Meaning without Theory

Abstract There is a core conflict between conventional ideas about “meaning” and the phenomenon of meaning and meaning change in history. Conventional accounts are either atemporal or appeal to something fixed that bestows meaning, such as a rule or a convention. This produces familiar problems over change. Notions of rule and convention are metaphors for something tacit. They are unhelpful in accounting for change: there are no rule-givers or convenings in history. Meanings are in flux, and are part of a web of belief and practical activity that is in constant change. We can perhaps salvage some point to appeals to fixed frameworks if we treat them as “as if ” constructions designed as crutches to enable us to improve on literal readings of the texts by making more sense of the inferential connections and practical significance of their content at the time.