Spring 2011 Schedule of Courses

PHILOSOPHY 404/504: PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE

TUESDAY, THURSDAY
SECTION 1, 2:00 – 3:15 P.M.

PROFESSOR GEOFFREY PYNN

REQUIRED TEXTS
Timothy Williamson. Vagueness
A. P. Martinich. Philosophy of Language
Saul Kripke. Naming and Necessity
Other readings available online

RECOMMENDED TEXT
William Lycan. Philosophy of Language

COURSE CONTENT
We will begin with a series of “greatest hits” in twentieth-century philosophy of language, including seminal work by Frege, Russell, Tarski, Davidson, Strawson, Grice, and others. Much of this work was catalyzed by unprecedented advances in logic, and one question that naturally emerges is what relevance, if any, these advances have for our understanding of natural languages. Frege, Tarski, and Strawson were, in various ways, rather skeptical about the possibility of understanding natural language in terms of classical logic, while Russell, Davidson, and Grice, again all in their own ways, were more optimistic. Though we will discuss a number of different topics while surveying these authors, we will continually return to this question.

Then we will study the phenomenon of vagueness, where the apparent tension between classical logic and natural language is severe. Classical logic includes the law of bivalence (i.e., that any meaningful statement is either true or false). If bivalence applies to English statements, then for every time t, the result of substituting a name of that time into the following schema yields a statement that is either true or false:

(A) Geoff was a baby at t.

But if every instance of (A) is either true or false, then given straightforward assumptions there is a specific time at which I was a baby, immediately after which I was no longer a baby; i.e., there is a precise boundary between babyhood and non-babyhood. Finding this incredible, some respond by denying bivalence for natural language statements, holding that there are instances of (A) that are neither true nor false. These are borderline cases between babyhood and non-babyhood (e.g., when t = any time when I was 15 months old). But this response to the problem has far-reaching consequences that threaten to undermine the project of understanding natural languages in terms of classical logic and semantics. We will consider various proposals for accommodating vagueness within the classical framework and assess their prospects.

Note: Philosophy 205, 405, or 505 is a non-negotiable prerequisite for this course.

COURSE FORMAT
Aside from regular participation in class discussion, requirements include:
404: Three take-home tests.
504: Class presentations, 3000-word paper.