Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > How Biologists Lost Sight of the Meaning of Life > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

The obviousness of meaning

And yet, asking about the meaning of things would seem to be the essence of science. Is there a biologist who does not routinely inquire of colleagues, “What do you mean by that?” — and without any hint of irony in the question, or any slight tinge of anxiety about transgressing on forbidden territory? Apparently biologists know quite well what they themselves mean by “mean” — this despite their apparent reluctance to employ the term in their science.

It happens that human language — language in which the whole point is, in general, to learn “What do you mean by that?” — is the vehicle through which all our science is articulated. There could be no textbooks without our ability to “get” meaning as a matter of course. Perhaps the point has been too blindingly obvious to notice: if we understand the world through the meanings of the language we set down in scientific textbooks, and if we believe these meanings to be more or less true of the world, then we must believe that the world is meaningful — that it is in some sense language-like.

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