Skip to main content

Instructor: Jim Pryor. This course meets R 4:00 – 6:30 p.m. in CW 213.

We’ll explore a cluster of issues in philosophy of language and formal semantics having to do with when two expressions “codesignate,” for example when two singular terms designate the same object. This broad umbrella will let us explore issues about (a) Frege’s Problem and also about (b) anaphora (more on this below). Another topic to explore are (c) “empty” terms that seem to have no designation but nonetheless act codesignative, as in Geach’s “Hob thinks a witch has blighted Bob’s mare, and Nob wonders whether she (the same witch) killed Cob’s sow.” Our umbrella will also let us explore (d) how to think about expressions of different syntactic categories that seem to essentially concern the same thing, for example “beauty,” “beautiful,” and “beauties.” This last issue turns out to be fundamental to debates about plurals and descriptions, as well as to debates outside of the philosophy of language, such as about whether what we know can also be what we believe; whether reasons are facts, beliefs, or something else; and more.

A bit more on (b): Anaphora is the phenomenon where one expression derives its designation from another, as “its” and “another” do in different ways in this sentence. Another example is the pronoun “her” in “Reagan liked Thatcher, but Bush admired her.” This contrasts to the “demonstrative” or “deictic” way that pronoun works in “Some people admire her [pointing to Thatcher or a picture of her].” We’ll explore issues and problems surrounding how anaphoric uses of pronouns are to be understood, comparing the Reagan/Bush example to “Thatcher admired herself” and “Every leader who has a pet asks their subordinates to feed it.” “Herself”, “their”, and “it” are akin to “her” in the Reagan/Bush sentence, but each has been argued to introduce new semantic mechanisms and philosophical problems. (Especially the last of these.) Work on these has been claimed to make fundamental and revolutionary differences to how we should understand self-reference, debates about sense/reference, and the very nature of linguistic meaning. We’ll sort through these debates, aiming both to understand why they’re claimed to have this importance, and also to begin evaluating the claims.

The intended audience for this seminar are philosophy graduate students, no matter their specific backgrounds and interests. It’s not meant only for those who have or want to focus on formal semantics. That said, the literature on some of these topics tends towards being more technical. I’ll do all I can to make the issues and discussion as accessible to as many participants as possible. We’ll aim to get value from papers even when you’re not tracking every detail.

 

PHIL graduate students: Please refer to our Handbook (page 6, #9) for information regarding distribution requirements.