Philosophy of Language

Philosophy of Language

Philosophy of Language

Philosophy of Language

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

This book focuses on two main facets of the philosophy of language: its contribution to the development of a theoretical framework for studying language, and the investigation of foundational concepts—truth, reference, meaning, possibility, propositions, assertion, and implicature—that are needed for this investigation, and important for philosophy as a whole. Part 1 traces major milestones in the development of the theoretical framework for studying the semantic structure of language. Part 2 explores new ways of thinking about what meaning is, and how it is distinguished from aspects of language use.

Philosophy of language is, above all else, the midwife of the scientific study of language, and language use. By language, I mean both natural languages like English, and invented languages like those of logic and mathematics. By language use I mean its private use in thought, as well as its public use to communicate thoughts. The central fact about language is its representational character. Exceptional cases aside, a meaningful declarative sentence S represents the world as being a certain way. To sincerely accept, or assertively utter, S is to believe, or assert, that the world is the way S represents it to be. Since the representational contents of sentences depend on their grammatical structure and the representational contents of their parts, linguistic meaning is an interconnected system.

In studying it, we exploit the relationship between meaning and truth. For S to be meaningful is for it to represent the world as being a certain way, which is to impose conditions the world must satisfy, if it is to be the way S represents it. Since these are the truth conditions of S, being meaningful involves having truth conditions. Thus, the systematic study of meaning requires a framework for specifying the truth conditions of sentences on the basis of their syntactic structure, and the representational contents of their parts. This framework arose largely from the work of four philosopher-logicians. The first, Gottlob Frege, invented modern . . .

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