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Hardcover | Out of Print | 240 pp. | 6 x 9 in | January 2015 | ISBN: 9780262028455
Paperback | $24.00 Short | £19.95 | 240 pp. | 6 x 9 in | September 2016 | ISBN: 9780262529822
eBook | $24.00 Short | January 2015 | ISBN: 9780262323642
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Philosophy of Language

The Classics Explained


Many beginning students in philosophy of language find themselves grappling with dense and difficult texts not easily understood by someone new to the field. This book offers an introduction to philosophy of language by explaining ten classic, often anthologized, texts. Accessible and thorough, written with a unique combination of informality and careful formulation, the book addresses sense and reference, proper names, definite descriptions, indexicals, the definition of truth, truth and meaning, and the nature of speaker meaning, as addressed by Frege, Kripke, Russell, Donnellan, Kaplan, Evans, Putnam, Tarski, Davidson, and Grice. The explanations aim to be as simple as possible without sacrificing accuracy; critical assessments are included with the exposition in order to stimulate further thought and discussion.

Philosophy of Language will be an essential resource for undergraduates in a typical philosophy of language course or for graduate students with no background in the field. It can be used in conjunction with an anthology of classic texts, sparing the instructor much arduous exegesis.

Frege on Sense and Reference
Kripke on Names
Russell on Definite Descriptions
Donnellan’s Distinction
Kaplan on Demonstratives
Evans on Understanding Demonstratives
Putnam on Semantic Externalism
Tarski’s Theory of Truth
Davidson’s Semantics for Natural Language
Grice’s Theory of Speaker Meaning

About the Author

Colin McGinn has taught philosophy at institutions of higher learning including University College London, Rutgers University, and Oxford University. He is the author of The Character of Mind, Consciousness and Its Objects, The Meaning of Disgust, Philosophy of Language: The Classics Explained, Inborn Knowledge: The Mystery Within, Prehension: The Hand and the Emergence of Humanity (the last three published by the MIT Press), and other books.


“The philosophy of language is an intimidating field, even to people who know a lot about language: filled with abstruse distinctions and traps for misunderstanding. Colin McGinn is a lucid and sure-footed guide through this murky terrain, and this is the book that many of us have been waiting for.”
Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Language Instinct and The Sense of Style
“McGinn has an enviable knack for explaining difficult texts in ways that don’t dumb them down but yet are strikingly intuitive and accessible, ways one wished one had thought of oneself. Even a professional philosopher who has been teaching and working in the philosophy of language for years will find more than a little illumination in this compact but commendably thorough book.”
Stephen Schiffer, Silver Professor of Philosophy, New York University