(of mine here)
This rambles a bit. It's an exploration, so I'm not trying to provide any real answers, just share my thoughts and maybe get some feedback or discussion.
I was thinking the other day about semantics and phi of lang, and had the sudden thought, "Words want to be understood!" This was a thought, essentially, about context and the ability of both language itself and the human mind to compensate for incomplete understanding. I really don't think philosophy of language can truly be separated satisfactorily from biology, much less psychology (at least at its deeper levels. Obviously one can talk about language systems in a relatively objective math-symbol sense), but that's neither here nor there.
What concerns me is the claim that words can "want" something. The ascription of intentionality to a clearly constructed semiotic thing -- be it category, symbol, or abstraction -- manages to be both nonsensical and intuitive. It's easy to anthropomorphisize, as is well known. However, what's interesting about ascribing intention to such constructs is that unlike material objects, semiotic things transcend individual instantiations (Here you might argue that any type transcends its tokens, and that semiotic things are no different. I don't have a good response for that yet, but I feel there's a difference). That is, my original sign, "words," exists independently of my understanding of it, although my understanding of it uniquely belongs to me, it did not originate within me.
That is, I'm dealing with the idea that the sign is somehow subsidiary to myself, and deciding that it is not. That's my first step in dealing with my desire to ascribe it intention; clarifying that I myself do not provide it with intention.
Taking a different tack, I'm also interested in what it means to have intention -- that is, what exactly am I saying when I say that words 'want'? Signs (I'm more comfortable with the phrase 'symbolic objects,' but that seems useless verbiage) clearly aren't going to get up and do something without my participation. How else can we discuss 'want'? We can theoretically ascribe intentionality to a thing we did not previously realize was intentional (thought experiment: intelligent robots) by observing its behavior. But the behavior of a sign is the behavior that the significator takes, uses, or allows.
So, this is a potential question, then. Is my behavior altered by being in contact with this -- I'm sorry, it's just more useful here -- type of symbolic object? The answer is an unequivocal yes, of course; I wouldn't act the same way if I wasn't aware of it, but that's trivial (it's the same for all knowledge or information). So the real question is, how would I establish that the changes to my behavior indicate or do not indicate the presence of intention?
I'm sorry, I'm getting distracted by another project, so I'm going to leave off for here. Here's a summary/clarification of what I think I said:
Ascribing intention to semiotic objects is apparently nonsensical; it breaks the useful definition of intention if we apply it to non-animate things, especially abstract things. However, it also seems to be intuitive. Why might this be? And might it be the case that there is some meaning of intention that is useful for this context? To explore both questions, I discussed such objects' 'non-local' distribution; that is, it's not adequate to describe them as simply similar things present in multiple locations. This means that I can't say I am truly in possession of any given sign as I might be with, say, a physical tool of which many other people have a copy -- the very fact that I am agreeing that I could 'break' a definition (see above) demonstrates this. Whatever I do to my power drill isn't going to cause other peoples' to become ineffective for me. So to continue, I asked what I meant by intention or 'want,' and answered badly; I skipped mid-paragraph from asking that question to discussing how we can identify its presence in things. I would like some discussion of this point, because I'm not quite sure how to fix it. Finally, I continued with that same identification of presence in conjunction with my initial point about non-locality: can it be said that my altered behavior is an expression of intention on behalf of a sign?