By "communication" in the title question I am referring to the message that a person creates in an attempt to convey information to another person. Such communications or messages can be verbal (e.g., spoken or written words) or non-verbal (e.g., gestures). For simplicity, I wanted to focus in this question on the meaning of verbal communications of conceptual ideas, which I will simply refer to as "communications" hereinafter.
When one person attempts to communicate with another, they first must have some idea in their mind that they want to convey to the other person. Generally, this idea will be held in the first person's mind as a collection of concepts grouped together as a sentence (see Peikoff's lecture on Grammar). The first person then creates a message that is intended to convey the idea in their head to the second person by conveying the words that the first person uses to denote the concepts making up the idea (e.g., they speak aloud the words of the sentence that corresponds to the idea in their mind)--this is sometimes referred to as "encoding" the idea. The second person receives the message (e.g., hears the spoken words), and then converts the message into an idea in their mind by calling up their own concepts that are denoted by the words that they received--this is sometimes referred to as "decoding" the message.
Question in Detail
Once someone creates a message in an attempt to communicate, does that message have an objective meaning?
Specifically, the meaning that the receiver of the message obtains when they "decode" the message may not necessarily match with the meaning of the idea that the sender of the message had in their mind. Moreover, the meanings in both the sender's and receiver's minds might be different from what the majority of people might ascribe to the message or from what a hypothetical "ideal" man might ascribe to the message. Can we say that one of these meanings is the objectively "right" meaning and that the others are "wrong"?
The meanings ascribed to the message may differ from sender to receiver, for example, if the sender and the receiver do not use the same word to denote the same concept. I am not merely alluding here to different languages--even people who speak the same language may use the same word to denote subtly (or not-so-subtly) different concepts. This may be true even if both sender and receiver have formed their concepts objectively, and is even more likely to be true if one of the sender and the receiver was not objective in forming their concepts.
Some answers to the question of what a communication means include:
(1) The meaning of the message is the meaning ascribed to it by the sender (i.e., the meaning of the idea in the sender's mind that the message was intended to convey);
(2) The meaning of the message is the meaning ascribed to it by the receiver (i.e., the meaning of the idea in the receiver's mind upon decoding the message);
(3) The meaning of the message is the meaning that hypothetically would be ascribed to it by a hypothetical receiver, such as an "ideal" person who had a maximum knowledge for the era (similar to Rand's discussion of philosophically objective value, which uses such a hypothetical ideal person as a measuring stick).
(4) The meaning of the message is the meaning that a majority of persons in the given society would ascribe to it.
The answer to this question has serious real-word consequences, especially in the field of law. Laws are nothing other than communicated ideas (generally written texts)--i.e., they generally communicate what is forbidden and what the consequences of breaking the law will be. In order for the government to apply the laws objectively, they must know what the laws objectively mean, which is to say what the communications embodied by the laws objectively mean.
The question states (underline emphasis added):
Do communications [original title wording] have objective meaning? ...
I see two key points here:
For a concise survey of Objectivism's view of objectivity, refer to the topic of "Objectivity" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Also refer to OPAR, Chapter 4, "Objectivity," especially the subsection titled, "Objectivity as Volitional Adherence to Reality by the Method of Logic." That title very concisely describes what objectivity is, but OPAR needs roughly five pages of discussion (pp. 116-121) to explain it fully. The following excerpt from the Lexicon topic summarizes objectivity succinctly:
Metaphysically, it [objectivity] is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness. Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic).
The OPAR chapter goes on to point out and explain, in the next subsection (pp. 121-128), that knowledge is contextual, but that this does not make knowledge subjective. Refer also to the topic of "Context" in the Lexicon, which explains, in part:
In regard to any concept, idea, proposal, theory, or item of knowledge, never forget or ignore the context on which it depends and which conditions its validity and use....
Objectivism also strongly advocates "objective law," which basically means "knowable law." The Objectivist literature cites the antitrust laws as a notorious example of non-objective law, because businessmen cannot know in advance what specific actions are legal or not, or even whether actions held to be legal in the past will still be legal under the same law in future cases. Refer to "Antitrust Laws" in the Lexicon and the discussion of objective law in OPAR, pp. 364-365.
Update: Meaning and Objectivity
There have been a great many comments on this question -- 44 so far on the question itself, plus an additional 10 comments on my Answer. The comments have included some good discussion of issues in the law and philosophy of law. There is, however, one philosophical issue that was raised very directly in the original question and reiterated in the comments, which may need further emphasis: the fact that all knowledge is contextual and how knowledge can still be objective nonetheless.
The original question expresses this issue as follows:
Once someone creates a message in an attempt to communicate, does that message have an objective meaning?
The original question ends with special focus on the issue of objective meaning in the field of law and its practice. A comment by the questioner further explains:
In every day life it seems that most people's concepts are similar enough that people understand each other and thus this problem is not a large issue--however, I gave one example where determining the exact, objective, meaning of communications is key: the law.
This formulation answers the question of how knowledge (including understanding "messages") can be contextual yet still objective. People can understand each other because there is enough similarity for it in their respective cognitive contexts of knowledge, and also because humans have the capacity to acquire additional context when needed. If there is something they don't understand about a "message," they can inquire further, initially in their own independent thinking about the concepts involved and what they mean (or might mean), and also by asking others and/or the originator(s) of the message to elaborate.
The field of law, as I understand it, especially the common law (case law, developed on a case-by-case basis with reliance on precedent whenever possible), has developed numerous principles for defining how much "context" a "reasonable and prudent man" should be expected to possess. No philosophy, Objectivism included, can be a substitute for detailed case studies and inductive evolution of objective precedents over time. That task belongs to the special science known as law (or the philosophy of law). The most that Objectivism can do is offer broad general guidelines about what constitutes an objective conceptual formulation and what doesn't.
For further clarification of the meaning of "objective" (in its adjective usage) in Objectivism, a case-by-case study of how Objectivism uses the term "objective" may be helpful. I made an initial attempt to list a wide range of examples of how Objectivism uses "objective" in various issues and contexts by surveying several key reference works in Objectivism, primarily FNI, ITOE2, OPAR, RM, VOS, and VOR. (Refer to The Ayn Rand Lexicon for a listing of book abbreviations used in references.) There are references in CUI, too, but they largely duplicate the usages that I found in the main books. The comments have also pointed out an entire chapter in Objectively Speaking: Ayn Rand Interviewed titled, "Objective Law" (Chapter 10). (The book was edited by Marlene Podritske and Peter Schwartz, and published in 2009.) The total number of distinct usages of "objective" that I found was nearly a hundred (all similar but not exactly identical), far too many to list individually here; but they all exemplify and reinforce the following key formulation from OPAR (p. 117):
To be "objective" in one's conceptual activities is volitionally to adhere to reality by following certain rules of method, a method based on facts and appropriate to man's form of cognition.
OPAR describes this as Ayn Rand's definition of objectivity, in Leonard Peikoff's words. Note that objectivity has both a metaphysical aspect (identification of facts of reality) and an epistemological aspect (adhering to the rules of cognition required by the nature of man's conceptual faculty for accurately apprehending reality).
Additional noteworthy references to "objective" include the following:
The term "objective," let me stress here, does not apply to all values, but only to values chosen by man. The automatic values that govern internal bodily functions or the behavior of plants and animals are not the product of a conceptual process. Such values, therefore, are outside the terminology of "objective," "intrinsic," or "subjective." In this regard, automatic values are like sense data. Sense data are neither "objective" nor "nonobjective."
Of course, the comment by the questioner excerpted above calls for a definitive application of "objectivity" to the field of law, especially written statutes. But there is no substitute for case-by-case studies of actual cases. The process is essentially inductive. Objectivism can provide a philosophical context (broad general guidelines), but the study of actual cases is still essential, comparing and contrasting them to each other and to the broader philosophical guidelines. In the case of statutes, my understanding is that appellate courts can and do look closely at what the legislature intended, insofar as that can be determined, when applying statutes in specific cases where there is ambiguity; and legislatures may often include statements of their intent as preambles to the statutes. The courts can and do "throw out" laws that are judged to be too vague or unintentionally "unjust," taking into account the actual context of the case and the specific alleged wrongdoer's situation as well as general standards that have evolved over time pertaining to what a "reasonable and prudent man" would supposedly understand and do in such a situation. No philosophy can be a substitute for the intellectual work of studying a wide range of actual cases inductively and integrating appropriate principles of law accordingly.