Philosophy of Language

Philosophy of Language

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In this book one of the world's foremost philosophers of language presents his unifying vision of the field--its principal achievements, its most pressing current questions, and its most promising future directions. In addition to explaining the progress philosophers have made toward creating a theoretical framework for the study of language, Scott Soames investigates foundational concepts--such as truth, reference, and meaning--that are central to the philosophy of language and important to philosophy as a whole. The first part of the book describes how philosophers from Frege, Russell, Tarski, and Carnap to Kripke, Kaplan, and Montague developed precise techniques for understanding the languages of logic and mathematics, and how these techniques have been refined and extended to the study of natural human languages. The book then builds on this account, exploring new thinking about propositions, possibility, and the relationship between meaning, assertion, and other aspects of language use.


An invaluable overview of the philosophy of language by one of its most important practitioners, this book will be essential reading for all serious students of philosophy.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 200 pages
  • 140 x 216 x 17.78mm | 255g
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 4 line illus.
  • 0691155976
  • 9780691155975
  • 337,776

Back cover copy

"This is a masterpiece. Scott Soames's work on these topics defines orthodoxy in contemporary philosophy, and having that work distilled into a single volume is enormously valuable. The first half of the book also contains the best analysis and explication yet written of the past century of work in the philosophy of language. I'm looking forward to teaching the subject again just so I can use this book."--Jeff Speaks, University of Notre Dame

"This is a very fine overview of philosophy of language from the late nineteenth century to the present. It discusses all the important issues with great lucidity. The treatment of technical material so as to make it accessible to the uninitiated is masterful. In short, this is an absolutely first-rate book. I have no doubt that it will be very widely read."--Jeffrey King, Rutgers University
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Table of contents

Acknowledgments ix Introduction 1 PART ONE: A Century of Work in the Philosophy of Language Chapter One: The Logical Study of Language 7 1.1 Gottlob Frege--Origins of the Modern Enterprise 7 1.11 Foundations of Philosophical Semantics 7 1.12 Frege's Distinction between Sense and Reference 8 1.13 The Compositionality of Sense and Reference 10 1.14 Frege's Hierarchy of Indirect Senses and Referents 13 1.15 The Semantic Importance of Frege's Platonist Epistemology 15 1.16 Potential Problems and Alternative Analyses 16 1.17 The Fregean Legacy 20 1.2 Bertrand Russell: Fundamental Themes 20 1.21 Quantification, Propositions, and Propositional Functions 20 1.22 Generalized Quantifiers 23 1.23 Denoting Phrases, Definite Descriptions, and Logical Form 24 1.24 Russell's Theory of Scope 26 1.25 Thought, Meaning, Acquaintance, and Logically Proper Names 28 1.26 Existence and Negative Existentials 30 Selected Further Reading 32 Chapter Two: Truth, Interpretation, and Meaning 33 2.1 The Importance of Tarski 33 2.11 Truth, Models, and Logical Consequence 33 2.12 The Significance of Tarski for the Philosophy of Language 38 2.2 Rudolf Carnap's Embrace of Truth-Theoretic Semantics 41 2.3 The Semantic Approach of Donald Davidson 45 Selected Further Reading 49 Chapter Three: Meaning, Modality, and Possible Worlds Semantics 50 3.1 Kripke-Style Possible Worlds Semantics 50 3.2 Robert Stalnaker and David Lewis on Counterfactuals 56 3.3 The Montagovian Vision 63 Selected Further Reading 75 Chapter Four: Rigid Designation, Direct Reference, and Indexicality 77 4.1 Background 77 4.2 Kripke on Names, Natural Kind Terms, and Necessity 78 4.21 Rigid Designation, Essentialism, and Nonlinguistic Necessity 78 4.22 The Nondescriptive Semantics of Names 80 4.23 Natural Kind Terms 88 4.24 Kripke's Essentialist Route to the Necessary Aposteriori 91 4.3 Kaplan on Direct Reference and Indexicality 93 4.31 Significance: The Tension between Logic and Semantics 93 4.32 The Basic Structure of the Logic of Demonstratives 94 4.33 Direct Reference and Rigid Designation 97 4.34 'Dthat' and 'Actually' 99 4.35 English Demonstratives vs.'Dthat'-Rigidified Descriptions 100 4.36 Final Assessment 104 Selected Further Reading 105 PART TWO : New Directions Chapter Five: The Metaphysics of Meaning: Propositions and Possible Worlds 109 5.1 Loci of Controversy 109 5.2 Propositions 111 5.21 Why We Need Them and Why Theories of Truth Conditions Can't Provide Them 111 5.22 Why Traditional Propositions Won't Do 113 5.23 Toward a Naturalistic Theory of Propositions 116 5.231 The Deflationary Approach 117 5.232 The Cognitive-Realist Approach 121 5.3 Possible World-States 123 5.31 How to Understand Possible World-States 123 5.32 The Relationship between Modal and Nonmodal Truths 126 5.33 Our Knowledge of World-States 126 5.34 Existent and Nonexistent World-States 128 5.35 The Function of World-States in Our Theories 129 Selected Further Reading 130 Chapter Six: Apriority, Aposteriority, and Actuality 131 6.1 Language, Philosophy, and the Modalities 131 6.2 Apriority and Actuality 132 6.21 Apriori Knowledge of the Truth of Aposteriori Propositions at the Actual World-State 132 6.22 The Contingent Apriori and the Apriori Equivalence of P and the Proposition That P Is True at @ 134 6.23 Why Apriority Isn't Closed under Apriori Consequence: Two Ways of Knowing @ 135 6.24 Apriori Truths That Are Known Only Aposteriori 136 6.25 Apriority and Epistemic Possibility 137 6.26 Are Singular Thoughts Instances of the Contingent Apriori? 140 6.3 'Actually' 142 Selected Further Reading 143 Chapter Seven: The Limits of Meaning 145 7.1 The Traditional Conception of Meaning, Thought, Assertion, and Implicature 145 7.2 Challenges to the Traditional Conception 147 7.21 Demonstratives: A Revision of Kaplan 147 7.22 Incomplete Descriptions, Quantifiers, and Context 151 7.23 Pragmatic Enrichment and Incomplete Semantic Contents 155 7.231 Implicature, Impliciture, and Assertion 155 7.232 Pervasive Incompleteness? Possessives, Compound Nominals, and Temporal Modification 158 7.3 A New Conception of the Relationship between Meaning, Thought, Assertion, and Implicature 163 7.31 The Guiding Principle 163 7.32 Demonstratives and Incomplete Descriptions Revisited 164 7.33 Names and Propositional Attitudes 168 7.4 What Is Meaning? The Distinction between Semantics and Pragmatics 171 Selected Further Reading 173 References 175 Index 187
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Review quote

"[Philosophy of Language] covers an impressive number of controversies in philosophy of language. And it does that in a nontechnical way that is likely to prove attractive to many instructors in the field."--Choice "[T]his is, in my view, a very valuable (though not at all introductory) overview, from a particular perspective, to be sure, of the trajectory on the philosophy of language from Frege to the present... [I]t covers a remarkable amount of ground in a short space, both presenting and contributing to an important network of themes that have shaped the philosophical study of language in the analytic tradition."--Kirk Ludwig, Philosophia
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About Scott Soames

Scott Soames is professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. His many books include What Is Meaning?, Philosophical Essays, Reference and Description, and Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century (all Princeton).
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Rating details

41 ratings
3.6 out of 5 stars
5 22% (9)
4 34% (14)
3 32% (13)
2 7% (3)
1 5% (2)
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