PHIL 345.001 – Reference and Meaning

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Instructor: Dean Pettit. This course meets TR 3:30 – 4:45 p.m. in CW 103.

Language appears to be a merely physical phenomenon, constituted by certain sounds that we make, ink marks on the pages of books, chalk marks on blackboards, and so on. Yet it seems to be a distinctive kind of physical phenomenon in at least two important respects. First, unlike many non-linguistic sounds (e.g., sneezes), language has meaning. Second, the words of a language seem to refer to particular things. For example, the name ‘Bill Clinton’ refers to a certain former president. These distinctive features of language seem to be essential to its utility. It is because language is meaningful that they can be used to express thoughts. It is because words refer to particular things that they can be used to communicate about those things. This course will be concerned with theories about meaning and reference, theories that attempt to account for these distinctively linguistic phenomena. We will confront the following sorts of issues about meaning and reference. What is it for language to be meaningful? What makes some sounds meaningful and others not? What is it for a word to refer to something? How do certain marks on a page come to stand in this relationship to a person or thing in a way that some arbitrary string of marks does not? What is the relationship between what we mean (as speakers of a language) and what the words of our language mean?

Prerequisite: at least 1 PHIL course.