Philosophy 415: Philosophy of Language

Professor Jeff Speaks
Winter 2005

Summary. The course will be organized around developments in the theories of reference, meaning, and truth from Frege to the present. We will discuss questions like: What sorts of things are meanings? What is the relationship between the meaning of a sentence and its truth-value? What are the meanings of certain constructions in English -- e.g., proper names, definite descriptions, and propositional attitude ascriptions? What is the relationship between a theory of meaning and a theory of communication?

In the last one hundred years, the philosophy of language has occupied a particularly central place in philosophy, at least in the analytic tradition. Acccordingly, we will try to understand not only developments within the philosophy of language, but also the relevance of those developments to other areas of philosophy. Our focus here will be on how linguistic considerations have been thought to bear on three traditional subject matters of philosophy: necessity, essence, and the a priori. Since many have thought that it is the aim of philosophy to yield truths which are both necessary and a priori, our discussion will also bear on the question of the proper aim and method of philosophy.

Requirements. Students will be required to attend and participate in class, do the assigned reading, and write three essays. Each essay will be approximately 5 pages in length, and worth 30% of the grade. 10% of the grade will be based on class attendance and participation. There may also be one or two ungraded ‘worksheets’; completion of these will figure into the class participation grade.

This course will be extremely difficult without a solid grasp of introductory logic.

Texts. There are two required texts: Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity, and a coursepack. The former will be available from Paragraphe Books, and the latter will be available at the McGill bookstore.

”McGill University values academic integrity. Therefore all students must understand the meaning and consequences of cheating, plagiarism and other academic offences under the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures (see for more information).”

”L’université McGill attache une haute importance à lhonnêteté académique. Il incombe par conséquent à tous les étudiants de comprendre ce que l’on entend par tricherie, plagiat et autres infractions académiques, ainsi que les conséquences que peuvent avoir de telles actions, selon le Code de conduite de l’étudiant et des procédures disciplinaires (pour de plus amples renseignements, veuillez consulter le site”