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PL303: Philosophy of Language

Philosophy of Language is in many respects a “new” (ca. 125 years) branch of philosophy.  Philosophical questions and theories about language have been around for about as long as there has been philosophy (ca. 2500 years), but thinking about language as its own, relatively distinct problem area in the discipline is a much more recent phenomenon owing, mostly, to the influence of the so-called ‘Analytic’ period of philosophy (ca. 1880-1970).  (In fact, all of the articles included in the course text, Martinich’s, The Philosophy of Language, come from that period, or later.)

One of the main aims of the course is to introduce the student to the significance of some of the basic philosophical problems confronting “normal” languages (e.g., English) and some of the solutions offered to them.  One consequence of a philosophical study of language is that one is forced to confront direct challenges to “normal” ways of thinking about ourselves and the world—challenges which arise simply from a careful examination of how language works (or doesn’t work).

Another goal of the course is to further develop the student's sense both of what makes an argument a good argument, and of what sorts of conclusions are worth arguing for, in the first place; also, to hone the reading and writing skills needed to personally benefit from some of the greatest intellectual documents (both those studied in this course as well as those the student may encounter down the road) that world civilizations have to offer.

Primarily, though, the aim of this course is to transmit the benefits of having one’s contemporary world-view fundamentally challenged by extraordinary, but carefully argued for, alternatives.