A sign that does not affect behavior has no meaning.
Pragmatic philosophers from Pierce to Dewey have pointed out that in practice the meaning of a term does not lie in what it comes from, but in what it leads to; or, as they put it, in the difference it makes to the respondents behavior. A sign that does not affect behavior has no meaning, no matter what it signifies. Thus the meaning of a sign lies in what it can make one do. When one cries fire in a crowded theater, the meaning of the cry is not to be found in the flames denoted or the heat connoted but in the effort to escape harm or avoid destruction that it produces. In effect, meaning, though a function of what a sign signifies, is separate from it; it lies not in the signification of a sign but in its significance. (PS l70)
This page was last updated on July 24, 1996, by Rob Sable.