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Philosophy of Language

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The 2002 Jean Nicod Lectures

Many different things are said to have meaning: people mean to do various things; tools and other artifacts are meant for various things; people mean various things by using words and sentences; natural signs mean things; representations in people's minds also presumably mean things. In Varieties of Meaning, Ruth Garrett Millikan argues that these different kinds of meaning can be understood only in relation to each other.

In Situations and Individuals, Paul Elbourne argues that the natural language expressions that have been taken to refer to individuals—pronouns, proper names, and definite descriptions—have a common syntax and semantics, roughly that of definite descriptions as construed in the tradition of Frege. In the course of his argument, Elbourne shows that proper names have previously undetected donkey anaphoric readings.

"If you turn left at the next corner, you will see a blue house at the end of the street." That sentence—a conditional—might be true even though it is possible that you will not see a blue house at the end of the street when you turn left at the next corner. A moving van may block your view; the house may have been painted pink; a crow might swoop down and peck out your eyes. Still, in some contexts, we might ignore these possibilities and correctly assert the conditional.

Foundations for a Unified Theory of Mind and Language

In this highly original monograph, Nicholas Georgalis proposes that the concept of minimal content is fundamental both to the philosophy of mind and to the philosophy of language. He argues that to understand mind and language requires minimal content—a narrow, first-person, non-phenomenal concept that represents the subject of an agent's intentional state as the agent conceives it. Orthodox third-person objective methodology must be supplemented with first-person subjective methodology.

Concepts embody our knowledge of the kinds of things there are in the world. Tying our past experiences to our present interactions with the environment, they enable us to recognize and understand new objects and events. Concepts are also relevant to understanding domains such as social situations, personality types, and even artistic styles. Yet like other phenomenologically simple cognitive processes such as walking or understanding speech, concept formation and use are maddeningly complex.

The Growth of Grammar

This text provides a comprehensive introduction to current thinking on language acquisition. Following an introductory chapter that discusses the foundations of linguistic inquiry, the book covers the acquisition of specific aspects of language from birth to about age 6. Topics include the language abilities of newborns, the acquisition of phonological properties of language, the lexicon, syntax, pronoun and sentence interpretation, control structures, specific language impairments, and the relationship between language and other cognitive functions.

The studies in Weaving a Lexicon make a significant contribution to the growing field of lexical acquisition by considering the multidimensional way in which infants and children acquire the lexicon of their native language. They examine the many strands of knowledge and skill—including perceptual sensitivities, conceptual and semantic constraints, and communicative intent— that children must weave together in the process of word learning, and show the different mix of these factors used at different developmental points.

Essays on the Philosophy of Tyler Burge

Tyler Burge has produced groundbreaking work on the semantics of proper names and indexicals, de re belief, formal truth theories, semantic and epistemic paradoxes, the philosophy of Gottlob Frege, and other areas of the philosophy of language and of mind. But he is best known for his arguments for anti-individualism, or externalism about mental content.

Among the many branches of philosophy, the philosophy of time and the philosophy of language are more intimately interconnected than most, yet their practitioners have long pursued independent paths. This book helps to bridge the gap between the two groups. As it makes clear, it is increasingly difficult to do philosophy of language without any metaphysical commitments as to the nature of time, and it is equally difficult to resolve the metaphysical question of whether time is tensed or tenseless independently of the philosophy of language.

Semantic externalism is the thesis that the contents of some words and thoughts depend in part on properties external to the person who entertains them. In a departure from the widely held doctrine of internalism, externalists maintain that not all mental content is local to the mind. That view, however, seems to some philosophers to be at odds with our ordinary intuitions about self-knowledge.

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