An important strand of philosophy in the 20th century 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 aliens crashed in Roswell in 1947 false or just nonsense? How is it possible that the words ‘Venus,’ ‘Evening Star,’ ‘Morning Star’ refer to the same object—the second planet from the sun—despite having different meanings? 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?
Throughout the course we’ll ask these and other questions about the meaning of ‘meaning’, and the rules, habits, and conventions that govern linguistic practices like naming. Towards the end of class, we’ll have an opportunity to either look at questions concerning the semantics and pragmatics of slurs, particularly racial slurs, and how issues in the philosophy of language bear on questions about free speech and discourse.