Husserl develops the foundations of his theory of meaning in his Logical Investigations, particularly in Investigation I, which is entitled ‘Expression and Meaning’. The introductory paragraphs are devoted to distinguishing ‘meaningful’ signs – linguistic expressions – from indicative signs. The concepts essential to his theory of the meaning of linguistic expressions are introduced by Husserl in §§9–14. The first, fundamental step is taken in §9: if an expression is not just ‘a mere word-sound’ but a sign and, moreover, a sign of a specific kind, then this is due to the fact that it can be ‘interpreted’ as something which has a meaning. The mere pattern of sounds or marks on paper does not have a meaning in itself; rather the meaning is ‘conferred’ upon it by its being interpreted in a particular way.
This first step in Husserl's investigation seems to me to be unobjectionable, though not obvious. By taking it Husserl placed his analyses on a deeper though more hazardous basis than Frege: a satisfactory theory of meaning cannot confine itself to talking abstractly about meanings; it must also take into account the psychological or anthropological factor of the sign-user. Meanings do not exist in a Platonic heaven; they are meanings of signs. And they are meanings of signs only in virtue of the fact that certain sensible forms are used (‘interpreted’) as signs.
If this is so, then it is fundamental to a satisfactory theory of meaning that one correctly characterize the mode of behaviour, or consciousness, in which an expression is interpreted as meaningful. In the previous lecture I drew attention to the fact that one only speaks of meanings of expressions in connection with an understanding of these expressions. One would therefore have expected Husserl to refer to that which ‘confers’ meaning on the expression as understanding, so that the further question would then have to be: What is it to understand an expression?
From the outset, however, Husserl speaks, as though this were obvious, of meaning-conferring acts. And in Husserl ‘act’ is a technical term for ‘intentional experience’. As indicated in Lecture 6, by an intentional experience Husserl means a mode of consciousness of an object.