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Philosophy 3750 (03)
PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE
What is language? What is it to speak? What is it to “mean” or to have meaning of a linguistic kind? What is capable of having this meaning? What is it to listen and understand?
How does language form our reality? Is language a trustworthy instrument of knowledge? In what ways, if any, does language mislead us or limit our view of reality?
How does language form our personal and social existence? Is language a trustworthy instrument of personal identification and social negotiation?
Why is language formed as it is? To what extent are the forms of language caused by an autonomous structure of linguisticality and to what extent by forms of reality, personhood, and/or sociality that exist apart from language?
Why is language so tricky? That is, why are confusion and error so prevalent in construing linguistic expressions? Why is it that we can instantly understand complex expressions we’ve never heard before and yet can’t resolve the true meaning of apparently simple expressions?
The primary purpose of this course is to achieve insights into the significance of language by reflecting philosophically on its structure and dynamics. The course’s secondary purpose is to develop our understanding of the contemporary philosophical situation, given that the philosophy of the last hundred years or so has been profoundly shaped by the so-called “linguistic turn.”
Grades for the course will be based on class participation, including homework and “observations” shared by e-mail (20%), a term project (40%), a take-home midterm exam (20%), and a take-home final exam (20%).
Required books, available in the bookstore, are
Andrea Nye, ed., Philosophy of Language: The Big Questions (PL)
Ernst Cassirer, Language and Myth
Martin Buber, I and Thou
Some required readings will be in handouts.
Other material you might like to know about includes
Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct (New York: Morrow, 1994). Very readable and entertaining introduction to issues in contemporary linguistics, organized around the debate between Noam Chomsky’s idea that the structurally important features of language are “hard-wired” in all human beings (supported by Pinker) and those who think language formation and learning are more contingent and flexible than that. An anti-“instinct” view is presented by Geoffrey Sampson in Educating Eve (London: Cassell, 1997).
William G. Lycan, Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2000). Zesty, fast overview of issues in analytic philosophy of language by a leading practitioner.
A. P. Martinich, ed., The Philosophy of Language, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford U. Press, 2001). A very widely used anthology of analytic work in the field (containing a lot more of this sort of material than Nye does).
Charles Taylor, “Language and Human Nature” and “Theories of Meaning” in Human Agency and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1985). Clearly written overview of issues from a perspective that is unusually well-informed and sensitive to diverse currents in the history of Western thought.
P R O P O S E D S C H E D U L E
subject to revision by announcement in class and/or by e-mail
PART 1, THE PROLOGUE
Jan. 14 Intro to class
Jan. 16 The question of the relation of language to logical form.
Read: Plato, “The Weaving Together of Forms,” PL 8-11
Jan. 18 The question of language’s real basis.
Read: Rousseau, “The Origin of Languages,” PL 11-17
Jan. 21 The question of language’s relation to the mind.
Read: Locke, “Of Words,” PL 18-24
Jan. 23 The question of the power and effects of language’s structure.
Read: On Saussure and structuralism (handout)
Jan. 25 What motivates a philosophical critique of language? Frege and “science.”
Read: Frege, “On the Scientific Justification of a Conceptual Notation,” PL 24-29, and “On Sense and Meaning,” PL 72-77
Jan. 28 What motivates a philosophical critique of language? Husserl and the program of phenomenology.
Read: Husserl, from the Logical Investigations (handout)
Jan. 30 What motivates a philosophical critique of language? Russell and the program of logical analysis.
Read: Russell, “On Denoting,” PL 154-158
PART 2, ANGLO-AMERICAN (THOUGH NOT UN-AUSTRIAN)
Feb. 1 Meaning and experience: verificationism.
Read: Ayer, “The Principle of Verification,” PL 77-85
Feb. 4 Return to the issue of reference.
Read: Kripke, “Naming and Necessity,” PL 159-165
Feb. 6 Reference, cont.
Read: Putnam, “Meaning and Reference” (handout)
Feb. 8 The turn to “ordinary language.”
Read: Wittgenstein, “Picturing Reality” (from Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus), PL 42-46, and “Meaning as Use” (from Philosophical Investigations), PL 85-93
Feb. 11 The relation between meaning and truth.
Read: Strawson, “Meaning and Truth” (handout)
Feb. 13 Indeterminacy of meaning: Quine’s translation argument.
Read Quine, “Indeterminacy of Translation,” PL 259-266
Feb. 15 Ordinary language: speech act theory.
Read Austin, “Performative Utterances,” PL 126-131
Feb. 18 Inherently problematic speech acts
Read Butler, “Critically Queer,” PL 171-177
Feb. 20 The naturalizing program.
Read Millikan, “Biosemantics,” PL 93-102
Feb. 22 Analysis of the sexist potential of language.
Read Hintikka and Hintikka, “How Can Language Be Sexist?”, PL 103-111
Feb. 25 MIDTERM DUE. Metaphor.
Feb. 27 Metaphor, cont.
PART 3, CONTINENTAL (THOUGH ULTIMATELY NOT UN-AMERICAN)
Mar. 1 Introduction to Part 3: the German idealist heritage.
Read Cassirer, Language and Myth, 1-17
Mar. 4 Read Cassirer, 17-43
Mar. 6 Read Cassirer, 44-83
Mar. 8 Read Cassirer, 83-99
Mar. 18 Read TBA
Attend: Dunbar Lecture by Robert Bernasconi, “When Race was Everything: A Philosopher Looks at 19th-Century Anthropology,” 7:00 p.m.
Mar. 19 MISSISSIPPI PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION MEETING at Millsaps
Mar. 20 Discussion of Dunbar lecture and MPA papers
Mar. 22 Read Buber, I and Thou, 53-85
Mar. 25 Read Buber, 87-122
Mar. 27 Read Buber, 123-168
Mar. 28 FIRST DRAFT OF TERM ESSAY DUE.
Mar. 29 GOOD FRIDAY
Apr. 1 Language and the primordial “call” of Being.
Read Heidegger, from Being and Time (handout)
Apr. 3 “Language speaks.”
Read Heidegger, “Language” (handout)
Apr. 5 Language, embodiment, and pre-discursive meaning.
Read Merleau-Ponty, from The Phenomenology of Perception (handout)
Apr. 8 Language as ethical relation.
Read Levinas, from Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence (handout)
Apr. 10 Sexism as a complication of language as ethical relation.
Read Irigaray, “He I Sought but Did Not Find,” PL 144-148
Apr. 11 TERM ESSAY DUE.
Apr. 12 “The unconscious is structured as a language”: Freud and philosophy.
Apr. 15 Différance and the critique of Husserl’s ideal of meaning-fulfillment.
Read Derrida, from Speech and Phenomena (handout)
Apr. 17 The deconstruction program.
Apr. 18 TERM ESSAY REVIEW DUE.
Apr. 19 The Foucauldian critique of “discourses.”
Read Foucault, “The Formation of Objects,” PL 166-170
Apr. 22 Peirce and Habermas on “the communication community.”
Apr. 24 Discourse ethics.
Read Habermas, “Discourse Ethics,” from Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (handout)
Apr. 26 Conclusion.
FINAL EXAM AND COMPLETE TERM PROJECT DUE AT ASSIGNED TIME IN FINALS WEEK.
GUIDELINES FOR THE TERM PROJECT
The term project has four components: a set of observations, an essay, a review, and a rejoinder.
1. Observations. Throughout the semester you will collect observations of philosophically intriguing uses of language. An observation will typically consist of a quotation followed by an indication of the question or questions it raises about language. The observations may be gathered by listening, reading (elsewhere than in assigned class readings), or thought experiment. At least six times in the semester, i.e. roughly once every two weeks, you will share an observation with the rest of the class by e-mail, inviting our comment. When you turn in your term project you will include a selection of just 3-5 observations that relate somehow to the theme of your essay.
2. Essay. In your term essay, which should be around 8 pp. (typed, double-spaced), you will present your own theory of meaning. Here I mean “meaning” very broadly. Drawing on your own observations, you will define the aspect of meaning you are interested in (e.g. cognitive, emotive, figurative, fictional), and you will give an account of how that meaning is produced linguistically. You will relate your approach to one or more of the philosophical approaches we study in the course.
Our class practice should give you more and more orientation for developing your essay. Whatever your take on linguistic meaning turns out to be, the essence of this exercise is that you get deeply into reasoning about it. How is it that one conception fits the relevant phenomena better than others do? What are the interesting strengths and weaknesses of different and opposed arguments on a question?
3. Review. Taking advantage of the perspective offered by our coursework, you will write a 2-pp. critical review of a classmate’s theory of meaning. The review will state the essence of your classmate’s argument and then raise difficulties for that view.
4. Rejoinder. You will write a 1-p. response to a classmate’s review of your essay. The point here is not simply to defend your original paper at all costs but to demonstrate the power of your approach by intelligently handling the points the reviewer has brought up.
SOME COURSE RULES
1. Class Attendance. Being in class, being engaged with the work of the class, and behaving courteously are all expected. One discourtesy to avoid is coming into class late. Better late than never, definitely; but lateness counts as half an absence.
One percent of the course grade will be lost for each absence from class for any reason, beginning with the fourth absence. (For example, someone who missed class 8 times would thereby lose 5% of the course grade, or half a letter grade.) The reason for this: our in class inquiry is a crucial and irreplaceable part of the substance of the course.
2. Late papers. Written assignments turned in late will lose a letter grade or equivalent. Homework may not be turned in more than one week after its due date. No work of any kind will be accepted after the last day of final examinations. Exceptions to this policy will only be granted to the victims of unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances.
3. Plagiarism. Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledgement that is, passing them off as your own is a fraudulent practice called plagiarism. Plagiarized work will receive no credit and will be referred to the college Honor Council.
4. Incompletes. An “Incomplete” grade for the course will only be given to students who, due to unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, find themselves unable to complete course requirements during the term and can reasonably be expected to complete them within a few weeks after the term’s end. The “Incomplete” must be requested and appropriately justified before the end of final examinations.
5. Disabilities. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact the instructor to discuss their individual needs for accommodations.