An important strand of philosophy emerged in the 20th century that was interested in a wide variety of puzzles and questions about language. These questions focused at first on how words in declarative statements about the world have (or fail to have) meaning and how they manage to refer (or fail to refer) to objects. For example: Are claims about the baldness of the present king of France or that unicorns have horns or that aliens crash-landed in Roswell false or just nonsense? If they’re false, then what makes them so easy to understand? How is it possible that the words ‘Venus,’ ‘Evening Star,’ ‘Morning Star’ refer to the same object—the second planet from the sun—despite all having different meanings associated with them?
Later philosophers of language were less interested in the ways we use language to successfully describe the world, and more interested in asking questions about the types of things we do with language. For example: How is, “I have to work tomorrow,” an acceptable answer to a question about whether or not you’ll attend a friend’s party? If telling someone that you promise to pick them up from the airport doesn’t describe a state of affairs in the world, what are we doing when we say, “I promise to pick you up from the airport”? And what does this all mean for an overall theory of language’s meaning?
This doesn’t exhaust the questions that are at the core of philosophical investigations of language, but it does give you an idea of some of the questions we’ll tackle in this course.
Offered: jointly with LING 476.
TEXT: Naming and Necessity, Saul Kripke; and online course materials/coursepack.