Philosophy 1760: Description

Philosophy of Language is a very large and extremely active area, and no semester-long courrse could possibly introduce students to all of it. In this course, we will cover three main topics: Questions about meaning and communication; questions about literal meaning and metaphor; and questions about the meanings of proper names.

Language is used, among other things, for communication. In part, this is because words mean things, and because we understand them. What is it to understand what someone says? What is it for words to mean what they do? How do we know what our words mean? And how does this knowledge enable us to use language as we do? We will study these questions and others through readings by such philosophers as Donald Davidson, H.P. Grice, Jim Higginbotham, Scott Soames, and Peter Strawson.

Concerning metaphor, our interest will be in how metaphors work, and in particular how "metaphorical meaning" is related to the literal meanings of words. We will read a series of classic papers laying out the main options, and then look at a recent alternative view.

When we discuss proper names, we will be interested in the relationship between names and their bearers, which we call 'reference'. We will start by reading some classic papers on the topic by Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, and Peter Strawson, and then take up some questions about the relationship between the meanings of words and their actual use by looking at discussions by Keith Donnellan and Saul Kripke. At the end, we will have a quick look at some of the literature on demonstratives ("this", "that") and indexicals ("I", "here", "now"), in particular, at some classic papers by David Kaplan, John Perry, and Gareth Evans.

Richard Heck Department of Philosophy Brown University

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