Intro to Language (index)

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 15, 2010 in Indexes,Intro to Language

intro_to_language

Certain kinds of scratches and noises have meaning, and we humans can interpret and create them with little effort. How is this possible, and how does it work?

Such questions may seem pedantic, but they are crucial to all of philosophy, because philosophy is conducted with these very scratches and noises.

For example, consider the term ‘morally good.’ The moral philosopher might want to know whether or not capitalism is morally good. And so he might construct a theory about how things are morally good if they lead to the greatest happiness for the most people, and then he might argue that capitalism is, in fact, morally good, because capitalism leads to the greatest happiness for the most people.

But now, another philosopher says, “But I don’t accept your definition of ‘morally good.’ I think ‘morally good’ refers to that which is approved of by God. That is roughly what most people have meant when they said the phrase ‘morally good,’ after all.”

Who is right, here? How can we decide? And how is it that the sentence ‘Capitalism is morally good’ has meaning, anyway? Does it have meaning because each word refers to something in the world? But to what thing does the term ‘Capitalism’ refer? What about ‘good’? What about ‘morally’? What about ‘is’?

In this way, all philosophical questions eventually fall back upon questions about language, for all philosophy is conducted in language. Studying language will help us to clarify our meaning and arguments in all fields of philosophy: including the two major subjects of this blog, ethics and philosophy of religion.

But unlike moral philosophy and philosophy of religion, philosophy of language is not well-represented on the internet. This course aims to fix that.

Contents:

  1. Introduction (this post)
  2. The Referential Theory of Meaning
  3. Singular Terms
  4. Russell’s Theory of Descriptions

(more to come)

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Rhys Wilkins April 16, 2010 at 1:07 am

Wow man, you are a hard worker.

Look forward to it!

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Tshepang Lekhonkhobe April 16, 2010 at 2:04 am

u really getting (too) broad; am just worried that u may neglect your unfinished projects (EG u haven’t updated Desirism FAQ in months)

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Jacopo April 16, 2010 at 3:36 am

I like the idea, but I’ve got to agree with the above commenter on this one. Just purely IMHO I think you’ve taken on too many projects. It seems like you’re taking up projects at a much greater rate than you’re finishing them.

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Silas April 16, 2010 at 4:58 am

Yes, I would rather see you finish a project! There’s not even one “Introduction to…” course that is finished.

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Mark April 16, 2010 at 5:22 am

Is this “Intro to Language” or “Intro to Philosophy of Language?”

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lukeprog April 16, 2010 at 5:39 am

Mark,

Yeah, pretty close to intro to philosophy of language.

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lukeprog April 16, 2010 at 5:40 am

I’m not sure I even plan to ever finish these ‘Intro to’ courses. :)

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Molly April 16, 2010 at 7:55 am

It would be interesting if you could talk about metaphors, tropes, and analogies and how they contribute to meaning. In my philosophy class my fellow students and I are always asking the teacher for an analogy. Most recently we were discussing Leibniz’s Monadology and my classmate wanted so badly an analogy for a monad so that she could understand it. I don’t know what a proper analogy for a monad would be but if there was one it would make the idea ‘click’. Some concepts in philosophy are so difficult to grasp with unadorned language. I am so curious why that is.

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Richard Wein April 17, 2010 at 3:33 am

Hi Luke. You are, once again, confusing propositions about what sort of things are morally good with definitions of the meaning of the term “morally good”.

Your examples:
– That which leads to the greatest happiness for the most people is morally good.
– That which is approved of by God is morally good.

These are propositions (claims) about what sort of things are morally good. If we want to understand them, we need to understand what people mean by the term “morally good”. That’s a different question.

In your post you phrase these propositions a little differently:
– “…things are morally good if they lead to the greatest happiness for the most people”
– “‘morally good’ refers to that which is approved of by God”

Phrasing the propositions in these alternative ways does not magically make them into definitions.

I’m very interested in the meaning of language. It’s a fascinating but difficult subject. I’m afraid you haven’t got off to a good start with this post.

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lukeprog April 17, 2010 at 6:33 am

Richard,

I’m afraid I just disagree.

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cacarr January 17, 2011 at 10:19 pm

“But unlike moral philosophy and philosophy of religion, philosophy of language is not well-represented on the internet. This course aims to fix that.”

I concur that this series should be called “Intro to Philosophy of Language.” The current title gives the impression that this series is about linguistics. It isn’t — well, one gets much of this material in the first couple weeks of a linguistic semantics course, I suppose.

At any rate, the title is misleading.

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cacarr January 17, 2011 at 10:30 pm

“Intro to Language” would include — in addition to semantics — introductions to phonetics, phonology, theories of morphosyntax, pragmatics, comparative/historical linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics; pidgins and creoles, perhaps, and so forth.

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