Review Comment

[PHIL UN3685] Philosophy of Language

May 22, 2018

Lewis, Karen Silver_nugget and McCarthy, Billy
[PHIL UN3685] Philosophy of Language

This course is not one for the faint of heart, but if you care about the subject matter it will be very rewarding in the end. If your interest is in language in general and not analytic philosophy, then a critical theory or linguistics course might be more enjoyable. If you're a philosophy major, this course moves quickly enough that it may well be one of the more difficult ways to satisfy your analytic requirement. That said, if you are interested in learning a variety of analytic frameworks with which to model the workings of human language, then this is the course for you!

The first unit is on pragmatics, and is definitely the easiest of the three units to understand. We started with speech act theory, then looked at some of its applications in feminist philosophy, and ended with conversational implicature and context sets. It's best to get a bunch of the reading responses out of the way in this unit since the material gets harder later on.

The next unit is on semantics, with a focus on reference and the way names work. This unit has the fewest readings but they are all very dense. We read Frege's model of sense and reference, Russell's theory of descriptions, Kripke's critique of cluster descriptivism, and Graff Fara's defense of predicativism.

The final unit is on meaning and truth, and some of the readings here are very difficult to understand without a background in logic. Among the ideas we examine are Ayer's verificationism, Tarski's recursive truth predicate, and Quine's and Kripke's skepticisms about meaning. The course difficulty peaks around the beginning of this unit, when the second paper is due and the readings are at their most difficult, and then relents after Quine.

The professors were both wonderful. Dr. Lewis has a talent for making even the most difficult readings seem straightforward, and her lectures are what make taking the course possible. I'd recommend going to every single lecture if you can, and not just because she takes attendance. Philosophy of language is her forte, and it really shows. Billy was a good TA as well, and the both of them gave helpful feedback on every assignment. Be ready for early reading responses to get lower grades than you want, but for it to feel easier with time. If you take the time to put in the required work, this course can teach you a lot about one of the most interesting topics in analytic philosophy and greatly improve your analysis skills.

Workload:

10% - Attendance and in-class exercise participation
15% - 10 reading responses over the course of the semester
75% - 3 papers, 2000 words each

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