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Philosophy of Language (Short) - PHI00086I

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  • Department: Philosophy
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Barry Lee
  • Credit value: 10 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2022-23

Related modules

Pre-requisite modules

  • None

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

Additional information

It is strongly recommended that students taking this module have already taken Reason and Argument (either PHI00005C or PHI00006C) in their first year. If they have not, but still wish to register for the module, they should speak with the Module Coordinator before registering.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2021-22

Module aims

The module aims to:

—develop students’ knowledge and understanding of a representative range of key puzzles, problems, issues, and debates in philosophy of language

—develop students’ abilities to think critically and reflectively about difficult conceptual questions

— introduce students to a range of the methods and strategies deployed in contemporary debates in philosophy of language and develop their abilities to use these

— develop students’ abilities to improve their own work—e.g. by making good use of feedback


Module content might include:

How do human languages differ from the information-sharing practices of other species?

How can we understand sentences we’ve never heard before?

How do word meanings work together to produce sentence meanings?

Are word meanings anything like mental pictures or ideas?

How do names work?

Can we give a complete account of meaning just in terms of words standing for or referring to things?

How can we account for the meaning of informative identities (like ‘Lady Gaga is Stefani Germanotta’), reports of belief and other propositional attitudes (like ‘Tom believes Lady Gaga is a genius’), and true singular negative existential claims (like ‘Vulcan does not exist’) and other claims expressed with ‘empty’ names (names that don’t stand for anything)?

Should we distinguish the meaning of a sentence from the meaning that a speaker gets across by using it on a particular occasion?

How do definite descriptions (like ‘the present king of France’) work?

Are names really just disguised definite descriptions?

Is the reference of a name fixed by the history of its use?

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

—understand and explain some key problems, issues, and debates in the Philosophy of Language and express this understanding in clear, precise, and accessible terms

—develop and articulate ranges of alternative solutions to problems and issues in the Philosophy of Language in an open-minded way, drawing on module materials

—develop and articulate arguments for the alternative solutions considered in relation to problems and issues in the Philosophy of Language, drawing on module materials, identifying some points of weakness and some potential points for development

—make a judgement about what is the best view on a particular problem in the Philosophy of Language and argue in defence of this judgement

—identify some of their strengths and weaknesses by evaluating their own work in relation to departmental marking criteria

—apply simple strategies for improving their work, based on critical reflection, advice, and feedback


Task Length % of module mark
2000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
2000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback on formative work will be returned within 2 weeks of submission, and by the end of term at the latest. Feedback on summative work will be returned within 4 weeks of the assessment deadline.

Indicative reading

Beaney, Michael (ed.) 1997: The Frege Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hale, Bob and Crispin Wright 1999: A Companion to the Philosophy of Language. Oxford: Blackwell.

Kripke, Saul 1980: Naming and Necessity. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lee, Barry (ed.) 2011: Key Thinkers: Philosophy of Language. London: Continuum.

Lepore, Ernest and Barry C. Smith (eds) 2006: The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lycan, William 2008: Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction. London: Routledge.

Martinich, A. P. and David Sosa (eds) 2012: The Philosophy of Language, 6th edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sainsbury, R. M. 2005: Reference without Referents. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Taylor, Kenneth 1998: Truth and Meaning: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language. Oxford: Blackwell.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.