Not available in 2020/21
PH238      Half Unit
Philosophy of Language

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Anna Mahtani


This course is available on the BSc in Philosophy and Economics, BSc in Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Students taking this course should have taken a course in introductory logic, such as Introductory Logic (PH101) or equivalent. 

Course content

We use language all the time to express our thoughts and understand others. But how does language work? What is it that makes squiggles on a page, or strings of noises meaningful? What are these meanings, and where do they come from? This the starting point for an investigation into the Philosophy of Language.

Philosophers have been interested in language for centuries, and in the 20th and 21st century with the development of modern logic and the dawn of analytic philosophy, philosophy of language has taken a central role. Key questions covered in this course include: how do names refer to an object? Do words mean whatever we intend or use them to mean? What role does convention play in fixing meanings? Are our terms vague, or precise? Can a person have a private language? How do we communicate beyond the literal? What are speech acts and are they available to everyone in our society? All of these questions are of interest in their own right, and also have applications to further issues in philosophy and beyond.


10 hours of lectures, 10 hours of classes and 3 hours of workshops in the LT. 1 hour of classes in the ST.

No meetings take place in reading week (week 6). 

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the LT.

Indicative reading

  • Lycan, William G. (1999). Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction. Routledge.
  • Kripke, Saul A. (1980). Naming and Necessity. Harvard University Press.
  • Keefe, Rosanna (2000). Theories of Vagueness. Cambridge University Press.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953). Philosophical Investigations. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Grice, H. Paul (1975). Logic and Conversation. In Maite Ezcurdia & Robert J. Stainton (eds.), The Semantics-Pragmatics Boundary in Philosophy. Broadview Press. pp. 47.
  • Langton, Rae & Hornsby, Jennifer (1998). Free speech and illocution. Legal Theory 4 (1):21-37.


Essay (80%, 2000 words) in the period between LT and ST.
Exercise (10%) and class participation (10%) in the LT.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2019/20: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills