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Philosophy of language PY3210

Philosophy of language is organised around general questions of language and meaning. The nature of language has long been an obsession of philosophers. More recently it has also become the focus of empirical investigation in linguistics. The course is concerned both with the most general and abstract aspects of language, meaning and knowledge and with more specific problems that arise in understanding particular aspects of natural languages.

Topics covered

Certain more elementary aspects of the philosophy of language are covered in ‘Logic and metaphysics’, and it is good to have a grounding in issues surrounding reference and truth covered on that paper. On this paper you will be focusing more on general methodological considerations about meaning and reference: what form should a theory of meaning take; what does knowledge of meaning consist of; what kinds of facts are there about meaning?

Certain figures have dominated discussion of language in the twentieth century, from Frege and Russell on to Wittgenstein’s emphasis on use of language over representation; to Quine’s scepticism about the determinacy of translation; Grice’s attempt to explicate meaning in terms of speaker’s intentions; Davidson’s work on theories of truth and radical interpretation, to the consequences of Chomskian linguistics. In addition to studying the work of these philosophers, you will have the opportunity to look at particular problems concerning indexical expressions; proper names; the nature of definite descriptions; pronouns and quantified phrases in natural language; indirect contexts and propositional attitude ascriptions; adverbs, adjectives and metaphor.


One three-hour unseen written examination.

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