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Misunderstanding and Meaning Change

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 May 2024


Today, the tone of discussion in the public sphere is dominated by misunderstanding. A common assumption is that misunderstanding comes from a failure of understanding. This article argues that misunderstanding is in fact a type of meaning change. To fully understand the contrast between misunderstanding as a failure of understanding and misunderstanding as a type of meaning change, the article uses Ludwig Wittgenstein and Hans-Georg Gadamer as a starting point to tease out an unthought assumption. Both thinkers challenge traditional preconceptions of how language shapes understanding and they make prominent use of the concept of misunderstanding to do so. Yet both rely on a de facto model of misunderstanding as a failure of understanding. To consider an alternative notion of misunderstanding, the article looks at examples from thinkers influenced by Wittgenstein's and Gadamer's philosophy. Finally, the article concludes by positing a new definition of misunderstanding.

Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2024

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