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Regular version of the site

Philosophy of Language

Academic Year
Instruction in English
ECTS credits
Course type:
Compulsory course
2 year, 3 module


Course Syllabus


This is an introduction to the central problems of the philosophy of language. It is divided in two parts: historical and contemporary. The historical part traces the conceptual relations between the philosophy of language and various topics in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of religion, political philosophy and philosophy of history. Topics in the philosophy of language will be discussed in their continuity with other philosophical problems. Ancient philosophers discovered that in every field of philosophical inquiry, one has to face, sooner or later, issues concerning the nature of language and its role in human life. Thus, for authors such as Plato and Augustine, solving metaphysical and epistemological problems often involved sophisticated discussions of puzzles concerning language. This methodological role of the philosophy of language will be discussed with reference to five classics from the history of Western philosophy: Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Hobbes, and Rousseau. The second, contemporary part of the course focuses on philosophy of language in 20th-century analytic philosophy. Students will read classics of the analytic tradition (Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Strawson, Austin, and Grice) and be introduced to a number of notions, distinctions, and problems that form the background and toolbox of contemporary philosophy of language. The course as whole aims to bring out how the philosophy of language fits into philosophy more generally, and how contemporary philosophy of language fits into the history of Western philosophy.
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • Introduction to the discussion of language in some major figures of the Western philosophical tradition.
  • Introduction to the major notions, distinctions, and problems in contemporary philosophy of language within the analytic tradition.
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • Master Frege's distinction between sense and reference, and the problems it was supposed to solve
  • Master Frege's distinctions between the act of judging the act of thinking, and the thought, construed as a mind-independent abstract entity. Master also Frege's correlative distinction between the thought, the expression of a thought, and an assertion, and the related distinction between force and content
  • Master Frege's motivations for introducing thoughts as mind-independent abstract entities (avoid psychologism and vindicate the objectivity and communicability of thoughts).
  • Master Russell's analysis of definite description and its philosophical motivations.
  • Master Austin's distinction between constative and performative utterances
  • Master Austin tripartite of speech acts into locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts; master the notion of uptake and the distinction between perlocutionary object and perlocutionary effect; be able to discuss how Austin's analysis to Frege's distinction between force and content.
  • Master the notion of "reference presupposition" introduced by Strawson and his critique of Russell's theory of definite descriptions.
  • Master Grice's distinction between logical implication and different forms of implicature; his notion of speaker meaning and how it differs from linguistic meaning; and how this relates to the distinction between semantics and pragmatics.
  • Master Wittgenstein's views about the nature of philosophical problems and their origins in the misleading character of language. Ability to connect these views to passages in the "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" and "the Philosophical Investigations."
  • Capacity to describe the goal of a foundational theory of meaning and give some examples
  • Master the distinction between sign symbol on Wittgenstein's Tractatus and its implications to the possibility of a foundational theory of meaning.
  • Grasp the similarities between Wittgenstein's discussion of signs and symbols in the Tractatus and his discussion of dead signs, living sings, and use in the later works.
  • Master later Wittgenstein's critique of ostensive definitions as the foundation of language
  • Master Frege's distinction between concept, objects, and functions. Capacity to analyze sentences in accordance with Frege's framework.
  • understands the problem of false judgements
  • formulates Plato's solution to the problem of false judgements
  • knows Augustine's theory of signs
  • knows the general features of medieval theories of analogical predications
  • understands the conceptual relations between Hobbe's philosophy of language and political philosophy
  • knows Rousseau's theory of the origins of language
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • Speaking about Nothing: Plato on Being and Non-being
    Language and ontology. Puzzles concerning speaking about non-being and Plato's solution of these puzzles in The Sophist.
  • Learning by Signs: Augustine on Teaching
    Language and epistemology. Augustine's philosophy of language. Puzzles about the possibility of learning through language.
  • Names of God: Aquinas on Analogical Predication
    Language and philosophy of religion. Puzzles concerning the predication of attributes to divine being. Medieval theories of analogical predication. Aquinas's view on divine names.
  • State by Words: Hobbes on language and politics
    Language and political philosophy. Puzzles concerning the relation between the emergence of political entity and the emergence of language. Hobbes's solutions to these puzzles.
  • The Origins of Language: Rousseau on the Function of Language.
    Language and philosophy of history. Puzzles about the function and purpose of language. The solutions of these puzzles in Rousseau's philosophy of history.
  • Frege on sense and reference
    Frege's distinction between the sense and reference
  • Frege on thought, thinking, and judgment
    Frege's distinction between the thought, thinking, and judgment; the correlative distinction between thought, expression of a thought, and assertion; the related distinction between force and content.
  • Russell on definite descriptions
    Russell analysis of definite descriptions
  • Strawson on reference and presupposition
    Strawson's critique of Russell's theory of descriptions: reference is presupposed
  • Wittgenstein on philosophy as a critique of language
    Wittgenstein on the nature of philosophical problems and their origins in the misleading character of language
  • Wittgenstein on theories of meaning
    Wittgenstein's conception of linguistic signs (in both his early and later work) and its implications for the possibility of a theory of meaning
  • Austin's theory of speech acts
    Austin's contrast between constative and performative utterances, and his analysis of speech acts into locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts
  • Grice on implicature and speaker meaning
    Grice's notions of implicature and speaker meaning, and the distinction between semantics and pragmatics.
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking Exam
    Students can choose to get the final grade without writing the final essay. It is only possible when they have 4 or more according to formula: First Essay*0,5+Auditory Work*0,5.
  • non-blocking Essay
    (700-1000 words) on a topic decided by the instructors or approved by the instructors
  • non-blocking Active participation in lectures and seminars
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • Interim assessment (3 module)
    0.33 * Active participation in lectures and seminars + 0.34 * Essay + 0.33 * Exam


Recommended Core Bibliography

  • Austin, J. (1962). How to do things with words. Germany, Europe: Clarendon Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.B157973A
  • Frege, G. (1891). Function und Begriff : Vortrag, gehalten in der Sitzung vom 9. Januar 1891 der Jenaischen Gesellschaft für Medicin und Naturwissenschaft Vortrag, gehalten in der Sitzung vom 9. Januar 1891 der Jenaischen Gesellschaft für Medicin und Naturwissenschaft. Germany, Europe: Pohle. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.C80162CD
  • Frege, G. (1892). Über Sinn und Bedeutung (vollständige digitalisierte Ausgabe). Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.B1940401
  • FREGE, G. (1951). Ii.——On Concept and Object. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.A7692C1C
  • FREGE, G. (1956). I.——The Thought: A Logical Inquiry. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.384737A9
  • RUSSELL, B. (1905). Ii.——On Denoting. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.2F9DEE3F
  • Sourcebook in the History of Philosophy of Language. Ed. by Margaret Cameron, Benjamin Hill, Robert J. Staintons. Springer: Cham.
  • STRAWSON, P. F. (1950). Iii.——On Referring. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.F16FF4EB
  • Wittgenstein, L. (2010). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus : German and English. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=782962
  • Wittgenstein, L., Pears, D. F., & McGuinness, B. (2001). Tractatus Logico-philosophicus. London: Taylor & Francis [CAM]. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=70629

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • Fennell, J. (2019). A Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Language : Central Themes From Locke to Wittgenstein. New York, NY: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=2031304
  • Frege, G. (n.d.). Logische Untersuchungen. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.275CC0DE
  • Glock, H.-J., & Hyman, J. (2017). A Companion to Wittgenstein. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1444244
  • Gottlob Frege, & Gottfried Gabriel. (1976). Nachgelassene Schriften und Wissenschaftlicher Briefwechsel / Wissenschaftlicher Briefwechsel : Zweiter Band der “Nachgelassenen Schriften und Wissenschaftlicher Briefwechsel” (Vol. Unveränderte eBook-Ausgabe der 1. Aufl. von 1976). Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=982666
  • Griffin, N. (2003). The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=125031
  • Hylton, P. (1990). Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=273470
  • Lycan, W. G. (2019). Philosophy of Language : A Contemporary Introduction (Vol. Third edition). New York, NY: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1878843
  • McGinn, C. (2015). Philosophy of Language : The Classics Explained. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=956432
  • Miller, A. (2018). Philosophy of Language (Vol. Third edition). London: Routledge. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1693064
  • Zalabardo, J. L. (2012). Wittgenstein’s Early Philosophy. Oxford: OUP Oxford. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=471583