denotation

Obviously this writing won’t be a very assorted kind of work. This firmly relates to the behaviour of Goodman not clearly and sharply dividing his topics into different chapters, but developing an evolving point of view on what can be assimilatingly called a theory of symbols. Hence I am just doing the job here, that I present you the information that is given in each chapter of his book named Languages of Art with the subtitle An Approach to a Theory of Symbols.

The articles on each chapter may likely appear to be short, but it’s better to reconstruct this step by step in small parts, as to try to give an all-embracing insight and obviously come to nothing more in the end as a misconception of what Goodman meant to tell his readers. You, as a reader of my summarizing thoughts on Goodman’s chapters maybe draw your own conclusions from this. Goodman nearly starts his approach in saying what he plans to do is a “philosophical examination of the ways symbols function in and out of the arts” (p. 3). He starts right through with a theorem of depicting theory – “A represents B if and only if A appreciably resembles B”. In latin words it would have to be “aliquid stat pro aliquo”, even if this does not seem to be completely similar to you, it has the same intension. But Goodman calls this point of view presented in this theorem naive and gives us a reason via the following words: “Plainly, resemblance in any degree is no sufficient condition for representation” (p. 4). What else do we get to know? The chapter is entitled with denotation, so what is this denotation like? It’s like reference in a very general respect. “The plain fact is that a picture, to represent an object, must be a symbol for it, stand for it, refer to it; […] almost anything may stand for almost anything else. A picture that represents […] an object […] denotes it. Denotation is the core of representation and is independent of resemblance” (p. 5). The latter is just a repetition of what I stated before. And of course when denotation is seen as a general process of refence, representation is more paticular a way of pictural or symbolic denotation. Resemblance though maybe a characteristic “while no sufficient condition for representation, is just the feature that distinguishes representation from denotation of other kinds” (p. 5f.).

I told you that this entry would be short and obviously you can grab at once that it’s indeed a very perishable business summarizing the single chapters, one after the other.

Goodman, Nelson, 1976: The Languages of Art. An Approach to a Theory of Symbols. 2nd ed., Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.

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