Philosophy 133

Summer 2013 Session D

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
133 Philosophy of Language Strelau TuWTh 1-3:30 136 Barrows

This course will focus largely on three interconnected areas: what is it for a person to know the meaning of a language? How is language related to the world? How is language used in communication, and how does this use impact meaning?
We’ll begin with the ‘classical’ accounts of Frege and Bertrand Russell, which influence much of the discussion that follows. We’ll then consider Searle’s broadly Fregean account; it explains linguistic meaning in terms of the mental states (intentions, beliefs, desires) that underlie speech acts. As do many Fregeans, Searle holds that “what’s in the head” is sufficient to determine a unique referent for proper names and general terms. This view is vigorously attacked by Putnam, Kripke, and Burge, who argue that unique reference requires an external causal chain. Searle’s reply turns on his analysis of demonstratives and indexicals (‘this’, ‘you’); we’ll compare this with standard accounts of demonstratives by Kaplan and Strawson.
Quine approaches meaning from the point of view of ‘radical translation’ of a completely unknown language. He argues that alternative translations are always possible (“indeterminacy of translation”), and therefore there is no matter of fact about meaning. Davidson makes similar use of a 3rd person ‘interpreter’, but concludes that meaning is what is common to all possible interpretations. Davidson’s theory of meaning makes central use of Tarski’s theory of truth, so we will read Tarski. Davidson uses Tarski’s theory as a framework for a truth-conditional semantics for natural language. We’ll also discuss the possible worlds approach to semantics (Lewis’ version). McDowell charges that Davidson’s combination of holism and causal theory leaves us “spinning in the void” and unconnected to the world; we’ll take steps towards evaluating both McDowell’s argument and his positive account.
Other topics will include: Wittgenstein and Kripke on following a rule; refinements of the causal theory of reference by Dretske and Fodor; Grice’s theory of meaning; non-literal uses of language (implicature, metaphor, fiction, literary theory). Many of our readings discuss holism and normativity.

Previously taught: FL11, FL10, FL09, SP08, SP05, SP04.