PHL313 Philosophy of Language Professor: Craig DeLancey
Office: CC212A

Past Assignments
28 August
A reading.

Please read the passages from Mill's classic work on names. This is given in our textbook as "Of Names."

The book selection is pretty heavily abridged, which is mostly good. This presents a challenge for those of you who don't have the book but are aiming to read it online in one of the available versions. The Online Library of Liberty has the complete text (which is Book 1 chapter 2 of Mill's System of Logic) here.

An abridged version with some commentary inserted here and there is also available by reading pages 9-19 of this pdf (I'm refering there to the page numbers printed on the pages; in the pdf they are actually pages 12-22.)

While reading any of these, ask yourself:
  • What is the difference between when a name connotes, and when and what it denotes?
  • Can you make a diagram or tree of the distinctions he makes here? Try it. I might ask you to share.

30 August
Homework 1. A little assignment. Write up your answers to the following questions please:

On Mill's account of names....
  1. What is the difference between general and individual/singular names?
  2. What is an example (of your own) of a general name?
  3. What is an example (of your own) of an individual/singular name?
  4. What is a collective name?
  5. What is an example (of your own) of a collective name?
  6. What is the difference between concrete and abstract names?
  7. What is an example (of your own) of a concrete name?
  8. What is an example (of your own) of an abstract name?
  9. What is the difference between connotative and non-connotative names?
  10. What is an example (of your own) of a non-connotative name?
  11. What is an example (of your own) of a connotative name?
The examples you offer should be your own (not Mill's examples). You can re-use your examples -- an abstract name might be connotative, for example. A few of these are hard (abstract is not easy to distinguish from general, to be honest), but do your best to grapple with the concepts.

4 September
Please read, "On Sense and Reference" by Frege. It's in our book. This one is a little challenging, but focus on the first two sections. It's a classic, so give it careful attention. I think it is enough to read just up to the paragraph that starts "We shall now further examine the conjecture that the truth-value of a sentence is its nominatum" (it might be slightly different in your translation, if you are not reading it out of our book).

(An online version is available here:

Homework 2. In your own words, (1) what is the puzzle with reference that Frege believes needs to be solved -- this regards the worry about a=a and a=b; and (2) how does Frege solve this with his distinction between sense and reference? Write this up in a page and hand it in at the beginning of class. This is very important -- we have to be sure that we understand this as we move on in the course.

11 September
Ouch. Homework 2 shows that few of us get the point being made by Frege. So we'll start with Frege, and then we'll turn to Russell.

Reading. Read "On Denoting" by Bertrand Russell. This one is a bit demanding for the logic, but do your best and we will get through the logic parts together. It's the second most famous paper we'll read all semester, matching Frege's paper for its import and influence.

Note: I've got a link below to a copy of the paper. This will soon no longer be possible; more contemporary readings are not available everywhere. Don't make that dumb mistake some people make of spending a few thousand dollars on a course, and then trying to save $50 on the textbook and thereby screwing up the bigger investment. It's a very irrational thing to do.

But for those who haven't gotten the book yet, there are some online versions. These include this one.

13 September
Homework 3: Give a Russellian "On Denoting" style analysis of the following two phrases. Your analysis can be in English (it does not have to be in symbols).
  1. The youngest member of Gryffindor is red-headed.
  2. The President of SUNY Oswego is a woman.
What are their truth values (if they have truth values) according to Russell's understanding? (Russell's relevant analysis is the one where he claims denoting phrases can best be understood as the conjunction of three particular phrases of the form, "There is a.... There is only one.... And that things is a....")

If you want to review Russell's theory by seeing him describe it with different cases, you can read his 1919 book chapter, collected in our volume as "Descriptions." It covers similar ground in a different way, which is helpful.

Homework 2 do-over: homeworks are as much for me as for you; they tell me where I'm going too fast. Most of us did not understand Frege's puzzle. I probably wrote on your homework 2, try again (and even if I didn't, you are welcome to try again). So, you can answer the question of Homework 2 using your own new example (not a=a, a=b; not Morning Star, Evening Star) to exercise your understanding of the point being made; explain what the Naive-Millian theory will say about your example; why this is problematic; and how the sense/reference distinction solves the problem.
20 September
Let's review the idea of the description theory of meaning, and also consider Kary's question ("Why does this distinction matter?"), before we dig into the Kripke.

Read the selection from "Naming and Necessity" by Saul Kripke in our volume.
23 September
Review the selection from "Naming and Necessity" by Saul Kripke in our volume.

Consider the five puzzles for reference that Frege and Russell considered. How should Kripke answer these?
27 September
Read the selection "Meaning and Reference" from Hilary Putnam in our volume.

A one-question homework. Must "water" mean the same thing on Earth as it does on twin-Earth, if the descriptive theory of reference is true (that is, if we adopt not the Kripke/Putnam causal theory of reference, and instead adopt the Frege/Russell/Searle descriptive theory of reference, then does "water" mean the same thing on Earth and on twin Earth?). Explain and defend your answer.

30 September
Read the selection from Searle, "Proper Names." The alternative in the earlier editions of our book, "Proper Names and Intentionality," is also adequate. The paper is widely available; online versions include via JSTOR and at this one.

4 October
OK! We've been reading A LOT, but now it will all come together. We'll have a biggish homework / a short paper. Due today is a DRAFT of the a paper that accomplishes the following:
  • Analyze an example of a a proper name and a natural kind term (that is, in your paper, pick a proper name and pick a natural kind term as examples to explain the relevant theories -- if you have doubts that your natural kind term is a natural kind term, then email me and I'll tell you).
  • Contrast the views of (1) the descriptive theory of reference (as we saw in Frege & Russell & Searle), versus (2) Kripke and Putnam's causal theory of reference. Quote the relevant passages from the relevant paper(s) in explaining each view (that is, show that in fact Searle believes what your claim; show that Kripke believes what you claim; etc.; by quoting them making the relevant claims).
  • Explain: What is the meaning of your proper name and of your natural kind term, according to each theory?
  • Explain: What is each of the two theories meant to explain? Do they have different concerns?
  • What are the benefits and costs of each theory?
  • Which theory do you think offers the best explanation of reference? Why?
Aim for 5+ pages. See and follow my guide for writing analytic philosophy papers.

FYI: you can cover just one person from each camp if you want (e.g., Searle vs. Kripke, Russell vs. Putnam, etc.)

7-11 October
Let's do something that's just fun. Here's a weird paradox that Kripke claims to find in Wittgenstein: read the selection "On Rules and Private Language" in our reader.

The user group is up. You should have received a join request. The URL might be: "!forum/phl313"

11 or 14 October
The paper is due Munday. Now, the word Munday either means "the day after Sunday," or it means "the day after Sunday before October 9, 2013, and the day before Saturday after October 8 2013." If you can explain why the first is the correct interpretation, then I'll take the papers the day after Sunday. But if you can't, well then they're due next class. Better read your Kripkenstein and think hard to find that non-skeptical solution!

October Linguistics Club movie viewings
Saturday, 10/5 Documentary: Koko: A Talking Gorilla
Time: 3:00-5:00 pm
Location: TBA
Description: This 1978 documentary follows the daily instruction and training in sign language of Koko, a gorilla living in the San Francisco Zoo. It discusses the implications of teaching this new kind of communication to apes in captivity and its effect on the apes as well as widely-held beliefs about language acquisition.

Tuesday, 10/15 Documentary: Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children
Time: 7:00-9:00 pm
Location: TBA
Description: This 2007 BBC documentary shows us the lives of about 75 unwanted children in an orphanage in Bulgaria. The lack of treatment and proper care extends beyond the horrifying physical consequences. The complete neglect in educating any of these unwanted children has resulted in reestablishing their role as a burden on society -- the lack of communication between the workers and the children has allowed their linguistic abilities to either deteriorate or in some cases never develop.

14, 16, 18 October
Mike said he wants to read this Millikan! So read Millikan's response to Kripkenstein: the selection "Truth Rules, Hoverflies, and the Kripke-Wittgenstein Paradox." NOTE: the next edition does not contain this paper. But it is available on jstor at

If you are looking for a jstor paper off campus, use this link and sign in. Then search for the paper using the search engine.

18 October
Short homework. In a paragraph or page:
  • pick some part of our language (a bit of grammar, or a term, or etc.);
  • describe what rule you think it illustrates (to use this bit of language, what rule must I be able to follow and apply?);
  • describe a Kripkenstein like skeptical challenge (which means, say what rule might be consistent with many past uses of this example of our language, but you think not what you should mean by that element of the language?);
  • what is your answer to the question, "What makes the one rule right and this other rule wrong?"

21 October
We'll discuss the verificationist theory. Recommended reading is "Empiricist Criteria of Cognitive Significance" by Carl Hempel.

23 October
We'll discuss the truth-based theory and the modal logic extension. Recommended reading is "Truth and Meaning" by Donald Davidson.

25 October
I've posted midterm grades. These are approximate. Let me know if you have any questions.

We'll discuss the use theory. Recommended reading is our selections of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations.

30 October
Performative language! Read Part I of "Performative Utterances" by J. L. Austin. This is in any edition of our reader.

But we'll start with some last thoughts on the Chinese room. Review "Minds, Brains, and Programs" by John Searle.

1 November
Austin. Please read "Performative Utterances," part II.

Homework: try to make a list, for our discussion, of three examples of different kinds of performatives. Do your best to find a kind of performative that Austin does not describe; or, barring that, at least find a specific example that Austin does not provide (even if it is an example of a kind that he identifies). I'll collect them, and we can share them in this class or the next. It might be hard, but do your best.

In class, we'll have a brief pop quiz -- or rather, a timed, in class homework -- to enable me to determine how well we are understanding Austin's theory.

4 November
Please read "The Structure of Illocutionary Acts" by Searle.

A few of you pointed out that the section summaries in our textbook are very helpful. I recommend that you look at those. Each section of the book has an introduction that can provide a helpful perspective.

6 November
Time: 7:00-9:00 pm
Location: TBA
Description: This is a 1994 movie about Nell, a woman who was raised in isolation by her mother. It follows her story after her mother’s death when she is discovered and is thought to be a feral child. The doctors observing her are proved to be wrong as they begin to find that her strange behavior and language are based on her upbringing and the language she speaks is actually English, but based on her mother’s aphasic speech after a stroke.
6 November
Reading and a homework.

Reading. Please read: "What Metaphors Mean" by Donald Davidson. This paper is in earlier editions of our book, but also it is available here on JStor. I will call this a psychological theory of metaphor, but the paper also discusses and rejects several semantic theories of metaphor.

Homework. Try one of the utterances that we came up with individually or together as a class that is a clear example of performative language and that is not promising (I mean, don't use "I promise..." as your example). See if you can describe the instances for this utterance of Searle's four rules (propositional content, preparatory rule, sincerity rule, and essential rule). You should be able to do this in a paragraph or two. Do Searle's rules seem to you to capture what is going on in the speech act?

8 November
Please read Martinich's "A Theory of Metaphor." It is in earlier editions of the book; but I have also sent you a copy via email; and you can use this less lovely version also. Martinich offers a pragmatic theory of metaphor.

Martinich refers repeatedly to Grice. We did not make time this semester to read Grice's work. His paper is in your reader, and you should read it when you have time and inclination; but in brief the part that Martinich refers to regards several rules that Grice proposes we follow when conversing. These are:
  • Maxims of quality: (1) Do not say what is false, and (2) Do not say that for which you lack sufficient evidence.
  • Maxim of relation: be relevant.
  • Maxim of quantity: make your utterance as informative as is necessary (to express your meaning or achieve your intent).
  • Maxim of manner: be clear, unambiguous, brief.
Martinich is going to argue that these pragmatic rules help us understand metaphor.

In class we'll back up a little, to discuss your homeworks on speech acts; and then we'll discuss Martinich's alternative to Davidson's theory.

11 November
Homework: find, or come up with, your own example of a metaphor. Which of the theories we've read about or seen discussed do you think is best? Why? How would it explain your example? You should be able to write this up in a page or less.

In class, we'll review reference and meaning theories, and theories of speech acts and metaphors -- all by way of a discussion of Bender.

13 November
Read B. L. Whorf's "The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language." This is available here.

In class, we'll review your homework on metaphors, and then discuss Whorf. A quiz on Whorf might be a good idea, even.

Here are the questions you should ask yourself while reading:
  • Consider Whorf's seven examples from his experience with fire insurance. Evaluate them. Do they all indicate an influence of language on thought? Of the same kind?
  • What are his two key questions? This is important. They are identified as such.
  • What does SAE mean again?
  • What are the differences in Hopi that he identifies? Do they plausibly answer his two key questions?
Next: I am going to only use a very small selection of Heidegger. It's just too hard to find a substantial selection that does not require me to lecture you for a week on existentialism. So, I'll bring you a handout and perhaps we can talk about it briefly, but our focus instead will be the post-structuralists. So, I'll (1) bring a selection of structuralism -- namely, some passages from Saussure, and then (2) we'll read about a post-structuralist named Derrida. We'll do this in an easy way, by reading American philosopher trained in the tradition we've been discussing, but who is writing (sympathetically) about Derrida. Derrida, and Rorty's discussion, are meant to be an attack on must of the kind of philosophy we've done up to now, so it should be interesting to you.

18 November
Read Kay & Kempton, "What is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?"

I was not able to find a Hopi response to Whorf. Here however is a popular article and here is an academic article by Lera Boroditsky, who works in this area. If the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis troubles you, you might find these interesting.

20 November
This is when we move to looking at alternative approaches to the philosophy of language. We'll start with an (in a rather odd way) influential view called structuralism. We'll look at an existential phenomological view in Heidegger. And then we'll see these two things collide in Derrida.

Read the handout (which I'll distribute on the 18th) of Saussure selection.

22 November
Read the handout (which I'll distribute on the 18th) of Heidegger.

2 December
Reading (the first half of our last reading).

Read Rorty's paper: "Philosophy as a Kind of Writing: An Essay on Derrida." We can get it via JStor. The stable URL is If you are logging in off campus, you'll have to go first to this JStor link, log in using your Oswego LakerNet ID, and then you may have to search for "Richard Rorty" and find the article "Philosophy as a Kind of Writing." If you can't do it, tell me and I'll email it to you. After ridiculing your lack of net skills.

For Monday, read at least parts I and II of the paper.

4 December
Homework and reading.

Homework: our last homework. This one is hard, but I'll go easy as I always do on homeworks, and it does strike to the heart of the matter of what we've been doing. Consider two points. First: Rorty argues that Derrida is a member of a tradition of which we can say "This tradition does not ask how representations are related to nonrepresentations, but how representations can be seen as hanging together." Rorty also quotes Derrida as saying all is text, and that there is nothing outside the text; the idea being that all one can do is interpret, the way we interpret poetry. Second: Rorty concludes by saying that Derrida's claims are all consistent with modern physics, for example. The physicists can do their thing, and Derrida can do his thing, and neither makes claims inconsistent with the other.

My question is: is this second point correct, in light of the claims in the first point? Is it the case that physics can be physics, math can be math, philosophy can be philosophy, if all there is is text and the interpretation of texts? Is physics still physics if we drop the idea that we are talking about things that are outside of language?

That's hard! And can't be answered properly in a page or two. But try. I'm interested in learning what your views are, here at the end of the semester.

Reading: finish (read parts III and IV) the Rorty paper,"Philosophy as a Kind of Writing: An Essay on Derrida."

6 December
Review. Have we achieved consensus on any of our questions?

Notice: Librarian Available
Beginning October 24, students will find a librarian in Johnson to instruct them in finding scholarly sources, using citation tools, and all other research assistance. ALL STUDENTS ARE WELCOME.

Librarian in Johnson Hall
Thursdays 6pm-9pm (October 24-December 12)
Johnson Basement Classroom