Philosophy of language


Course Description

In this course we study the nature of linguistic meaning and reference with a particular focus on names, descriptions, natural kind terms, and theoretical terms in science. We discuss the classic theories of meaning and reference from Frege, Russell, and others, before analysing the influential work of Kripke. We look to contemporary responses to Kripke including the theory of two-dimensional semantics. We consider the implications of these views for various philosophical issues, including whether linguistic competence yields a priori knowledge of analytic truths and whether there are necessary truths that cannot be known a priori.




The following textbooks provide useful discussions of the topics covered:

Martinich, Aloysius P., ed. The Philosophy of Language. 5th ed. Oxford University Press,              2006.

Lycan, William G. Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge      Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy). 2nd ed. Routledge, 2008.




The majority of your grade for this course will be determined by a final 3000 word essay worth 60% of the final grade. Two shorter essays (between 750 and 1500 words) will be due in week 8 and will each constitute 20% of your final mark.

Two essays                                                                         40%

Final essay                                                                          60%




Week 1:

Semantics versus pragmatics

Required reading: (i) Grice: “Logic and Conversation”.

Optional additional reading: (i) Korta & Perry: “Pragmatics” (SEP entry).

Week 2:

Frege’s Theory

Required reading: (i) Frege: “The Thought: A Logical Enquiry”.

Optional additional reading: (i) Zalta: “Frege’s Philosophy of Language” (SEP entry).

Week 3:

Frege’s Puzzle

Required reading: (i) Frege: “On Sense and Reference”.

Optional additional reading: (i) Zalta: “Frege’s Philosophy of Language” (SEP entry).

Week 4:

Russell on Definite Descriptions

Required reading: (i) Russell: “On Denoting” (ii) Russell: “Descriptions”.

Optional additional reading: (i) Quine: “On What There Is”.

Week 5:

Strawson and Donnellan on Definite Descriptions

Required reading: (i) Strawson: “On Referring”. (ii) Donnellan: “Reference and Definite                 Descriptions”.

Optional additional reading: (i) Ludlow: “Descriptions” (SEP entry).

Week 6:

Analyticity and Empiricism

Required reading: (i) Quine: “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (ii) Grice & Strawson: “In Defence of a Dogma”.

Optional additional reading: (i) Hempel: “Empiricist Criteria of Cognitive Significance: Problems and Changes” (ii) Carnap: “Quine on Analyticity” (iii) Chalmers: “Revisability and Conceptual Change in “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”.

Week 7:

Kripke 1 (Descriptivism)

Required reading: (i) Kripke: “Naming and Necessity” (Lecture 1).

Optional additional reading: (i) Searle: “Proper Names” (ii) Wittgenstein: “Philosophical Investigations” (excerpt).

Week 8:

Kripke 2 (Causal Theory of Reference)

Required reading: (i) Kripke: “Naming and Necessity” (Lecture 2).

Optional additional reading: (i) Evans: “The Causal Theory of Names” (ii) Putnam: The Meaning of ‘Meaning'”.

Week 9:

Kripke 3 (Natural Kind Terms and A Posteriori Necessities)

Required reading: (i) Kripke: “Naming and Necessity” (Lecture 3).

Optional additional reading: (i) Weisberg: “Water is Not H2O” (ii) Mellor: “Natural Kinds”.

Week 10:

The Descriptivist Response

Required reading: (i) Jackson: “Reference and Description Revisited”.

Optional additional reading: (i) Jackson: “From Metaphysics to Ethics” (excerpt) (ii) Kroon: Causal Descriptivism.

Week 11:

Two-Dimensional Semantics

Required reading: (i) Nimtz: “Two-Dimensional Semantics – the Basics” (ii) Chalmers: “Epistemic Two-Dimensional Semantics”.

Optional additional reading: (i) Schroeter: “Two-Dimensional Semantics” (SEP entry).

Week 12:

Challenges to Two-Dimensional Semantics

Required reading: (i) Schroeter: “Against A Priori Reductions” (ii) deRossett: “Reference and Response”.

Optional additional reading: (i) Schroeter: “Considering Empty Worlds as Actual” (ii) Speaks: “Epistemic Two-Dimensionalism and the Epistemic Argument (iii) Elliott, McQueen & Weber: “Epistemic Two-Dimensionalism and Arguments from Epistemic Misclassification”.

Week 13:

Kripkenstein: Meaning Scepticism

Required reading: (i) Kripke: “On Rules and Private Language”.

Optional additional reading: (i) Boghossian: “The Rule-Following Considerations” (ii) Soames: “Skepticism about Meaning”.


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