PHIL 402 - Undergraduate Seminar in Philosophy
Section: 001 Meaning and Use in Language
Term: FA 2009
Subject: Philosophy (PHIL)
Department: LSA Philosophy
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
Enforced Prerequisites:
Philosophy concentrators only.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

This seminar will concentrate on the relation between meaning and use, and will read texts from both philosophy of language and linguistic semantics.

There is a classical debate in the philosophy of language between those who argue that meaning lies essentially in what is referred to, and those who argue that it is captured in rules of use. For example, philosophers who are committed to a referential theory of meaning might take an expression like a noun phrase—a man, the present King of France, or Russell—to refer to an individual in the world, or at least to a generalized quantifier (a function from properties to truth values), and take a sentence like a man entered to denote a proposition. But Strawson (1950:224) argues that "the meaning of an expression is not the set of things or the single thing it may correctly be used to refer to: the meaning is the set of rules, habits, conventions, for its use in referring." Work in linguistic semantics since the 1980s suggests a middle ground: Following Gazdar (1979), and in keeping with work by Lewis (1979) on scorekeeping in a language game, and by Stalnaker (1979) on presupposition and assertion, we can take meaning to be a function from contexts to contexts—in Heim’s (1983) terms, a context change potential. But the notion of a context can be modeled in such a way that even though the meaning of an expression does not directly involve reference to an entity in the world, any context that results from its utterance—and thus the information it contributes to the discourse in question—is only validated in circumstances which do involve such an entity. Hence, use of an utterance to update context might be said to indirectly involve reference. We will explore the classical debate in the philosophy of language, in the light of relevant recent work in linguistic semantics and pragmatics.

PHIL 402 - Undergraduate Seminar in Philosophy
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
4PHIL Ugrd
W 1:00PM - 3:00PM
002 (SEM)
4PHIL Ugrd
Tu 1:00PM - 3:00PM
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