Waiting for Godot is one of the most famous plays of the 20th Century.

In it, two characters named Vladimir and Estragon pass the time on a country road as they wait for a man named Godot to arrive.

The play is famously weird and mysterious and open-ended – prompting the question – What is this story about? The play massively interests me as an actor, because it’s brilliant and really, really fun to perform, but it also interests me as a man with a background in philosophy, because it is part of the Theatre of the Absurd.

Absurdism is a philosophical movement that wound up influencing a lot of 20th Century art, through a rather interesting story: Samuel Beckett was an Irishman who moved to Paris in 1928 and sank into this cultural milieu that was going on.

At the time it was very fashionable for ‘philosopher’ and ‘creative artist’ to be fused in one person: philosophers wrote literature and writers wrote philosophy. And then, something very bad happened. Something called WWII.

France is invaded by the Nazis. And so ‘philosopher,’ ‘creative artist,’ and ‘resistance fighter’ become fused into single persons, as both Samuel Beckett and Albert Camus join the underground resistance. And this is the context in which Camus writes his most famous work – ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ – in 1942.

The book asks ‘How Should We Confront the Absurd?’ The Absurd, with a Capital A, is a technical term in Camus’ writing: it refers to the contradiction between humanity’s desire to find meaning in the Universe and the Universe itself, which is completely meaningless. And once you realise that life is pointless but you are compelled to find a point to it anyway, Camus says there are seven possible responses. anyway.

  1. Number one, you could kill yourself.
  2. Number two, you could try to ignore it by filling your life with pleasure of food, drink, and uh, company.
  3. Number three, you could just deny it: for insatnce you could be religious and say that no, there is meaning in life because the meaning comes from God. Or you could be an existentialist, and say that maybe you don’t go in for organised religion so much but in some sense you create your own meaning in life. Camus saw both of those as forms of denial, he says you’re still not really looking life in the face because ultimately the universe is meaningless. Which is why he didn’t like to be called an existentialist, although his work does have some themes in common with that.
  4. The fourth way of confronting the Absurd is to become an actor, and try to live lives that pretend to have meaning within the context of stories.
  5. Fifth is to become another kind of rtist, like a painter, somebody who creates works of art that have meanings as a substitute for living a life with one.
  6. And the sixth is to become a political person, like a conqueror. Somebody for whom power and government and the right way to use those things, fills up their time and gives them meaning. All of these methods Camus considers and ultimately rejects.
  7. But the seventh and final method of confronting the Absurd, the one that he actually recommends, is acceptance.

Accepting that life is pointless but that you are compelled to find a point to it anyway. But this acceptance isn’t a kind of sad, passive, depressing acceptance: Camus thought it was an act of resistance against the Universe itself. You look life square in the face; you don’t deny it, you don’t distract yourself and you don’t give in, and you live life anyway in full knowledge of its pointlessness.

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was doomed to roll a boulder up a mountain every day and then watch it roll back down again every night. Forever.

And Camus says that’s the only way Sisyphus can really be happy is he accepts the pointlessness of that task. And he decides to own it and go down the mountain every night smiling.

You can see how living in Nazi-occupied France informed a lot of these ideas: this feeling of fighting what looked like an unwinnable battle against uncaring forces indulging in pointless inhuman destruction, was a feeling Camus was very familiar with day to day. The final line of the book is “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

And then we come to 1953, and the premiere performance of Waiting for Godot. À l’époque, c’était en Français: ‘En attendant Godot’; The English translation came two years later. In it, Vladimir and Estragon are engaged in what seems to be a neverending, pointless, and often repetetive task – waiting for Godot.

Waiting for Godot is the whole reason they are there and yet he never turns up. So their situation is rather like someone else’s we’ve just met! The play is about what people do when confronted with the Absurd: with the compulsion to find meaning where no meaning exists.

And throughout the play, the characters try every method of confronting the Absurd that Camus suggests. They talk about killing themselves, but they don’t. They talk about attempting some sexual pleasure, or becoming more physically comfortable with food or with their shoes.

Vladimir considers some religious ideas at various points but it doesn’t seem to satisfy him. All of the characters are of course, metatextually, played by actors, and so they are examining that way of confronting it too.

Vladimir tries singing at one point, and various popular interpretations of the characters present the two as being rather like a music hall double act generally. One of the other characters, Pozzo, who has a slave called Lucky.

Having that power over him seems to give his life a lot of meaning, or at least structure, but by Act II it doesn’t seem to have made him better off. By the end of the play, Didi and Gogo seem doomed to wait for Godot forever.

They don’t seem to be able to accept that, if he exists at all, he’s not coming. Interestingly, there is one character in the play who I think maybe does accept the Absurd.

They are charged with carrying a heavy burden, but when offered comfort and distraction willingly go back to that burden and pick it up again. It’s Lucky – the so-called slave. I think – at this particular stage of my artistic career and I reserve the right to change my mind later – but I think you could read Lucky as Camus’ model of the Absurdist Hero. Somebody who knows that their life is a pointless, horrible chore but who gets on with it anyway.

And when Lucky finally speaks to Vladimir, Estragon, and Pozzo, they, and the audience, are incapable of understanding a word he’s saying. You see what I mean? ‘Waiting for Godot’ is just the staged version of ‘The Myth of Sisyphus.’ It’s a work of philosophy in dramatic form. Of course if you’re an actor, none of this tells you how you should play the roles.

There’s a big difference between delivering a lecture on symbolism in Beckett and actually getting up and making somebody feel something, but if you’re going to see ‘Waiting for Godot’ as an audience member, which you should, then I hope that this helps you understand it a little better.




Raven Symbolism and Deeper Meaning of the Raven

If you’re looking for raven symbolism pertaining to ill omen, death or other gruesome turns of thought, look elsewhere. There are plenty sources to feed macabre minds, and malign the raven.

It’s not that I’m a big advocate of raven energy, and even if I were, it wouldn’t matter because the raven needs no champion. Content to move about its bizarre ways in solo-mode, the raven could care less if I’m pro or con for its symbolic status.

I just think the raven has more to offer than uneducated conjecture and superstition (most of which has only cropped up over the last few centuries).

A lot of negative raven symbolism comes about from their appearance on battlefields. They are scavengers (and curious to a fault), and are often seen picking at mangled remains of fallen warriors on battle grounds.

Spans of massacred bodies and gore besieged with glimmery black ravens with chiseled beaks driving coldly into the bloody mire can conjure some nightmarish connotations. I’m betting a lot of the darker raven symbolism came from these eerie appearances at sites with massive death tolls.

This is underscored by the raven’s placement in Celtic animal symbolism because it is a bird closely connected with battle and the Celtic goddess Morrigan, who was a remarkable prophetess (connecting oracle themes with the raven).

Nevertheless, this page on raven symbolism will focus on the raven’s higher attributes.

For example, the raven’s intelligence is possibly its most winning feature. Indeed, these birds can be trained to speak. This speaking ability leads into the legend of ravens being the ultimate oracle.

In fact, the raven is often heard to cackle utterances that sound like “cras, cras.” The actual word cras is tomorrow in Latin. This lends more fuel to the legendary fires that distinguish the raven as a bird who can foretell the future, and reveal omens and signs.

Countless cultures point to the raven as a harbinger of powerful secrets. Moreover, the raven is a messenger too, so its business is in both keeping and communicating deep mysteries.

Symbolic meaning of raven

In many myths, ravens have a reputation of being crafy wisdom-keepers. But they are also rumored to be terrible at keeping secrets.

Raven symbolism of wisdom and knowledge-keeping is connected with the Welsh hero Bran, the Blessed whose name means raven. Bran was the holder of ancestral memories, and his wisdom was legendary. So much so, that he had his head (the vessel of his powerful wisdom) removed and interred in the sacred White Mount in London. Ravens are still roosting there (in the Tower of London), and they’re thought to keep Bran’s wisdom protected and alive by their presence. I’ve written more about Bran on my Celtic skulls page here.

The raven is symbolic of mind, thought and wisdom according to Norse legend, as their god Odin was accompanied by two ravens: Hugin who represented the power of thought and active search for information. The other raven, Mugin represented the mind, and its ability to intuit meaning rather than hunting for it. Odin would send these two ravens out each day to soar across the lands. At day’s end, they would return to Odin and speak to him of all they had spied upon and learned on their journeys.

Keywords Associated With Raven Symbolism

  • Vocal
  • Brassy
  • Knowing
  • Curious
  • Truthful
  • Creative
  • Authentic
  • Intuitive
  • Mysterious
  • Insightful
  • Intelligent
  • Unpredictable
  • Unconventional

Odin was also known as the Raven God. He had many daughters known as Valkyries who could transform into ravens. I like to think Valkyries would ride as ravens after a bloody battle and whisper to the souls of fallen Norse warriors to raise up from their bodies and come with them, where they would soar the skies to Valhalla. What a trip back home that would be.

There’s more good news about raven symbolism from the ancient Greeks and Romans. In spite of its midnight-colored feathers, the raven was a solar animal in this culture, and was associated with both Athena and Apollo, both deities closely affiliated with the sun, and the light of wisdom.

Apollo was also a major oracular god, which makes its connection with the chatty and (and alarmingly human-like) conversational raven a smart match.

There are some Greco-Roman legends that say ravens were once all white. And, because the raven couldn’t keep a secret to save its life, Apollo punished the raven by turning its bright white feathers black after it divulged too many secrets. There’s also a version that said the owl replaced the raven by Athena’s side as her associate of wisdom because of raven’s blabber-mouthed tendencies.

Raven color changes are also mentioned in Christian lore when Noah sent a raven first to confirm the receding floodwaters. When the raven did not return, it was said God turned its feathers black for its failure, and Noah sent a dove out to do the raven’s job. And since then, the raven has gotten a bad rap as being anti-mankind.

I don’t buy it. I rather think (as long as we’re postulating over legends) the raven is very pro-mankind and its feathers turned black from sorrow – a heaviness in its heart to witness the floodwaters were still too high to accommodate the drifting ark.

Ravens are humanitarians in Native American symbolic legends too. In fact, the raven was a hero to many tribes. The Inuit for example believed the raven tricked a giant sea monster into submission, and to this day its body serves as the Alaskan mainland.

Symbolic meaning of raven

Bold, raucous, unabashed. Ravens are unapologetic when it comes to attitude.

Other Native North American tribes saw the raven as the bringer of light. In fact, southwestern tribes (Hopi, Navajo, Zuni) felt the raven was flew out from the dark womb of the cosmos, and with it brought the light of the sun (dawning of understanding). Consequently, the raven is considered a venerated bird of creation, for without the raven, humans would forever live in darkness. I’ve written more about the symbolic meaning of raven from a Native American perspective here.

Dr. Carl Jung deemed raven symbolism to represent the shadow self, or the dark side of the psyche. I very much like this. Why? Because by acknowledging this dark side, we can effectively communicate with both halves of ourselves. This offers liberating balance, and facilitates tremendous wisdom (something the raven would be very pleased with).

In other words, through the consistent unveiling of inner depths, and the positive/active utilization of inner impulses the esoteric secrets become exposed to the light of our own consciousness. This is at the crux of what the raven speaks to me.

What does the raven whisper to you?

I hope you have enjoyed this post on raven symbolism. Check out the links at the end of this page for more animal symbolism and meaningful insights. Thanks for reading!

May all your raven experiences be delightfully crazy.

Raven Symbolism

You are more powerful than you think you are. Believe and have faith!

Raven Meaning, Raven Symbolism and Messages

Raven meaning can often be difficult to discern, however there are always subtle clues available to you. If the raven totem announces his presence in a loud and raucous way, he is acting as a messenger. Either you are expected to speak up and express yourself, or you are not listening to the information and guidance that is forthcoming from your guardians. In other words, make sure you listen carefully and if you must, speak up for yourself!

Raven totem is also the keeper of synchronicity. He is a master of bending and folding time and space so that you are exactly in the right moment at the right time. When you see this corvid on the lamp posts and buildings watching you, you can be assured that all things are falling into place for you. Hence, make sure you play close attention to the people you meet for the next few hours. This messenger may be there to help you on your journey, provide insight, knowledge and guidance. There is also an element of reflection with this bird. Consequently, this bird is reminding you that the people around you are reflecting at you the things you most have to learn about yourself.

Furthermore, whenever this totem appears in your life, amazing magic is imminent. This beautiful black totem also brings messages of transition, change and healing because of its ability to cast light into the darkness. When this happens, make sure that you are well grounded and have faith in your journey. Raven magic will guide you through.

Raven Totem, Raven Spirit Animal

If this bird is your totem animal; you are very playful and creative. You also find comfort in solitude and enjoy your own company. Raven totem also seeks stillness and quiet, and often prefers it to the constant onslaught of chatter and noise in their daily lives. People with this totem are wise and often are used as a messenger for others. As a result, the spirit world uses you as a bridge to the physical world to bring forth its messages. Hence, you have no fear of the dark, or the underworld and understand that there is a divine balance between the light and the dark.

Raven Dreams

There is usually a profound change of consciousness imminent when raven dreams occupy your sleep. Hence the message of this dream is to make sure that you watch for the clues  and guidance that will enable you to soar to new heights. Also, if this bird is still and silent and looking at you in your dream, he is invoking magic. When this happens you should pay close attention to the surroundings and prominent colors of the dream for further clues.

If this black corvid is loudly calling at you, he is insisting that you take notice of your surrounding. There is something in your life that you are missing or you have forgotten an important lesson learned. Therefore, it may be a very good idea for you to do some mediation and introspection. A Raven flying loops and upside down playfully is telling you to fasten your seat belt because everything has gone into hyper drive. Absolute magic is afoot.

In the event that this large black bird is attacking you or dive bombing you in your dream, it is letting you know that the direction you are heading is not really where you want to go with your life. You must step back and re- evaluate before making your next move.

There is usually a profound change of consciousness imminent when raven dreams occupy your sleep.

Occasionally a Raven symbolism in a dream can signify an impending death. This is usually signaled by feeding on carrion or preening of its feathers to show rebirth. Thus, a pure white Raven dream indicates that you are now on your divine path of light and should keep up the good work.



Totem Wolf Meanings and Symbolism

To understand totem wolf symbols, one must first understand the heart of the Wolf. This takes time because the wolf has had to endure many false stereotypes, misconceptions and misunderstandings.

Not at all the picture of ferocity or terror, the wolf is a creature with a high sense of loyalty and strength. Another misconception is that of the “lone wolf.” To the contrary, the wolf is actually a social creature, friendly, and gregarious with its counterparts.

The wolf is an incredible communicator. By using touch, body movements, eye contact as well as many complex vocal expressions – the wolf makes his point understood. Those with totem wolf symbols are of the same inclination – they are expressive both vocally and physically. Those who have the wolf as their totem animal are naturally eloquent in speech, and also have knack for creative writing.

A quick-list of totem wolf symbolic attributes include…

Totem Wolf Meanings

  • Loyalty
  • Cunning
  • Intuition
  • Intelligence
  • Independence
  • Compassionate
  • Communication


Totem wolf symbols belong to those who truly understand the depth of passion that belong to this noble creature. The wolf is a representative of deep faith, and profound understanding.

Further, the wolf possess a high intellect, and have been observed using strategies about hunting, habitat and migration.

wolf totem meaning

“The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.”
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In history, the totem Wolf symbol appears with the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Legend has it that the two founding brothers were raised and suckled by a she-wolf. Her name was Lupa, and immortal she-goddess of the Romans. She not only nurtured the brothers who would launch Rome, she also is said to have trained other Roman heros so they would be cunning and fearless in battle. This goddess is a great reminder of the wolf’s ability to both nurture and be tough. It’s also a symbolic nod to giving all the knowledge and resources we can to those who need it in order for them to succeed in the world.

In Norse mythology, the Wolf is a symbol for victory when ridden by Odin. Their names were Freki and Geri. Much like Huginn and Muninn, Odin’s oracular ravens, Freki and Geri also offered Odin otherworldly wisdom. They did this in by traveling far ahead of Odin then returned to report news on the ground. This allowed Odin know the best hunting grounds, as well as the status of the people. Odin’s wolves would also join him on the battlefield, and were one among many supernatural creatures who aided the Valkyries in transporting fallen warriors to Valhalla.

As a Celtic symbol, the Wolf was a source of lunar power. This means it has knowledge that is not clearly seen by most other creatures. Celtic lore states that the wolf loved having this advantage of uncommon knowing and uncanny intuition. So much so, it is said the wolf would hunt down the sun and gobble it up so that the moon’s power would come forth. This, in legend, made the wolf consummate hunters. With these remarkable senses, the wolf was seen as a guardian and ally to the Celts. Indeed, the Celts became friendly with them, and relied on them for both protection of threat (the wolf being able to sense danger) and aid in hunting.

In Asia, the wolf guards the doors that allow entrance to heavenly, celestial realms. The wolf is also said to be among the ancestry of Genghis Khan. This legend grew to the point where all ancient Mongols believed they were descended from wolves. In Japan, the wolf is considered very lucky. Offerings of rice are placed in kamidana (small shrines devoted to the spirit of nature, including animals). These offerings were intended to appease the wolf, and incourage them to hunt down pests that distrubed Japanese crops.

When this gracious creature appears to us, and serves as a totem in our lives, the wolf beckons us to ask these questions:

Potential Questions Your Wolf Totem May Ask You

    • Are you thinking about a different form of education?
    • Are you being a true friend, and are your friends being true to you?
    • Are you communicating yourself clearly to others?
    • Are you being loyal to yourself?
    • Are you incorporating strategies and planning to achieve your goals?
    • Are you spending enough quality time with yourself, friends and family?


These messages are modern-day applications to what the wolf may be trying to tell you. Education is mentioned because the wolf is extremely clever at getting what it wants. Whether you gain your education on the job, conventionally back in school, or even voluntarily reading books – the wolf will guide you towards the good stuff you need to know. This guidance comes from a strong motivation to hunt down resources for survival. Learning from any kind of education – including our mistakes – is a great leg-up to our own survival as humans.

Totem wolf meaning

Those connected with the wolf take three things very seriously: 1) Work, 2) Play and 3)Protecting what they love from harm.

The wolf totem also asks us to incorporate play as a means of learning. Sure, wolves have spectacular communication skills, but often, the opt to show rather than speak. And they often show in frolic and fun. This is especially true with their offspring. Perhaps you have a young one in your life that is getting rebellious or taking a path that you feel might not be the best. Consider ways to apply fun and humor into this young person’s life. As you do, be clever about tying in a moral, or helpful advice to this person. To be true, wolves know how to make a point, whether verbally or in play…so the wolf will help you in this matter.

That said, the wolf gets its message out loud and clear with tough love. A nip, a bite, a growl from the wolf – and it gives one pause. Wolves are not violent by nature. But if threatened, they can conjure hair -raising fear within their foes. When I say ‘threatened’ I’m talking about a wolf defending territory, and that covers a lot of things. In our modern-day lives, the wolf often lopes through to help us protect what is dear to us. Defending territory can mean standing up for our beliefs. It can mean protecting our livelihood. It certainly applies to guarding the ones we love against threat. So which would the wolf have us do? Employ fun for problem solving? Or bear teeth and growl to chase away threat? That, my wolf totem people, is for you to hash out with the wolf. You’ve already got half your answer, because the wolf has shown itself to you. That’s powerful. It says you already have established a wolf connection. The next half to figuring out what the wolf is telling you is to go into its energy. Go into the wolf dream. What do I mean by that?

There is an old Haudenosaunee (Northeastern Native American tribe) song that is sung when communication needs to be made with anything (animal, human, alive or otherwise). The Dream Song. The song explains that everything on this planet is living its own dream. From a blade of grass to grizzly bears, each is experiencing everything in their own separate perception, which is very much like a dream state. The only ones who are free from this singular view are Medicine people of the tribe, because they came move in other dimensions. Animals move out of their dream into expanded view when they help mankind, and/or when they pass from this world into the spirit world where they work together to help the earth (and all its inhabitants) grow and become better.

But I digress…I got lost in the Haudenosaunee dream song. My point is this: If you want advice from your wolf visitor, then get into the wolf dream. How? Sing your own dream song. Get into your own dream state. Then move your dream-mind into the forests where the wolf dreams its dream. You will find it, because the wolf has already made efforts to find you. Once your dreams have connected, respectfully ask for help. Wolf is remarkably intelligent, so don’t dumb it down. Ask for solutions that will help you and help your clan (whether it be work, family or even the global community).

Sound like a bunch of hogwash? If you do, then I’m pretty sure dream-weaving with wolf won’t work for you. Regardless, I’d recommend suspending doubt and giving it a try. I’ve practiced this technique with astounding success. From raccoons to rocks, dream-weaving has been consistently revealing (and revolutionary). Remind me to tell you about the time I went into the octopus’ dream. *Gripping!* Whether you were just curious about totem wolf symbols and meanings, or you really wanted to learn from a wolf connection you’ve had…I hope this article has been helpful on your journey.

May all your wolf experiences be howling with wisdom.

wolf spirit animal

Wolf Spirit Animal Meaning

Ancient cultures and indigenous people believed that animals and humans shared the same spiritual essence between each other.  They also believed that these animals are attracted to us and present themselves to us in specific moments of our lives to reveal messages.

The Wolf Totem symbolizes:

  • Strong connection with your instincts or intuition.
  • High intelligence.
  • Loyalty and communication.
  • Deep desire for freedom.

History of the Wolf Spirit Animal

The Wolf has appeared conspicuously throughout history.  In modern culture, we associate wolves with negative qualities such as the darkness that mythical Werewolves (the story of Lycaon the King and Zeus) represent.  In Aesop’s fables for instance, they are portrayed as being evil and dangerous, such as in the story of “The boy who cried Wolf” and “The Wolf in sheep clothing“.  The Brothers Grimm story of “Little Red Riding Hood” also portrays the Wolf as ferocious and intimidating.

Luckily, wolves haven’t always been seen in such a negative light.  In fact, wolves and humans once lived together according to some historians. They also share many parallel human traits.

Native American Indians perhaps had the greatest symbolism for wolves.  They modelled themselves after the Wolf in hunting methods, cooperation and efficiency, valuing them as proud hunters, loyal friends and intelligent teachers.  They also thought of the Wolf as a spiritual pathfinder, which symbolized intelligence and leadership.

Rome has one of the best known Wolf-founding legends.  As the legend goes, Romulus and Remus the two founding brothers of Rome, were raised and suckled by a she-wolf.

In Egyptian mythology, the Wolf Wepwawet (also rendered Upuaut, Wep-wawet, Wepawet, and Ophois) was originally a war deity, his name meaning; the opener of the ways.  It’s interesting to note here that the Native American Indians, a completely different race and culture of people, believed that wolves had a special connection to our paths in life as well.

The Mongolians on the other hand, believed they were descendants of wolves.  The legend goes that in Northern China a small Turkic village was raided by Chinese soldiers, but one small baby was left behind.  An old she-wolf named Asena found the baby and nursed him.  She then gave birth to half-wolf half-human cubs, from which the Turkic people were born.

In Asia, the wolf is the guardian of the entrance to heavenly, celestial realms.  The Wolf is also said to be among the ancestry of Genghis Khan.

Intelligence and Instincts

A Wolf possesses a high intelligence and strong instincts, and these have been observed in their hunting strategies, habitat creation, and migration habits.

When a Wolf presents itself as your spirit animal, it could be an expression of your sharp intelligence and strong instincts.  When the Wolf appears, either physically, through meditation or through a dream, it’s often a way of telling you that you’re either using your intelligence and instincts well to solve a challenging life situation, or that you’re not using them at all.

The Wolf represents the pathfinder.  He is a guide that helps you to discover when you are being misguided, or led correctly, when using your instincts.

Having a Wolf as a power animal serves to emphasize your levels of trust or mistrust in your instincts and intuition.  Totem animals, as a whole, make you aware and introspective of your current emotional state, and wolves can serve as omens or guides to show you that which is making you emotionally unbalanced.

When the Wolf shows up in your life, look closely and listen carefully to what your intuition or instincts are telling you.

Loyalty, Connection and Communication

There’s a misconception that all wolves are ‘lone wolves’.  In fact, this is far from the truth. The Wolf is a power animal with a high sense of loyalty and communication.  These animals are actually very social, family-oriented and good at communicating with each other.

With the use of body movement, touch, eye contact and vocal sounds, they engage with other wolves constantly.  If your totem is a Wolf, you’re most likely good at expressing yourself verbally and physically.  Often it’s the case that people with the Wolf spirit animal are naturally eloquent in speech, or are good at creative writing.

The Wolf’s sense of loyalty can be seen in a variety of ways.  They are one of the few animals to hold only monogamous relationships.  Most wolves mate for life and will not take another partner if their own dies.  Pack members also hold deep emotional bonds, greeting each other enthusiastically after they have been separated for long periods of time.

The presence of a Wolf spirit animal can also serve as reminder of a lack of loyalty or trust in your life.  Often wolves manifest themselves to people who have become strongly apprehensive of bonding with others and have grown immense mistrust of those around them.  A Wolf totem animal can represent a perceived threat or feeling, for instance: that you are being threatened by someone or something in your life.

As a Wolf’s main trait is its sharp instinct, a Wolf spirit animal could be trying to tell you that you’re misguided in your trust for someone, or it may be warning you to listen more often to your instincts or intuition and to be loyal to yourself.

Perceiving the Wolf Animal Spirit is your unconscious’ way of letting you know that it might be feeling vulnerable; that you might have revealed too much to someone about yourself, and now your sense of freedom feels bounded by the predatory mistrust of that person. It may also signify that the people you’re trying to connect with at the moment are making you feel afraid.

Mistrust doesn’t always have to do with other people.  Sometimes our mistrust and lack of loyalty is towards ourselves.  For example, maybe you’re not listening to your ‘communicative’ traits of verbal or written expression, or perhaps you’re not behaving in a loyal self-loving way with yourself.

Wolf Spirit Animal Freedom

Wolves are wild animals, they are beautiful creatures of mystery that cannot be domesticated.  If a Wolf appears to you in a certain period of your life when you’re in doubt of the changes that are happening, it can be reassuring you that the path you’re taking is the right one, and that you’re being loyal to your instincts.

Equally, if the Wolf presents itself in a moment in life where you feel stuck, it might be reminding you that you’re a free wild creature, that you can deviate from whatever path you are currently on and become a ‘lone Wolf’ if necessary in order to pursue your dreams.

Meanings will be revealed to you as you deepen your personal connection with the Wolf.

The Wolf and Dream Interpretation

Native American Indians knew that dreaming of a Wolf symbolized beauty, solitude, mystery, self-confidence and pride.  If a Wolf appears in your dreams, it may signify that you’re approaching life with a composed, adaptable attitude, and that it’s okay to be a loner by choice.

Negatively, it might be warning you against hostility, domination or aggression from others. The Wolf might want to serve as a guide in a situation in your life where you feel vulnerable and weak.

Some dream psychoanalysts interpret wolves in nightmares as conveyors of a perceived threat such as strong sexual energy occurring in your life (in you or someone close to you) or different types of addictive craving behaviours that you might be struggling with.  The story of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ was originally an allegoric metaphor for the loss of virginity (red hood) taken away by the predatory ‘Big Bad Wolf’ (men).

In positive dreams, psychoanalysts interpret the Wolf as a guiding symbol for trusting your instincts (again, sexual instincts and addictive ‘cravings’ play a role here) and expressing them in a more balanced way.



Awareness is an organism’s attunement to external threats. Such awareness is generally observed in all varieties of life forms, demonstrated in varying degrees from single-celled organisms all the way to man.

Consciousness is the uniquely human form of awareness. In human being, this consciousness is specifically manifested as self-consciousness

Consciousness of the self, understood through a phenomenological approach, refers to the existing individual’s capacity to transcend the immediate and concrete; to understand one’s self as one’s potentialities… in short, to understand my experience of myself as a being with a world.

It is by virtue of his consciousness of himself as a self in the world, existing through his openness to his potentiality, that human being comes to understand itself in a constant state of becoming. The constant flux of becoming is an essential part of human being’s existential structure.

Only the historical tradition grounded in metaphysics has forced the distinction between being and becoming. In this sense, man is never closed off, as if pinned down to a particular “this” or “that.” Rather, he is his open to his world and the spectrum of possibility. It is through his consciousness of his becoming that makes possible the agonizing burden of freedom.

Yet this freedom is both qualified and contingent. It is qualified in that we exercise little to no control over much of material existence. To the extent that man is nothing more than pure biological animal, he is entirely the product of thousands of years of evolutionary development, subject to the same drives and impulses, genetic determination, and so on, of any and all other organisms. It is contingent on the fact that we are thrown into a world. We had no choice as to which culture, historical epoch, or generation we were born into; we just were. Heidegger tells us that we can never get “behind” our thrownness (Geworfenheit). It is the facticity of the existing individual self that informs and is taken up in existence.

The sensation of this narrow freedom is always rooted in agony. At its most fundamental level, freedom entails an interior confrontation within the self.  Freedom begins when the self is confronted with what Heidegger refers to as the “call of conscience;” this “calling” has no specific content or message; nevertheless, it is the call to the self to be its own self, to break free from Das man, and take up its being-in-the-world through concrete and active involvement.

It is embodied in Nietzsche’s mandate “Become who you are.”  For Heidegger, as in Nietzsche, the “call of conscience” is an appeal to choose to understand oneself in one’s ownmost potentiality for Being. In turn, answering the “call” involves accepting as one’s own the responsibility for one’s being-in-the-world. Confronting the choice to become an authentic self involves all the corresponding risk that comes with such responsibility, including the dreadful isolation disclosed in anxiety.

Yet this confrontation of choice within the structure of the self brings forth yet another possibility on account of the existing individual’s freedom to choose. This “darker side” of consciousness is the fact that consciousness itself implies always the possibility of turning against itself. Thus, tragedy of existence is not the undeniable ubiquity of suffering, nor the absence of universal meaning and man’s groundlessness; it is the structural possibility, inherent within every existing individual self, that the self must necessarily confront the possibility and temptation at every instant of killing itself.

The agonizing crossroad between affirmation and denial represents the penultimate burden of existential freedom. This freedom is raised to the level of the understanding precipitating the choice by way of a particular mood.  Moods tell us about the state in which we find ourselves. Heidegger’s word here is Befindlichkeit, which literally translates into “state-of-mind.” But this can be misleading… Since moods really aren’t internal, nor external for that matter. One should be careful not to confuse “moods” for reflective conscious states.

“Having a mood is not related to the psychical in the first instance, and is not itself an inner condition which then reaches forth in an enigmatical way and puts its mark on things and persons.” (BT, 176).

Rather, moods arise solely on account of our already being-in-the-world. Hubert Dreyfus says that moods “assail us,” and disclose to us “how it’s going with being-in-the-world.”

“Moods are not side-effects, but are something which in advance determines our being with one another. It seems as though a mood is in each case already there, so to speak, like an atmosphere in which we first immerse ourselves in each case and which then attunes us through and through.”

The disclosiveness of moods is also evidenced in the way in which Dasein is “delivered over” to moods. Thus, “Dasein is its There in such a way that, whether explicitly or not, it is disposed in its thrownness. In disposedness Dasein is always brought before itself, and has always found itself, but in the sense of finding itself attuned.” (BT, 174).

The mood that discloses human being’s radical and terrifying freedom is anxiety. Heidegger and Kierkegaard both show us that, in anxiety, the self is directed to the uncertainty of its own finitude. Unlike fear, which always has some concrete object as its focal point (I am always afraid of something particular); anxiety is directed at the “unknown.” The corresponding phenomenon is that of a free-floating sense of the infinite possibility, both tempting and disquieting all at once.  When I’m delivered over into anxiety, I feel the intent expression of the amorphous freedom for nothing; I see no meaning; no significance around me. I have transcended the boundaries of everyday intelligibility and come face to face with ecstatic possibility. In this sense, I experience myself for the first time as the possibility of becoming myself, and for once see my future as open, and not by the crowd or given to me as understood in the “they-self.” In fact, the future presents itself in no particular series or arrangements of possibilities at all. Instead, I am presented with the impossibility of all possibilities; there are no limits, but yet I am paralyzed to choose my possibility.

In short, anxiety is the confrontation within the self as undifferentiated possibility. This, in turn, has the feeling of becoming de-situated in the world, and a movement towards innocence in the complete shattering of the framework of meaningful involvement that originally gave rise to my inauthentic mode of being in the world.  Only then am I able to redefine and essentially re-relate my being-in-the-world.

The above description corresponds to the choice of affirmation – in the self becoming its ownmost potentiality for Being. But as we noticed before, there is also always the possibility and temptation to go in an altogether different direction once delivered into anxiety. In this sense, we can find ourselves in an altogether different mood…depression.

Before we go any further, some clarity is needed with respect to the very term “depression.”  Generally, depression can be understood in two distinctive ways. First, there is “depression” in its positivistic, pathological-clinical sense. This understanding of depression is a mental illness or disorder; reducible to a chemical imbalance in the patient’s brain, and something that can and should be treated through psycho-pharmaceutical solutions. This, in turn, has the potential to objectify depression. No longer does the existing individual’s experience of depression matter; instead, symptoms are measured against a standard set of criteria, upon which a positive or negative diagnosis may be made. In other words, the positivist pathologizes depression, and thus separates out and discards the subjective experience in favor of objective criteria.

On the other hand, a phenomenological approach to depression studies the experience of the existing individual from within, rather than imposing objective criteria from without.

The phenomenological method attempts to get at the core of experience by stripping away all external attributions and impositions of the observer. The focus of any phenomenological inquiry is to bring oneself into the actual lived-experience being studied (the phenomena itself).  Examining depression through the phenomenological structures of spatiality and temporality offers an alternative route to understanding what one feels when one becomes depressed, in contrast to the positivistic account of depression as pathology to be treated through psychopharmacology. Rather than define through predetermined categories and qualities what depression is, a phenomenological understanding of depression aims to gather an understanding of what it is to live in depression, and thus derives at a more primordial understanding from the perspective of the depressed self.

A phenomenological account of becoming depressed starts with the concrete and given — an existing individual. From here, we can explore how the existing individual self perceives and relates to its world, particularly trough the structures of lived/existential space and time.

Whereas anxiety manifests itself as boundless openness to the impossibility of all possibility, depression is a closing off; a lurking sensation of sinking into darkness. Anxiety gives way to boundless projection of potentiality; depression is wholly inward, drawing away all meaning and significance – an emptying out; a living lifelessness.  It is a sense of the loneliness of being cut-off or isolated from the world; whereas anxiety opens up boundless, limitless possibilities, depression sets apart and encloses in complete darkness.  One is imprisoned in interior darkness – accompanied by an ever-increasing feeling that there’s no point or possibility of escape, and one senses an overwhelming and all-encompassing inability for action.

When one “falls” into a deep depression, one becomes aware of a perceptible change in one’s environment. Things begin to appear more distant; more remote. Spatial reality itself becomes detached, even hostile, and cloaked in a foreboding distance. In turn, this qualitative transition of one’s awareness of the external world brings forth a reinforcing state of the remoteness and isolation within. One finds oneself unable to reach out, as if every object has completely withdrawn, and one’s relation to the world comes to be understood as wholly separate. In this sense, the depressed individual is overtaken with the feeling of being separate from the world.

The phenomenon of becoming separate from the world is mirrored by a similar distancing of the self from its embodied engagement in the world. The DSM-IV states that individuals with depression often report a loss of interest or pleasure in activities they previously enjoyed. The language of this objective criteria conceals a subjective experience that takes the form of a complete breakdown in the subject’s ability to relate to its objects in the world. This finds its greatest expression in one’s inability to relate to the other. The inability to maintain and see oneself through the lived relations of being-in-the-world has the corresponding effect of cutting the self off completely, and thus further reinforcing the feeling of absolute isolation and loneliness commonly experienced during depression.

This loss of the ability to relate to one’s world signifies more than the mere loss of one’s fulfilling relationships with particular entities; but rather, a complete loss of the self. The slow erosion of the self is analogous to a slow descent into death: for nothing breaks through the solitude of depressed imprisonment, and so the experience takes shape in a completely non-relational form. The inability to relate to one’s world leaves one with a feeling of existential solipsism. The boundaries separating reality and unreality, life and death, being and not-being are no longer visible when one is encapsulated in the blackness of depression. Without the ability to relate, the self is rendered empty, unable to react to what is perceived in a “normal” functioning way. This in turn has the tendency once again to increase the inner remoteness and isolation, rendering the self not only incapable of relating to the other, but also to itself.

Depression also brings about a radical transformation in temporality. Time itself seems to slow to a grinding halt. Every minute seems like eternity. Each moment longer, more painful than the last; yet, at the same time each and every subsequent moment is accompanied by a greater anticipation for transfiguration and relief. One simply wants to escape the desolation of time, the excruciating loneliness of naked temporal existence. One’s being takes on a whole new character and dimension – that of a positive affliction. Death becomes the cure to the malady of life; offering tranquility and even levity in contrast to the insufferable ailment of life.

Depression is also constituted in a transformation of the self’s understanding of itself. As Heidegger tells us, Dasein understands itself in terms of possibilities. The possible constitutes an essential structure of Dasein’s Existenz. A fundamental feature of becoming depressed is a breakdown in confronting one’s own facticity through such understanding. In this sense, the self as understanding and relating to itself through possibility is answered with the hallow emptiness of the hopeless futility of all possibility.

By contrast with anxiety, which takes the form of the intentionality of no-thing, depression’s form is the unacceptability of self; manifested in the absence of grounding or center that otherwise provides us with the comforts of existing in the normal bounds of what it means to be anything (or anyone) at all. Just as anxiety individuates, so too does depression. As a boundary experience, depression has the capacity to deliver the self into the unknown of one’s own uniqueness – but nevertheless lacking the corresponding awareness of anxiety’s freedom of the capacity for choice. In depression then, the self experiences its individual uniqueness not as boundless possibility, but as terrifying isolation and remoteness.

Both anxiety and depression are primordial structures of human being, and in this sense they can never be “overcome,” but rather, projects by which the self is called to task to take up its own individuality through some form of concrete engagement with its own world, through the existentiell-ontic projection of the understanding of choice. In the midst of depression, the experience of one’s own Being is that of sheer pointlessness: nothing matters, a totalizing process of intentional leveling.

Accordingly, how one responds to depression can take the form of resignation (suicide) or Quixotic salvation. For the latter, it is the journey of making choices with response to one’s ownmost possibility of being-in-the-world, with the awareness that one’s choices are fundamentally worthless, that can have a therapeutic effect. The decision to make a choice, any choice, retains the possibility of embracing the uncertainty in order to become one’s own self. It is the task of choosing oneself that one can escape the paralyzing apathy of depression – even if the depression can be overcome only in the instant, and never for good.



Bertrand Russell once said that until the second decade of this century–and remember that by that time he was in his 40s and had done virtually all the philosophical work for which he’s really distinguished–he regarded language as transparent.

That’s to say, as a medium he could simply use without paying particular attention to it.

Much the same must be true, I think, not only of other philosophers, but of writers of every kind: novelists, poets, and so on. It’s only in this century that the enormous self-consciousness about language which we now take for granted has developed.

In fact, it’s become one of the most prominent intellectual characteristics of our age. What’s involved isn’t just a superficial interest in words, but beliefs about absolutely fundamental matters.

For instance, it’s come to be widely believed that it’s, more than anything else, the particular power of abstract thinking made possible to us by language, that enables us to conceptualize and cope with innumerable aspects of reality which are not present to us, and thus to relate ourselves to the world in the way we do.

Many believe that it’s this more than anything else that differentiates us from the animals. And for all these reasons many believe that it’s through the acquisition of a language that we become selves. If many of these things are true, then language is fundamental to our humanity and our individuality in ways that were not dreamt of until comparatively recently. And this, I think, is the underlying reason why philosophers have newly come to take such a powerful and indeed passionate interest in language.

A philosopher of language who has made a reputation on both sides of the Atlantic is the American John Searle. He first studied philosophy at Oxford, where he arrived as a Rhodes Scholar in the early 1950s.

And he taught at Oxford for some years before returning to the United States. His book called Speech Acts, published in 1969, is something of a recent classic.

He’s now professor of philosophy at the University of California in Berkeley. Professor Searle, there’s one thing which I think we must get straight right at the beginning.

I’ve been talking about the philosophy of language, but there is another phrase “linguistic philosophy” or “linguistic analysis” which means something quite different. And this could be very confusing to our viewers unless we make the distinction clear at the outset.

Yes well, it can be made very simply. “Linguistic philosophy” and “linguistic analysis” are names techniques or methods for solving philosophical problems. The philosophy of language is not the name of a technique, but the name of a subject matter, branch of philosophy.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. The linguistic philosopher believes that you can solve certain traditional problems, such as problems about skepticism, by examining the ordinary use of words such as ‘know’.

You examine the use–‘know’, K-N-O-W–verbs like ‘know’, ‘believe’, ‘suppose’, ‘guess’.

Now that would be a problem that the linguistic philosopher would work on.

The philosophy of language is the name of a subject matter within philosophy. And there, the problems are such things as: How do words relate to reality?

What is the nature of meaning? What is truth, reference, logical necessity? Those are problems in the subject matter of the philosophy of language.

Now obviously, philosophers of language like yourself regard language as being absolutely fundamental to human life and human thought and so on.

I tried to explain just now in my introduction to this discussion some of the reasons why, but I think it would be especially interesting to hear from you as a professional in the field your reasons for regarding language as being as central as you clearly do regard it as being.

Well, I think to begin with, it’s almost bound to be central to philosophy. Philosophy is, in an important sense, a conceptual inquiry.

But quite apart from philosophy I think language is crucial for some of the reasons you were suggesting–crucial to an understanding of human beings and human life. We tend, in a pre-theoretical way, to have the idea that words are, as you said, transparent –quoting Russell–and that we can just apply them; we just name our experiences and our social relations.

But in fact, when we began to investigate, what I think we find is that those forms of experience and those forms of social relation that we regard as characteristically human would be impossible without language.

That language really is what distinguishes us more than anything else from other forms of animal life. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Wittgenstein gave a very simple example to illustrate this about experience. It might seem obvious that our experiences just come to us independently of any language.

But what Wittgenstein pointed out was a great many of our experiences would be impossible without language. And he gives this example: He draws a triangle, and he says: now see this as apex and that as base.

And then he says: now see that as apex and that as base.

And you’ll find you have a different experience. I’ve named two different experiences that you can have. But the interesting thing is they’re not experiences my dog can have, not because he hasn’t got the optical apparatus, but because he hasn’t got the conceptual apparatus.

The words, one wants to say, are part of the experience. Now, that’s a trivial example. And one can give lots of more grand examples. I mean, take the following. La Rochefoucauld said — I forget where — that very few people would fall in love if they never read about it.

And I think there is a real underlying truth in that and that is that categories like “love” and “hate” themselves influence the experiences.

That our concepts determine or at least shape our experiences; that it would be impossible to have the experiences that we have without the linguistic categories we have.

In other words, our experience of the world doesn’t consist of the world as a lot of independent objects to which we as human beings then attach the labels of names, i.e. words.

What you’re saying is the objects don’t exist separately from words, that the words enter into the very structure of our experience. Yes, now let me see if I can say what I think you’re driving at. It would be this. Not that language makes the world.

That’s the kind of subjectivism that I wouldn’t want to accept, but rather something like this. What counts as an object, what counts as reality, is a function of the system of representation that we bring to bear on reality, namely language. So, the world doesn’t come to us all sliced up into objects and experiences.

What counts as this object or the same object or as a book or a table or a glass, that is a matter of the categories that we impose on the world. And those are linguistic. Would you say that this is true of, say, an everyday object?

Now I’m holding here a glass of water. And I’m having the simple experience of seeing a glass of water.

Now, for me to have the experience of seeing a glass of water, it’s not enough for me simply to be having certain visual data, I’ve also got to have the concept “glass” and the concept “water.” Precisely.

And I’ve got to be able to locate this experience as coming under that concept. And therefore, I couldn’t have the experience of seeing a glass of water without some linguistic equipment.

That’s the point I’m making, precisely that.

And therefore, the language that we have helps to create the very categories in which we experience the world, the very categories in which we see objects has language built into it is what you’re saying. It’s precisely that.

And therefore, by investigations in the philosophy of language, we are investigating the very structure of experience and the structure of whole ways of life and ways of viewing the world and so on.

And indeed, that was one of Wittgenstein’s great themes, was the idea that a language is a form of life and that we should think of language as inner-penetrating with our life, not as something that stands outside it and pictures it as he once thought.

Now another thing I said in my introduction to this was that this enormous self-consciousness about the use of language is something that characterizes this century. It’s very striking that something very similar is true of the arts as well.

For example, in this century an enormous amount of poetry is being written about the writing of poetry or about how difficult it is to be a poet.

We have filmmakers making films about the making of a film. And it’s true of plays. And painting has, so to speak, exhibited its own techniques. Even musical composition exhibits its own techniques.

Art has become its own subject matter. The medium has itself become the object of attention. Now, there’s an obvious parallel there with what has happened with language and philosophy. Do you think that these developments are all interconnected or do you think it’s sheer coincidence?

Well, it surely is not sheer coincidence. I mean, I think there are certain features of the 20th century mode of sensibility that makes language seem immensely problematic to us. But let me disagree with one thing you’ve said. It isn’t that philosophers have suddenly discovered language in the 20th century.

There’s a lot about language in Locke–he devoted a whole book of the Essay to it. There’s a theory of language in Hume. And indeed, back to Plato in the Theaetetus there are theories of language. So it isn’t something we’ve recently discovered. But the point I think you’re making and I entirely agree with it, is that language has come to seem problematic. It has come to seem–to use your quotation from Russell– not a matter of transparency. It isn’t something that we can see right through to the world. It is itself a problem.

And I think that has a great deal to do with something like the tremendous loss of confidence, the decline of rationality that occurred at the end of the 19th century. One doesn’t know quite how to date the rise of Modernism.

But it is part of Modernism in the arts. And surely, it can’t as you say — it can’t be just coincidental that the same awareness of the complexity and the problematic character of language exists in philosophy. Contrast Mill with the later Wittgenstein, and I think you see the break that I’m talking about now.

You’re stressing then that self-consciousness about language which in fact goes back quite a long way in philosophy, probably further than it does in the arts with poetry and so on.

Now, what were the specifically philosophical developments that brought it to a head in this century in the way that it did? Right, right. Well, now that is a marvelously complicated subject. Let me pick out a couple of strands in that.

First of all, there’s a historical development. Descartes, over three centuries ago, asked this basic question in philosophy: What is knowledge? How is knowledge possible? And I think if you take that question very seriously– and we have in philosophy, that has been the central question for the centuries after Descartes– eventually, that leads you to what will I think almost inevitably seem a more fundamental question: namely, how does our mind represent the world at all?

The question of what is meaning has come to seem prior to the question of what is knowledge. And there’s certain other historical, certain specific historical features that led to that. Particularly, I would say the work of Frege in the 19th century, the German philosopher and mathematician, and the work of Russell in the early 20th century.

And both of them were engaged in an investigation of the foundations of mathematics, the nature of mathematical knowledge. And they were led to develop certain theories about the nature of linguistic representation.

In order to answer questions about the nature of mathematics and what goes on in mathematical statements, they were led to fundamental questions about the nature of statement making. Well, how? I mean, what is the connection between mathematical knowledge–which would seem to be purely abstract and carried out in Greek symbols and so on–what is the connection between that and ordinary statements of the kind that philosophers now analyze?

There are numerous connections. But one basic connection was: What is the nature of mathematical truth? And both Frege and Russell argued that mathematics was really an extension of logic, that the statements of mathematics were true in a sense by definition.

And in order to develop that, they needed a theory of truth and a theory of logic, and already now we’re in the philosophy of language when they began to develop that. So in other words, it’s investigation into truth which develops into an investigation into meaning and hence an analysis of statements, sentences, and so on. Historically, I think it went that way. How did we get from Russell at the turn of the century to now? I think we can identify several lines of development.

And oddly enough, Wittgenstein tends to play a crucial role in more than one of them. There’s one line of development that goes from early Wittgenstein through the logical positivists like Carnap–and I think one would include Russell’s work in this line as well–up to the present day in the works of philosophers like Quine and Davidson.

Now, that line is mostly concerned with the relationship between meaning and truth. And the crucial question tends to be: What are the truth conditions of an utterance? They are mostly concerned with conditions for establishing or determining the truth of sentences. And obviously this line will be more closely connected with the philosophy of science. Now, another line which is the later Wittgenstein and also the work of philosophers like Austin and Grice, and I think I would include myself in this, is more concerned with questions of linguistic use, with language seen as a part of human behavior. And the crucial question there is not what is the relation between meaning and truth, but what is the relation between meaning and use, or meaning and the intentions with which a speaker makes an utterance.

Now those are two lines that I see developing. I don’t wanna give you the impression that they’re completely independent. No, they overlap and intertwine and interact in all sorts of ways. But then there’s a third line that has come to seem very prominent in recent years. And that is the science of linguistics– of which Chomsky’s name is the most prominent among contemporary linguists–has come to interact with philosophy in ways that were not the case until really quite recently, until after 1957.

You’ve made so many important points at once, Professor Searle, that I think it will be helpful if I, so to speak, recapitulate before we start moving ahead. We’re considering language, this amazing phenomenon of words and utterances and noises that is so fundamental to our humanity and to the way we cope with life and see the world and everything.

Now, you might say there are two main ends to this process. There is the relationship of language to the world, the relationship of language to its objects; to all the things in the world that we talk about. And there is also the relationship of language to the language user. So this gives, as it were, two lines of development in the history of the subject we are considering. One lot of people have concentrated on discussing the relation of words to their objects.

And what that leads them to do is to analyze sentences and statements. It leads them to consider, above all else, the question of under what conditions can statements be said to be true or false. And that leads them to develop formal criteria of truth and so on. That’s one line of development that you mentioned. And you named Russell, the early Wittgenstein, Carnap, and Davidson as being the main–and Quine–and Quine, of course, yes.

Now, the other line of development is interestingly different from that. That considers the subjects of language, not the objects of language, in other words, the human beings using language. And the questions there are about their intentions. What are they using language for? What are their purposes?

And–well now, you didn’t say who the main people in that line of development were. No, I did–the later Wittgenstein, Austin, and I would include Grice and Strawson, and other people as well. Yes, yes. Yes.

And so those are the two main lines of development of the philosophy of language. And then as a sort of third, you threw in Chomsky in linguistics.

I didn’t throw it in, it comes charging in. It comes charging in. Well now, right. Now, we’ve got that sketch map of the field. For clarity’s sake, let’s take these one at a time.

Now, let’s start by discussing the school of thought that is interested in the relationship between language and its objects. In other words, to use the most famous phrase, words and things. Can you unpack that a little?

Well let me–should I do it by way of telling you something about the central figures?

I think perhaps that’s one way to go about it. Well, an epoch-making book in this field is Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. And he there articulates a very powerful theory of language, that sentences consistent for him as being, in effect, pictures. They’re conventionalized pictures of facts. Not that they actually look like the fact, but that the relation between the way a sentence represents and the way a picture represents is structurally quite close.

And then, this picture theory of meaning, as it was called, formed the basis of his theory of language. Now, he came to reject that later. But that had a powerful influence. His book the Tractatus had a powerful influence on a school of philosophers who were known as the logical positivists and their center was in Vienna between the wars.

And they I think at least partly misunderstanding Wittgenstein, took the question of verification–how do we verify a proposition–as the central question in meaning. And their slogan was called the “verification principle”.

And the question that they asked, the crucial question was: In order to know what a sentence means, what must we do to find out whether or not it’s true? This was one way of putting the claim that the meaning of a statement is its method of verification. And they accepted the idea that all of statements are either analytic or synthetic. A leading figure in this group and perhaps the leading figure is Carnap. And Carnap, though his views changed a great deal over the years, I think is primarily famous for this conception of language. That is, that language primarily consists in statements that are true or false, and that their meaning is intimately connected with their method of verification in such a way that we can define meaning in terms of verification. Now then, when we get to more recent times, when we get to Quine.

Quine is most famous–his single most famous work was an attack on the analytic-synthetic distinction. He attacks the idea that we can make a clear distinction between that truth which is in virtue of meaning and that which is in virtue of matters of fact.

And this then led in his more recent work to what I can only describe as a general rejection of the notion of meaning. Quine adopts a behavioristic conception of language.

He sees us as beings who are bombarded by stimuli, verbal and otherwise, and then we make verbal responses. And all that really amounts to meaning is our dispositions to respond verbally. There isn’t in addition to these dispositions to verbal responses anything called “meanings” going through our mind.

So Quine’s behaviorism is closely connected with his empiricism. But ironically, it led him to reject what had seemed one of the foundation stones of an earlier generation of empiricists, namely the distinction between analytic and synthetic proposition. His famous article is called “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”.

Am I going too fast through these? No, no. Shall I go on to Davidson, then?

Yes, Davidson is the one person you mentioned that you haven’t taken up. Now, Davidson incidentally is remarkably influential in England. Indeed I would say more influential in England than he is in his home country, but for what perhaps is a very good reason. He’s certainly a very powerful philosopher.

Davidson argues that there is a more intimate connection between meaning and truth than previous philosophers have been aware of or least have made explicit. And that is this. If we wanted a theory of meaning for a language, the way to get that theory of meaning would be to get a set of principles which would enable us to deduce for any sentence of the language under what conditions it was true.

So that for Davidson, a theory of truth really is a theory of meaning. There isn’t any gulf between meaning and truth there, in that once we’ve got a theory that makes clear what are the truth conditions of sentences, that is already a theory of meaning of the sentences of the language. Well, I don’t think we’ll go any further into the work of each of these individuals, Professor Searle.

I think we ought to move on now to the second of the main lines of development that you mentioned. And that is the line of development that’s concerned with the intentions of speech users. Now, the central notion here is the notion of a “speech act”, which is indeed the title of your famous book.

The idea is that sentences don’t just kind of exist in limbo. They don’t exist all by themselves autonomously in the universe. They are generated by human beings and they’re always generated in actual situations.

And they’re always generated for a purpose in order to do something. And the idea is that you can only understand meaning if you understand the intentions of the language user. What is he doing when he utters something? Would you take up this?

Yes well, let me go on with that. In the tradition we’re now talking about, it isn’t that there is a rejection of the question: What is the relation between language and the world? Rather, that question is put in a larger context.

The question now becomes: What sort of behavior is linguistic behavior? And then the way that that is answered is in such a fashion as to try to explain how the speaker’s intentions, how his rule-governed intentional behavior, relates language to the world. So the question: “How does language relate to reality?”, which I think is one of the fundamental questions–perhaps the fundamental question in the philosophy of language–is assimilated to what I think is the larger question. And that is: What is it about human beings that enables them to–as you said earlier– make these noises that have such remarkable consequences, among them is the consequence that they do relate to reality?

Look, for me in this tradition the fundamental question is: How is it that we get from the noises that come out of my mouth to all these semantic properties that we attribute to them? After all, from a physical point of view, the noises that come out of my mouth are fairly trivial stuff. I mean, my jaw flaps open and I make this racket and out it comes. And in linguistics textbooks, there’s all this ridiculous stuff in my throat and mouth that enables me to do that.

But physically, it’s all rather trivial. And yet the most remarkable things occur. We say the Chap made a statement or asked a question or gave a command or an order, explanation; that what he said was true or false or interesting or boring or uninteresting.

We attribute all these remarkable properties to it. And one set of those properties are those that relate it to the world. Now, the basic idea behind this second approach is that the way that language relates to the world is a matter of how people do that relating.

And the basic term of that, at least in the tradition as I see it, is, as you said, the notion of a speech act. When people do communicate with each other, whether in words or in writing, they perform a series of acts that we have names for such as making statements, asking questions, giving orders, commands, apologies.

Austin incidentally, claimed that he could get a list of about 1,000 such verbs and verb phrases in English. Now, that is the alternative tradition. And I should say Wittgenstein’s enormously important role in developing that– the later Wittgenstein–but it would be misleading if I said that he would agree with everything that I have said. And I think there’s a basic point of disagreement.

Wittgenstein, though he was really the person who gave this direction to the philosophy of language–the idea of looking at language as a form of human behavior and language as a form of life–nonetheless, he resisted making general theories of language.

He thought any kind of general theorizing was almost bound to lead to distortion and falsehood when we were doing philosophy. So though, I regard myself as, at least in part, inspired by the work of Wittgenstein, I think he would reject the theoretical bent that I personally try to pursue and that Austin I think was pursuing.

I was gonna say the other really big figure in this tradition apart from Wittgenstein, the later Wittgenstein, is J. L. Austin–now alas dead, he died rather young–an Oxford philosopher. And indeed, you were a pupil. Yes I was indeed… He invented the term ‘speech act’.

He didn’t quite invent the term. It did exist in certain structural linguists such as Bloomfield in the 1930s. But in its modern meaning, it is Austin’s invention. And he arrived at it by quite an interesting route.

Before Austin, the primary concern of philosophers of language had been with those utterances that are true or false. And indeed, as I was saying earlier, verification loomed large. And there were such questions as whether or not propositions that weren’t verifiable could even be said to be meaningful.

The logical positivists argued that they couldn’t. Now, Austin made an interesting observation. He observed that there are lots of utterances that don’t set out to be true or false. I mean, he gave the following example. He said in a wedding ceremony when the preacher says “Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” the man, the chap who says “I do”, according to Austin, is not describing a marriage ceremony, he’s indulging in one. That is, his utterance isn’t meant to be a description true or false of anything.

He’s performing an action. And Austin then observed a whole class of these utterances. When I say “I promise” or “I bet” or “I apologize” or “thanks” or “I congratulate you”, these he called performatives. And he then made a distinction between these cases where saying something is doing something, where uttering these phrases, these ritual phrases is doing something. And he contrasted these so-called performatives with what he called constatives, those utterances that did set out to be true or false. But then the theory underwent an interesting sea change.

He discovered that he couldn’t make the distinction between performative really quite precise. The constative class was supposed to be sayings and the performative class was supposed to be doings. But what he discovered is that of course saying is a kind of doing as well. And that then led to what he called the general theory of speech acts where ALL of our utterances are seen as speech acts.

And in my own work, I have come to the conclusion that the basic unit of meaning, if I may so speak, is the speech act. What we are looking for when we ask such things as “What did he mean by that?” is precisely into those intentions with which his utterance was performed. That is to say, what kind of speech act was he performing: statement, question, command, and so on?

And then within the speech act, we’ll need to distinguish between the kind of speech act it is, whether or not it’s a statement or a question or an order on the one hand and what its content is. I can both predict that you will leave the room and order you to leave the room or ask whether you will leave the room. Now, in some sense I want to say all of those have the same content though they have what Austin called different force.

And he had a label for this, he called those illocutionary acts. That is, the basic speech acts where we’re saying something and saying it as a statement or question or a command, as contrasted with those of our utterances that we can describe in terms of the effects they produce on people. Whether or not I convince you or amuse you or bore you or annoy you, those he called perlocutionary acts.

Now, I think that bit of his taxonomy enables us to see that our quarry here, the target of our investigation, is the illocutionary act, that large class that includes making statements, asking questions, giving commands, apologies, thanks, congratulations, and so on.

And there, it seems to me, if we investigate those–and here Austin unfortunately didn’t live long enough really to do this investigation. But I have been working on it and other people have tried to work on it. And there the crucial question is: What is the structure of the illocutionary act?

And that’s the form–and I think this is a derivative from Austin–that is the form in which the question I was asking earlier has really come to take shape. And that is, if we ask what I said was the question “How do we get from the physics to the semantics?” that then is translated into the question “How do we get from the utterance to the illocutionary act?”

So I think you can see a line of development there from Austin. But again, I want to emphasize that Wittgenstein wasn’t like that. He did inspire much of this, but he would’ve thought that to do it in this theoretical way was almost invariably, almost bound to distort the immense complexity and subtlety of language. Now you yourself have, as it were, taken up this work of Austin’s and you’re developing it further. It’s already several years since your book Speech Acts was produced.

What are you working on now? Well, I’m trying to carry this investigation into the next stage. If we really take seriously the idea that speaking a language is engaging in a form of behavior, then we’re led to ask, well in what sense of behavior exactly?

And what is it about action that seems so crucial here? And this ties in with what, to me, are the two central questions in contemporary philosophy. And I think in a way they come together. The two questions are: How does language relate to reality?”

which all philosophers of language are concerned with in one way or another. And the second is: What is the nature of human action? What is it to perform an action?

What is it to explain an action? Why is that the methods of science have not given us the kind of results in the study of human behavior that they’ve been able to give us elsewhere? Or to put that part more pointedly: “Why have so much of the social sciences seemed to be a bore and unproductive?”

Now, the way those two questions come together or two families of questions come together, I want to say, is in the notion of what philosophers call “intentionality”. Now, intentionality was a term introduced by Brentano. And it is itself a medieval term. And at least the way I use it, the feature that certain mental states have of being directed at objects and states of affairs in the world is what I call their–and what following this tradition I call–their intentionality.

If we think of our beliefs and fears and hopes and desires, they’re all in this sense intentional. If you believe, you must believe that such and such is the case. Or if you fear, you must fear something. Whereas, for pains and tickles and itches, they aren’t in that way directed. They are so to speak independent.

They’re not directed at objects and states of affairs in the world. Now, the way that this notion of intentionality ties in with the philosophy of language is this. The question that we’ve been posing–and incidentally in philosophy the way you pose the question is half the battle.

If you can get your question phrased exactly right, you’re well on the way to a solution.

The way I want to now repose that question is this. Given that our mental states are, so to speak, intrinsically intentional, they can’t help but be directed at objects and states of affairs in the world, the question is “How does the mind impose intentionality on objects that are not intrinsically intentional?”

Because the noises that come out of my mouth, as I was saying earlier, they’re just noises. The marks that I make on paper, the pictures that hang on the wall of a museum are after all, again, just physical objects, bits of canvas with paint slashed on them or painted on them. And now we want to ask, how is it that these fairly trivial, middle-sized, physical phenomena acquire this remarkable capacity to represent the world and represent it in these different illocutionary modes, to be statements or questions or commands or pictures of Bryan Magee or of the Battle of Hastings?

And that, I think, is the point at which the theory of language and the theory of action come together in this problem of intentionality. So you get a kind of double prong with the theory of speech acts.

On the one hand, by seeing language as action, by seeing speaking as a form of human behavior, I think you get a deeper insight into language. You see how–and to use a Wittgensteinian metaphor–it meshes with the rest of our behavior. But now, by taking this representative feature, this intentionality of language back into your theory of action, you also see how actions themselves have a kind of intentionality in the sense in which language is meaningful, it isn’t such a move to say that actions can also be meaningful, that our intentions are a kind of representation of what we’re going to do.

Now, let me say having said that, that I’m not going back to arguing for the ghost in the machine or saying that there are all these mysterious mental events occurring in this queer mental medium. I’m not going back to Descartes. I think it’s a big mistake to suppose that the logical features of intentionality–that is, how it is that the mind can represent the world either in our mental states, beliefs, hopes, fears, and so on, or perceptions or in our representations of a public kind, in language–it’s a big mistake to suppose that those questions have to be the same as Descartes’ questions: namely, what’s going on in my mind?

Is there some queer mental event occurring in my soul when I speak?

So I wanna separate the Cartesian questions, the questions about the nature of consciousness, from what I take to be– what to me is the basic question about intentionality, namely: How do mental states represent?

And how do they have this remarkable capacity to make objects represent?

I mean, look at it this way: How can mere things represent?

How can a mere object or noise stand for something in the world?

So, my current research, which is really going a step back from speech acts into more basic primitive questions. “Speech Acts” asked the question: How does language represent the world?

Now I’m concerned with the question: How does anything represent anything? And that, I think, is a question about intentionality.

We’ve left one loose end in this discussion, Professor Searle, which I want to take up and tie up before we bring the program to an end.

When you were earlier on sketching out the whole state of the subject, you mentioned linguistics and in particular, the work of Chomsky as being an important feature in the landscape.

I think I must ask you before we do finally conclude to say just a little bit briefly about him. Yes. Well of course, Chomsky, I think it’s no exaggeration to say, produced a revolution in linguistics.

What he did was take syntax as central to language. Now, that wasn’t just the revolution, that had been done before him. But he took it in a particular way.

He asked the question, how can we get a finite set of rules that will generate all and only the sentences of a language?

And then he showed that these rules had to have certain very special logical features. But the impact that this has had on philosophy is quite interesting and it’s in different realms that it’s had. One obvious thing is that it’s given us new syntactical tools to do studies of language.

I mean, in my own case for example, I use some of Chomsky’s apparatus to try to show how different speech acts are realized in different syntactical forms in English.

And I think one could do similar studies for other languages. But more importantly, I think in Chomsky, he was led to the following conclusion. The syntax that he came up with was extremely abstract and complicated. And that raised the question, how can little kids learn that?

I mean, you can’t teach a small child axiomatic set theory.

Chomsky showed that English is much more complicated than axiomatic set theory.

How is it that little kids can learn that?

And his answer was quite interesting. What he said was, in a sense they already know it. It’s a mistake to suppose that the mind is a blank tablet.

What happens is that the form of all natural human languages is programmed into the child’s mind at birth.

I mean, in his strongest moments, Chomsky says that the child has a perfect knowledge of universal grammar at birth, and then his exposure to language just triggers this antecedent knowledge, and it’s realized in the different natural human languages.

Now, there used to be a traditional objection to this idea of a universal grammar. People would say, but languages are so different; English is so different from Chinese.

Chomsky’s answer to that was that though they’re different on the surface, they have a common, underlying or deep structure. And it’s that which is programmed into the child’s mind.

Now, that seems to me Chomsky’s positive contribution and I think it really is remarkable.

But there are I think certain limitations and those limitations have to do with the present disarray in linguistics. Chomsky sees man as essentially a syntactical animal.

He never asked such questions as “Well, what are these syntactical forms used for?”

And his notion of syntax is that this theory of the syntax of language must be stated in purely syntactical terms. That is, we’re not allowed to say what these forms mean or how people are supposed to use them. And Chomsky’s actually denied what seems to me to be true, namely, that the purpose of language is communication. He doesn’t think that that’s the case. I mean, he thinks that…

He thinks it’s expression. Well, that’s right. And that language, the essence of language is syntax and that we have the syntax programmed into us, that we are, as I said, syntactical animals.

Now, I think that leads to a certain limitation in his research. I think that the most interesting questions about syntax have to do with how form and function interact. And I wanna ask the question, what are these syntactical forms for? Language, for me, is to talk with and to write with.

So I want to say that the study of the syntax will always be incomplete unless we get a study of linguistic use.

Now, it’s a factual question. I mean, the research in the end in the long haul, it might show that he was right and I am wrong.

But my gut feel is that we will not get an understanding of syntax of language and how language evolved without a conception of what human beings use language to do.

And that’s back to speech acts. Well, Professor Searle, you’ve given us an excellent survey I think of what the present situation is in the philosophy of language and also how it developed out of the past.

Would you–and I put this to you as my very last question–would you conclude this discussion by hazarding some informed guesses about how it’s gonna develop in the immediate future.

Yes, I’ll try. I Left my crystal ball in Berkeley, but I’ll see what I can do without it. First of all, I think linguistics is now such a booming subject that that’s bound to continue, partly because it’s so well-funded.

And I think linguists and philosophers are gonna find each other useful. I mean, we’re interacting more than we did in the past. I find myself speaking at linguistics conferences and inviting linguists to come and speak in philosophy conferences.

So I think, though the Chomskyan paradigm has broken down, there isn’t the kind of unified development of linguistics as a science that there once seemed in the heyday of Chomsky’s paradigm.

Though the field is in kind of a mess, it seems to me that it’s going to continue, that the field will continue to develop.

Linguistics will be a source of enormous usefulness for the philosopher of language, even though, of course, the direction of the interest that the linguist and the philosopher have are different.

The linguist interest is factual, empirical. He wants to know what are the facts about language. The philosopher really is more conceptual, he wants to know how is meaning & communication possible at all.

His question, to use an old-fashioned jargon, is transcendental, it’s not just empirical. So that’s one thing that I think will continue. Now, another thing I think is really having a kind of a boom in England and in certain parts of the United States now is the work of Quine & Davidson, and especially Davidson’s idea that you can get a theory of meaning by way of a theory of truth. The thing that is so appealing about that is you get well-defined questions.

I mean, you get questions that you can state using the apparatus of modern mathematical logic.

And you get the sort of questions that Austin liked incidentally, questions where cooperative group effort could produce results.

So I think that vein is by no means worked out.

We’re going to see a lot of interesting work done in the Davidsonian tradition. And finally, I wanna say that the kind of stuff I’m interested in I think is going to continue to interest people.

And I’m quite interested to see that on the European continent, where for so long there seemed really a kind of iron curtain between the way they did philosophy and the way we did philosophy–I mean, French and German philosophy seem so different from Anglo-American philosophy.

They’re now getting more and more interested in precisely this aspect of language that we’ve been talking about.

So I see at least these three strands of work going. Post-Chomsky and of course I’m including Chomsky himself in in what I call post-Chomsky linguistics will continue to develop.

I see more and more work going on in formal semantics of the Davidsonian kind & I think that a lot of useful work is going to be done there. And then I see these problems about language usage and intentionality. That seems to me a very rich field. More and more in the Searlean kind, as well. Thank you very much Professor Searle.

Thank you.