Philosophy of Language,  Phil 370


Detail of Plato and Aristotle in conversation - from the School of Athens by Raphael (1510)



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1)  Course Description and Requirements

Statement on academic freedom

2)   Contents of the Philosophical Investigations, Part One

3)  Sample review questions for the midterm

4)  Review questions for the final: Spring 2006



Philosophy of Language

Phil. 370-01      Spring 2006       Dr. Glen T. Martin, Prof.

In the 20th century philosophy has experienced a fundamental transformation of what it means to philosophically approach the human situation. This transformation is often called the A linguistic turn@ in philosophy, an emphasis on language that has taken different forms in Europe, the U.S., and in Chinese, Japanese, and Indian Philosophy. Throughout the world, many philosophers have come to see language as the key to what it means to be human, as the key to dealing with traditional concerns of epistemology and metaphysics, and, for some, as the key to questions of God and human spirituality.

More than this, some of the greatest 20th century philosophers see A meaning@ as the key to a new age entirely beyond the traditional orientations of epistemology and metaphysics. This course will examine some of the most fundamental works and approaches that are part of this revolution in philosophical thinking with its focus on language, the question of meaning, the question of human knowledge in relation to language and the question of normative (value) dimensions in relation to language.

The study of language today involves a vast literature in which the science of linguistics, and the social sciences in general, intersect with a large philosophical literature with regard to numerous specific technical and theoretical questions. One single semester can only scratch the surface of this literature and would risk missing the so-called A big questions@ in the philosophy of language. This course will attempt to stay with the A big questions@ by closely examining three classic philosophical orientations with respect to language in the context of modern epistemology and questions about metaphysics.

We will begin with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) by Ludwig Wittgenstein, which is a classic presentation of the so-called A picture theory of language.@ We will see in this regard both the influence of this book on the development of analytic philosophy and logical positivism in the early 20th century and the implications for A the ethical@ and A the mystical@ that Wittgenstein himself emphasized. Secondly, we will examine Wittgenstein= s Philosophical Investigations (1953) in which Wittgenstein repudiates his own earlier A picture theory of meaning@ and replaces it with a classic presentation of the so-called A use theory of meaning.@

The contrast between these texts should give us an understanding of two of the major options in the attempt to understand how language functions as well as an introduction to the philosophical world view of one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. Third, we will examine the A universal pragmatics of language@ developed by contemporary German philosopher Jurgen Habermas by studying a collection of his key essays on the subject written between 1976 and 1996. As with Wittgenstein= s work, Habermas= thought represents another major development in the philosophy of language and has had a vast impact on contemporary social science as well as philosophy. An initial grounding in his philosophy of language and its implications should make clear much of the trajectory today not only of the study of language, but current value theory, critical theory, and much sociology.

Through our study of this body of classic 20th century thought, we hope to come to an understanding of some of the issues in the philosophy of language but also to develop an overview of some of the most influential thinkers and important movements in 20th and 21st century thought. I will be handing out supplementary materials from time to time, including materials from my own published writings, in addition to our three official texts.

Books (in the Bookstore): (1) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, (2) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, (3) Jurgen Habermas, On the Pragmatics of Communication

On reserve in the Library: Glen T. Martin, From Nietzsche to Wittgenstein (6 copies).

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: (1) midterm exam (25 points), (2) final exam (35 points), (3) general daily participation and preparedness (summarizing the assigned readings, asking good questions, participating in class discussions, etc.) (15 points), (4) five, non-graded typewritten papers with a minimum of three full typewritten pages each, handed in on time (4 points each, total 20 points)

ATTENDANCE (up to 5 points): If you miss a class, let me know right away in person for an excused absence. The rule is one point off for each unexcused absence. Missing exams or class before or after spring break requires a documented excuse. Six or more unexcused absences constitutes failure in the course.

Summary of points:   Midterm 25 + Final 35 + Participation 15 + Papers 20 + Attendance 5 = 100

OFFICE HOURS: My office hours in Howe 203 are MWF 1-1:55 and 3 to 3:55. If these times do not fit your schedule, please make an appointment for another time. Office phone 831-5897.

Be well, learn well, and live well!!

Statement on Academic Freedom

      The Radford University Faculty Handbook strongly affirms academic freedom in this powerful statement:

        A vital role of the university is to examine ideologies and institutions in an intelligent and careful manner. Academic freedom is necessary to assure faculty members the right to pursue such investigation and to express their views without fear of censorship or penalty. Such freedom must apply both to teaching and research and includes not only the rights of a teacher in teaching but the rights of the student in learning.

        This statement affirms that academic freedom is a right both of A students in learning@ and of faculty members. If there is A fear of censorship or penalty,@ then the A vital role of the university to examine ideologies and institutions in an intelligent and careful manner@ is threatened. When students come into the classroom, they have the right, the academic freedom, to hear the professor= s best thought regarding examination of A ideologies and institutions.@ Any administrative induced A fear of censorship or penalty@ violates the rights of the students to get a real, solid education, not just receive canned propaganda from intimidated professors afraid to give their real views as educated, scholarly professionals.




Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)


                  Contents For Philosophical Investigations, Part One


1-25 Augustine and primitive language games

26-64 Discussion of naming and meaning (also 65-81)

72-88 Vagueness, blurred concepts, and meaning

82 to end of book Takes up concepts of understanding, meaning and thinking

89-133 Critiquing the Tractatus and discussing what is philosophy

198-242 Language as obeying rules and as universal (ungrounded) behavior

243-315 The private language question (re "pain")

316-375 Thinking and understanding

375-428 Thinking and images

398-412 Private languages and the grammar of the word "I" (re. solipsism)

413-422 The self and consciousness

423-436 Pictures and their application

437-471 Wishes, expectations, beliefs

472-487 Ordinary certainties and the uniformity of nature

487-501 Language and grammar

500-546 Meaning, sense, and understanding

547-557 Meaning and negation

558-569 The word "is"

570-597 Psychology of "expectation" and its surroundings

597-600 What is philosophy

601-606 Recognition

607 Time

608-610 Consciousness and the aroma of coffee

611-629 Willing

630-660 Intention

661-693 Meaning and intention



Jurgen Habermas




Philosophy of Language Spring 2006 Review Questions for the Midterm Exam

The Midterm Exam will ask for essays on three or four of these from a choice of perhaps six or seven. Prepare each question at home so that you are ready to write during the exam. This means you should be able to write each essay (if four are requested) in about 13 minutes. You may bring to class for use during the exam one (only) standard size page (8.5 x 11) with your notes written on it. The exam is not open book.

1) Ian Hacking, in Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy? distinguishes A the heyday of ideas@ from A the A heyday of meanings.@ Discuss Hacking= s distinction, the main philosophers involved in each period, and the reasons why the A heyday of meanings@ developed out of the A heyday of ideas.@

2) Discuss the metaphysical tradition in the west and the challenges to that tradition that began to be raised in modern philosophy (for example, with Hume and Kant), leading to early 20th century analytic philosophy and philosophy of language. How and why did Hume and Kant challenge the tradition of metaphysics? How does Wittgenstein continue in this tradition?

3) Discuss Wittgenstein's Tractatus as a whole. When was it written? What was Wittgenstein's purpose? In terms of the specific content of the book, how did he go about trying to achieve that purpose? How do the various elements of the book (e.g. ontology, presuppositionalism, picture theory, remarks on the ethical, etc.) work together (or fail to work together) to achieve that purpose?

4) Key notions in the Tractatus are names, objects, pictures, logical form, forms of objects, elementary propositions, states of affairs. Discuss Wittgenstein's "picture theory of language" in the book, with special attention to his specific use of these key ideas.

5) Discuss the ontology (metaphysics) of the Tractatus. Using specific references to the book, in conjunction with class work describe Wittgenstein's ontology: what his conclusions are, the reasoning by which he arrived at those conclusions, the role of language in these reflections, and the difficulties with his conclusions.

6) Discuss the "presuppositionalism" and the role of the a priori in Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Using specific references to the book, in conjunction with class work, describe how his presuppositionalism functions, the reasoning by which Wittgenstein arrived at his conclusions, and the role of language in these reflections. Compare Wittgenstein's presuppositionalism and its implications with those of Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason.

7) Discuss the role of the ethical, the mystical and "what is true about solipsism" in the Tractatus. What is his specific philosophy with respect to these things? What is the self, for Wittgenstein, and how can it feel "absolutely safe"? What is his view of scientific "explanations"? Where do value and the sense of life lie? What is his view of "eternal life"? God? What is his distinction between "how things are in the world" and "that it exists"? What is the mystical? Why is scepticism nonsensical? What is the meaning of Tractatus 6.54 and 7?

8) Discuss Wittgenstein= s transitional period as this is examined in Chapter 6 of From Nietzsche to Wittgenstein. What were the realizations that Wittgenstein came to during this period that led him to create a new philosophy of language? What are the main themes or emphases of the transitional period and what has now changed from the Tractatus period?

9) The Philosophical Investigations begins by introducing key concepts for the book and for the study of language as Wittgenstein understands it. Using specifics from the book, explain these concepts and their role in the study of language: "language-games," "primitive language-games," "tools," "use," "kinds of use," A naming,@ A ostensive demonstration,@ and "forms of life."

10) Benjamin Lee Whorf, in Language, Thought, and Reality, develops what is known as the A Whorf hypothesis.@ Compare and contrast Wittgenstein= s views of language in the Philosophical Investigations regarding the three dimensions of meaning, knowledge, and reality with the Whorf hypothesis. What are Wittgenstein= s arguments for his view of the relation of these three dimensions?

11) The Philosophical Investigations repudiates the "picture theory of language" and puts forth an alternative way of understanding meaning, how language operates, the kind of propositions found in language, and how we can distinguish between "true" and "false" empirical propositions, etc. Discuss Wittgenstein's later theory of language and the fundamental ways that it differs from the "picture theory of language."

12) Compare and contrast Wittgenstein= s conception of philosophy from his three periods: the Tractatus period, the transitional period (as presented in Chapter 6 of From Nietzsche to Wittgenstein) and his later period of the Philosophical Investigations (expressed, for example in numbers 38, 90, 92, 97, 109, 116 to 133).




(Note: the exam with ask for essays on 4 or 5 of the following questions our of a choice of perhaps 6 or 7 of them. These should all be prepared ahead of time so that there is no need take much time thinking out the questions at the time of the exam.  The exam itself must be written during the exam time. You may bring to the exam one standard size page of notes.)

1) Fundamental ideas in the Philosophical Investigations include the concepts of language games, rules, grammar, meaning as use, and forms of life. Write an essay explaining each of these, how they are related to one another, and how they are fundamental to Wittgenstein’s later view of language.

2) In the Philosophical Investigations, a number of aphorisms can be linked together under common themes. For example in 118, Wittgenstein speaks of the "limits of language;" in 124, he says philosophy cannot give language "any foundation," in 211, he says that "my reasons give out;" in 217, he speaks of "reaching bedrock." Discuss the meaning of these passages and discuss these passages (and others like them) with respect to the issue of "foundationalism" in philosophy of language. In other words, what view of language is Wittgenstein arguing for in these passages and others and what views is he arguing against?

3) In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein spends a great deal of time examining the grammar of the word "I". For example, 246 (in what sense are my sensations private?), 256 (the private language), 258 (example of the diary), 275 (how blue the sky is), 293 (the beetle in the box), 398 (only I have got THIS) and many others. Write an essay discussing Wittgenstein’s what the issue is and his understanding of the grammar of the word "I" as well as the related themes expressed by these passages.

4) The first sentence of "What is Universal Pragmatics?" says that "the task of universal pragmatics is to identify and reconstruct universal conditions of a possible mutual understanding." Habermas goes on to say that he prefers to speak of "general presuppositions of communicative action" and "the validity basis of speech." Write an essay explaining Habermas’ project of universal pragmatics and discussing the "general presuppositions of communicative action" that he identifies.

5) In "What is Universal Pragmatics," Habermas explains why "pragmatics" is essential to understanding language and why "semantic theory," "syntactic theory," and "phonetics" are not sufficient. He elaborates his idea in part through discussion of the "double structure of speech: the illocutionary and the propositional. Write an essay discussing "pragmatics" and "the double structure of speech" and Habermas’ arguments that these are essential for understanding language and meaning.

6) In "Social Action, Purposive Activity, and Communication," Habermas contrasts Max Weber’s understanding of social action and the development of the modern world with his own. He further elaborates his critique of Weber through a distinction between "orientation toward success" and "orientation toward reaching understanding" explaining the important differences between "locutionary," "perlocutionary," and "illocutionary" aspects of language. Write an essay explaining these ideas and showing how they form the basis of his critique of Max Weber’s understanding of action and the modern world.

7) In "Communicative Rationality and the Theories of Meaning and Action," Habermas develops ideas about "the lifeworld," the "world-disclosing function of language," the "internal relation between meaning and validity," and the "subversive" character of a "reservoir of potential, disputable reasons" (p.206). By explaining these ideas and any others you wish from this essay, discuss Habermas’ argument that an inescapable rationality lies at the heart of language.

8) In "Actions, Speech Acts, Linguistically Mediated Interactions and Lifeworld," Habermas goes into a detailed analysis of the lifeworld (p. 236 ff) which he takes to be one of the basic discoveries of philosophy of language. His analysis introduces distinctions (a) between horizontal knowledge, contextual knowledge and "deep seated background knowledge" within the lifeworld (pp. 240-241), (b) between three characteristics of the lifeworld: immediate certainty, totalizing power and holism (pp. 243-245), and (c) between culture, society and personality structures (pp. 248 ff). He concludes that "once again, society and the individual constitute one another reciprocally" (p. 252). Write an essay discussing Habermas’ analysis of the lifeworld in terms of these distinctions and explaining the relation between the individual and the lifeworld as he understands it.

9) In "Richard Rorty’s Pragmatic Turn," Habermas is developing a critique of Rorty’s pragmatism with its conclusion that the "linguistic turn" in philosophy has resulted in skepticism and relativism. Rorty concludes, Habermas says, that "the Platonic distinction between convincing and persuading makes no sense" (p. 348).  In his subsections, "The Pragmatic Turn," and "Contextualism and Skepticism as Problems Specific to Particular Paradigms," Habermas recounts the history of philosophy given my Rorty under the three headings of "metaphysics," "epistemology," and "philosophy of language."   Discuss Habermas' understanding of the three paradigms embedded in this history and how the contemporary problems of truth developed in the light of this.

10) In "Richard Rorty's Pragmatic Turn," Habermas' reviews the arguments in Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) and takes issue with Rorty's nominalism (p. 351 ff), his contextualism (p. 352 ff), and his view of reason with its "weak idealizations." He goes on to contrast Rorty's theory of truth with his own idea of truth that he takes as not leading to skepticism and relativism. (He does this especially in the last four subsections of the essay.) Discuss Habermas' critique of Rorty's pragmatism and Habermas' own arguments that his own pragmatism leads beyond skepticism and relativism to a positive theory of truth in which "convincing" is indeed different from "persuading."



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