A mother lets me watch her kids and says to me: “Show the children a game.” When she returns, she sees me teaching them to gamble with dice. She angrily exclaims, “I didn’t mean that sort of game!”
It’s true that she did mean not that sort of game. But what fact about the matter makes this true? She need not have had a conscious thought at the time of the request. Somehow her request made a normative division of proper responses, between those that would satisfy it and those that wouldn’t, and gambling was sorted as unsatisfactory, despite in a literal sense satisfying the request.
If you find this puzzling that, nonetheless, what you did was an inappropriate response to her request, then you are falling for a Cartesian trap.
- you believe that the “mental” is something within the brain,
- you believe that intentional “meaning” is something that occurs on a personal, rather than community, level
- you’re missing what distinguishes a sign from a piece of wood (namely, how its meaning is not in the wood but rather in how it is treated by community institutions).