Philosophy of Language

If someone told you that the sky is purple, even if you know they’re wrong, you would have no difficulty understanding what they were trying to communicate. However, imagine a group of ants spelled out the exact same message with their bodies. Is it reasonable to assume the ants are trying to communicate the exact same thing? To answer this question, we need philosophy of language. Philosophy of language examines the nature of language, its relationship to meaning and reality, and the ways language is used by people.


  • Philosophy of Language



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Questions to Think About

  • Is language innate (meaning naturally learned from birth)?

  • How do we communicate meaning?

  • How does the meaning of a sentence emerge from its parts?

  • If a word has a sexist or racist origin, must that word remain sexist or racist?

  • Is it possible to translate from one language to another without the loss of some meaning?

Key Thinkers

  • G.E.M. Anscombe

  • J.L. Austin

  • Hector-Neri Casatañeda

  • David Chalmers

  • Noam Chomsky

  • Gilbert Ryle

  • Gottlob Frege

  • Jennifer Hornsby

  • Saul Kripke

  • W.V.O. Quine

  • Bertrand Russell

  • Jennifer Saul

  • John Searle

  • P.F. Strawson

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein

Key Texts

Key Terms

  • Language
    a unity of multidimensional concepts that is made up of arbitrary signs and is a system that enables communication
  • Semantics
    interpretation of the meanings in language
  • Pragmatics
    the social aspect of language dealing with the relationship between words and effects on the communicators
  • Linguistics
    broad term that examines the origin and significance of words in a language. Paired with phonetics, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics
  • Phonetics
    The study of the sounds of language
  • Syntax
    The set of rules for constructing sentences in a given language

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