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Level 5

5AANB011 Philosophy of Language


Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Dr Eliot Michaelson

  • Summative assessment: 1 x 2-hour examination (100%) 
  • Formative assessment: 1 x 2,000 word essay

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: one one-hour weekly lecture and one one-hour weekly seminar over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: There are no pre-requisites associated with this module. It is worth mentioning, however, that some of the readings will assume an ability to read basic logical notation.  If you have not taken Elementary Logic or the equivalent, you may occasionally need to attend the instructor’s office hours to help you with this notation.

This module will examine a number of related questions concerning human language: What is the nature of meaning? How does meaning relate to truth and communication? Can language expand the bounds of our thought, or does it merely reflect them?

Philosophy of language came to prominence around the start of the 20th century and remains central to debates in epistemology, metaphysics, and mind to this day. This module will investigate both foundational questions in the field and a number of philosophical rich terms, e.g. descriptions, names, and slurring terms, with an aim towards seeing how these parallel lines of inquiry can prove mutually informative. 

Indicative list of topics:

Descriptions, Names, Modals, Theories of Meaning, Pragmatics, Semantics, Slurs, Silencing

Further information 

Module Aims
Learning Outcomes
Past Syllabi
Core Reading

Module aims

This module aims to acquaint with some of the main topics and historical threads in recent philosophy of language, including the nature of meaning, the relation of meaning to truth, and the relation of meaning to speech acts more broadly conceived. Key historical figures will include Frege, Russell, Strawson, Austin, and Grice.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, the students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a Level 5 module and in particular will have become familiar with some of the central concepts in philosophy of language. They will also have learned how to relate some of the issues studied in the course to issues in other courses, such as metaphysics and philosophy of mind.

Past syllabi

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.

Core reading

  • Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity

    J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words

Indicative reading list:

Gottlob Frege, “On Sense and Reference”

Bertrand Russell, “On Denoting”

P.F. Strawson, “On Referring”

Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity

Paul Grice, “Logic and Conversation”

Rae Langton, “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts”

Ishani Maitra, “Silencing Speech”


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

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