Skip to main content

Instructor: Dean Pettit. This course meets Wednesdays from 1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. in Caldwell 208.

Philosophical interest in language began with the development of formal logic and the study of the foundations of mathematics. It had an enormous influence on philosophy in the mid 20th century and continues to have an influence much contemporary philosophical inquiry. Language has been of philosophical interest for two quite different reasons. One line of philosophical inquiry is motivated by the idea that sentences have an underlying logical form that can be quite different from their surface grammatical form. It is a recurring theme philosophy that language that the linguistic forms employed by a discourse can be deeply misleading as to the underlying nature of the phenomenon, morality or mathematics, for example. The study of language thus promises philosophical insights, either by revealing ways in which language is misleading, or perhaps even by revealing the underlying logical form of the discourse. A quite different line of philosophical inquiry about language is concerned with the foundations of linguistic theory and aims to analyze fundamental concepts of linguistic theory, such as meaning, reference and truth. The theory of meaning has been a focal point of this literature, which seeks to elucidate the concept of meaning by setting out what form a meaning theory should take.

This course is a graduate-level survey of key topics in the philosophy of language. The course will draw on both historical and contemporary sources. The aim of the course will be to equip students to follow contemporary debates in the philosophy of language. So the focus will be on issues of contemporary philosophical interest, rather than on historical completeness. Among the issues we will explore … What is meaning and how should it be represented in linguistic theory? What is the relationship between truth and meaning? Do sentences have a hidden logical form or hidden indexical parameters? What are propositions? To what extent is the interpretation of a sentence determined by its semantics vs. pragmatics? In what ways can the truth of a sentence be sensitive to context? What is the relationship between linguistics and the philosophy of language? What is the nature of language? Can the study of language yield substantive philosophical insights?

Dean Pettit’s webpage