Organon F

Volume 28, May 2021, Issue 2, Pages 282–302

ISSN 2585-7150 (online) ISSN 1335-0668 (print)

Research Article | Special issue on The Origins of Meaning and the Nature of Speech Acts

Must Expression Be Instrumental?

Stina Bäckström


This article engages critically with the theory of expression proposed by Mitchell S. Green in his Self-Expression (2007). In this book, Green argues that expressions are signals designed to convey information about mental states. By putting pressure on one of the examples Green uses in his book, I will challenge this thesis. I will then deepen this challenge by developing a contrast between two philosophical perspectives on expression, which I name the 'instrumental' and the 'descriptive'. I take Green’s theory of expression to be an exemplar of the instrumental perspective. Expression, in the instrumental perspective, is a means for transmitting information about mental states from organism to organism. The descriptive perspective I articulate with the help of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Ludwig Wittgenstein. On the descriptive view, expression is (at least a part of) an answer to the question what it is so much as to have mental states and a living body. I suggest at the end of the article that if we remain within the instrumental perspective, we will not be able to use expression to satisfactorily answer this question.


Expression; Green; Merleau-Ponty; signal; Wittgenstein.

Author(s) and affiliation(s)


Stina Bäckström 


Södertörn University


Centre for Studies in Practical Knowledge, Södertörn University Alfred No- bels allé 7 Flemingsberg 141 89 Huddinge, SwedenI


About this article


16 April 2019


4 November 2019


2 December 2019

Published online

23 April 2021


Institute of Philosophy of the Slovak Academy of Sciences

Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Cite as


Bäckström, S. (2021). Must Expression Be Instrumental? Organon F28(2), 282–302.


Bäckström, Stina. 2021. "Must Expression Be Instrumental?" Organon F 28 (2): 282–302.


Bäckström, S. (2021). Must Expression Be Instrumental? Organon F, 28(2), pp. 282–302.

Copyright information

© Stina Bäckström

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