9 In such cases, the denotative relationship between words and referents is accented. But these "object-words" are notunfortunately, perhapsthe important terms of esthetics and art criticism.
Indeed, all of the words which concern the esthetician and critic most deeply have acquired their meanings in a far less simple fashion than "by confrontation with objects." Terms like "beauty," "art," "esthetics," "judgment," "value," "quality," and so forth have never stood for specific referents, but have rather been a part of a series of contexts, the meanings of which are constantly shifting to a greater or smaller degree. Nor is this shifting remarkable when we remember the indirectness of the semantic relationship, and the general and abstract character of the words in question. In the case of words of an adjectival character, moreover, an exceptional degree of shifting occurs for the following reason:
Whenever we employ a word we at least implicitly intend, purpose, or mean two things: not the thing-meant alone, but also as much of the word-meaning as is applicable to the thing-meant. ... A meaning is said of a thing-meant; but the listener may be induced to stop at the meaning, in which case the thing-meant, though still there, fades into momentary insignificance.10
Now this latter situation occurs with a word like "beauty," which is distinctly adjectival. We use the word not primarily
9.  Bertrand Russell, An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (New York, 1940), p. 28.
10.  A. H. Gardiner, The Theory of Speech and Language (Oxford, 1932),. p. 257.