Philosophy of Language, Ancient and Modern

Course Description: 

The modern part will be divided into three parts, following the usual division of the study of language. First grammar/syntax, its nature and our  knowledge of it (including grammatical intuitions of ordinary native speakers). Second, the area of semantics; we shall choose one famous topic, the semantics  of definite descriptions to illustrate typical issues and methods. Third, the area of pragmatics and language use. The central question to be addressed is one very fashionable nowadays: can semantics and pragmatics be distinguished in a principled way.

The ancient sections of the class will be integrated into the same scheme. We will first tackle the issue of how Stoic grammar set the framework of traditional grammar. In the semantics and pragmatics sections we will discuss the Epicurean theory of signs in general, and of language in particular. Next, we will turn to the Stoics: their theory of sayables (lecta), the items that ground the meaning of meaningful expressions, and to the Sceptics criticism of these theories. Then we will return to the Stoics, and tackle their distinctions among different kinds of propositions, the way arguments can be constructed out of them, and the account of what gives rise to fallacies, and how these fallacies can be avoided.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course students will be expected to understand the main issues in philosophy of language, some key considerations about the history of these issues, and how these considerations feature in the contemporary discussion. Students will probably choose the problems they find most interesting, and will be able to defend their choices.

  • 25% class participation (discussions);
  • 25% presentations;
  • 50% term paper

Students are encouraged to submit position papers to complement the discussion element of their class participation.

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