philosophy of language

University of Edinburgh :: PHIL10005

Course description: This course is an introduction to some central themes in the philosophy of language—with a primarily focus on the relationship between meaning, reference, and content. We will study a range of classical and contemporary theories about the semantics of referring expressions such as proper names and indexicals. Throughout we will explore some of the connected philosophical questions--issues related to, e.g., modality, apriority, belief, self-locating thought, and subjectivity.

Lecturer: Brian Rabern

Office: 4.04c, Dugald Stewart Building,  University of Edinburgh

Office hours: Tues 11-12 and by appointment

Course secretary: Sam Bell (sam.bell[at]

Email: brian.rabern[at]

Main texts:

Kripke, Naming and necessity

Kaplan, Demonstratives

Background reading:

Stanley, "Philosophy of Language in the Twentieth Century"

Burge, "Philosophy of Language and Mind: 1950-1990"

reading schedule

1. Footnotes to Plato

Plato, 'Cratylus'*

Williams, 'Cratylus' theory of names and its refutation'

"What's in a Name? Plato's Cratylus" (Adamson podcast)

2. Sense and reference (slides)

Mill, 'Of names' (pp. 9-19)

Frege, 'Sense and reference'*

3. Kripke on names

Kripke, Naming and necessity, Lecture 1*

Burgess, Kripke, Chapter 1

4. Kripke on modality

Quine, 'Reference and modality'

Kripke, Naming and necessity Lectures 1&2*

Marcus, 'Modalities and intensional languages' (and 1962 discussion by Kripke, Quine, and Marcus)

5. Naming and belief

Kripke, 'A puzzle about belief'*


BREAK Week -- 20-24 Feb.


6. Sense and indexicals

Frege, 'The Thought'

*Kaplan, 'Demonstratives', sec. I-V

7. Character and content

*Kaplan, 'Demonstratives', sec. VI-XIX

8. Essential indexicality

*Perry, 'The problem of the essential indexical'

Lewis, 'Attitudes de dicto and de se'

9. Two-dimensionalism

Evans, 'Reference and contingency'

*Chalmers, 'On sense and intension'

10. Subjectivity and relativism

Prior, 'Egocentric logic'

*Lasersohn, 'Context Dependence, Disagreement, and Predicates of Personal Taste'

11. Tense and future contingents

*MacFarlane, 'Future Contingents and Relative Truth'

(all readings on learn if not on the web)


Weekly reading analysis 10 x 300 words (best 5 = 40%)

End-of-semester essay of 2,500 words (60%)