Richard Williams on Meaning

Since I want my theory of conversation to include agency and human freedom, I want to record a few key lines from Richard Williams, a professor of psychology who has written about meaningful human action.

  • “The meaning of the action (or of any concept) resides in its possibilities and alternatives, its meaningful network of ends and distinctions….  This notion of meaning as open-endedness, as being rooted in intentional involvement, is at the heart of much of the work in the hermeneutical tradition as well.” (211)
  • “Rychlak (1976, 1977, 1981) has written extensively in a similar vein about the importance of ‘dialectical’ reasoning and dialectical meaning in understanding human behavior and in accounting for such meaningful behaviors as acts of free will.  Dialectical meanings are intrinsically expressions of possibility.” (211)
  • “Meaning is in this manner integrally bound up with human freedom.” (211)
  • “…no act can be meaningful in the sense intended here if it is not an act of human freedom.” (211)
  • “Meaningful action demands possibility rather than necessity, and it demands a telic being, one for whom the world is given in terms of possibility.” (220)
  • “Meaningfulness must be the starting point of our psychology….” (220)


Williams, Richard. (1987). “Can Cognitive Psychology Offer a Meaningful Account of Meaningful Human Action?” The Journal of Mind and Behavior. 8/2: 209-222.


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