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Unit information: Philosophy of Language in 2015/16

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Unit name Philosophy of Language
Unit code PHIL20017
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Everett
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The unit aims to present a view of linguistic communication in which the semantic properties of the words uttered conspire with the features and circumstances of the uttering to generate messages. The main message (what is said) is relatively overt and explicit, while other layers of communicated content are implicit in (implicated by) the main message. To appreciate the complicated ways in which context interacts with linguistic meaning we focus upon the techniques people employ for referring to particular objects. It is convenient to structure this field in terms of the different kinds of linguistic devices used: proper names, demonstratives, pronouns, definite descriptions. We also look at cases where people refer to kinds of thing, stuffs, and properties. Issues that raise questions about the borderline between semantics and pragmatics: (a) Grice's distinction between what is literally said and what is conversationally implied; (b) how to handle figurative uses of language such as metaphor, are also considered.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have:

(1) developed a detailed knowledge of and acquired an in-depth understanding of the central debates and positions in the philosophy of language

(2) gained familiarity with some of the central literature on these debates and positions;

(3) developed skills in the researching, reading and presentation of complex material, on these debates and positions, as appropriate to Level-I.

Teaching details

11 one-hour lectures + 11 one-hour seminars

Assessment Details

Formative: two 2,000-2500 word essays designed to test intended learning outcomes (1)-(3).

Summative: one 3-hour unseen exam designed to test intended learning outcomes (1)-(3).

Reading and References

William Lycan, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language, Routledge, London, 2000.

A.P.Martinich (ed.), The Philosophy of Language. 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 1990.

Devitt and Hanley (eds.), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Language, Blackwell, 2006.