Philosophy of Language (PHIL*3250)
Term: Fall 2014
This course is an introduction to contemporary philosophy of language. One of the driving questions in this field is, How do words connect with things in the world? One early answer to this was given by Bertrand Russell and was based on his view that we can think about a thing only if we are either directly acquainted with it or we can frame a desription that picks it out. On his view almost all of what we think about is by description, so he had a theory of how descriptions work, which was the central part of his story about how language in general works. That theory, and its applications, have been behind many of the great controversies in 20th century philosophy of language, and we will pursue several of those debates. In addition we will look at ways in which philosophers have come up with theories about how the strictly literal meaning of a statement is supplemented. Grice’s theory of “conversational implicature” is the starting point for that topic. Other questions include whether a word has a “sense” in addition to having a “reference,” and the degree to which compositionality—the recombinability of words to make new sentences—accords with different accounts of how words and sentences get their meanings.
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