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Unit information: Philosophy of Language in 2020/21

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. Johannes Stern
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 be able to:

(1) demonstrate detailed knowledge and in-depth understanding of the central debates and positions in the philosophy of language,

(2) demonstrate detailed knowledge and in-depth understanding of the core literature on these debates and positions,

(3) present, critically engage with, and philosophically analyze, these debates and positions, together with the relevant core literature, in a manner appropriate to level I/5,

(4) demonstrate skills in independent philosophical research and writing appropriate to level I/5.

Teaching details

Lectures, small group work, individual exercises, seminars and virtual learning environment.

Assessment Details

Summative Essay 3000 words - 100% [designed to test ILOs 1-4]

Reading and References

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

Abbott B. Reference. OUP, 2010.

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