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Russell, Gillian, , Fara, Delia Graff. Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Language
2013, Routledge.
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Added by: Berta Grimau, Contributed by:

Abstract: Philosophy of language is the branch of philosophy that examines the nature of meaning, the relationship of language to reality, and the ways in which we use, learn, and understand language. This companion provides a comprehensive and up-to-date survey of the field, charting its key ideas and movements, and addressing contemporary research and enduring questions in the philosophy of language. Unique to this companion is clear coverage of research from the related disciplines of formal logic and linguistics, and discussion of the applications in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and philosophy of mind. The book is divided into seven sections: Core Topics; Foundations of Semantics; Parts of Speech; Methodology; Logic for Philosophers of Language; Philosophy of Language for the Rest of Philosophy; and Historical Perspectives.

Comment: The first part of this book (‘Core Topics’) can be used as background reading for a general course in philosophy of language. The rest of the book includes more specialised articles, which can be used as background reading for specialized courses. Chapter 6, ‘Philosophy of Language for the Rest of Philosophy’, could be the core reading for a final section in a philosophy of language course focusing on the applicability of the philosophy of language for other areas of philosophy.

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Seibt, Johanna, , . Properties as Processes
1990, Ridgeview Publishing.
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Added by: Jamie Collin, Contributed by:

Summary: Sellars’ critics have, predominantly, studied single aspects of his work. This essay, on the other hand, is motivated by Sellars’ dictum that “analysis without synopsis is blind” (TWO 527). My intent is to give a synopsis of Sellars’ thought by focusing on the nominalist strands of his scheme. I shall try to draw the reader’s attention to the systematicity and overall coherence of Sellars’ work, since I think that any successful analysis of his writings must heed their systematic context. By presenting Sellars’ logical, semantic, epistemological and metaphysical arguments for the expendability of abstract entities in their systematic connection, I hope to promote both ‘full scope nominalism’ and ‘full scope Sellarsianism.’

Comment: This would be useful in a course on metaphysics or on philosophy of language. The book is not easy, but is unique in being a book-length exploration of metalinguistic nominalism. Recommended for graduate and perhaps advanced undergraduate courses.

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Taylor, Kenneth A., , . Sex, breakfast, and descriptus interruptus
2001, Synthese 128 (1-2):45 – 61.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Thomas Hodgson

Abstract: Consider utterances of the following two sentences: (1) Have you had breakfast? (2) Have you had sex? Utterances of (1) and (2) typically differ in temporal import. An utterance of (1) raises a ‘this morning’ question. An utterance of (2) raises an ‘ever’ question. The difference in felt temporal import clearly has something to do with the difference between our more or less shared breakfast eating practices and our more or less shared sexual practices. People tend to eat breakfast daily – though there are, of course, exceptions. People tend not to have sex daily – though here too there are exceptions. Moreover, people by and large mutually know these facts. The first goal of these remarks is to explain how our mutual knowledge of such shared practices influences the perceived temporal import of utterances like (1) and (2). The explanation is not terribly surprising, but this unsurprising explanation reveals something significant about the nature of the great divide between pragmatics and semantics. In particular, I’m going to argue that Grice got it pretty close to right. The explanation of this phenomenon, and certain others like it, turns out to be roughly, but still deeply Gricean. I say ‘roughly’ Gricean because the account I offer does not entail that the difference in temporal import between (1) and (2) is a difference in conversational implicature strictly so-called. But for reasons that will become clear in due course, the explanation I offer even if not strictly Gricean is nonetheless deeply Gricean. Armed with our roughly but deeply Gricean understanding of this easy case, I turn to the somewhat more challenging and controversial case of incomplete definite descriptions. Imagine an utterance of: (3) The cat is on the couch again. In uttering such a sentence, a speaker commits what we might call descriptus interruptus. The context independent meaning of the uttered sentence is insufficient to fix a fully determinate descriptive significance for the contained descriptions. Though we may justly infer that a speaker who utters such a sentence intends thereby to communicate some proposition or other to the effect that some unique cat or other is once again on some unique couch or other, nothing more determinate may be inferred on the basis of sentence meaning alone about the relevant cat and the relevant couch. But the speaker’s act of descriptus interruptus does not prevent speaker and hearer from enjoying a mutually consummated communicative exchange. The roughly though deeply Gricean approach I outline explains how such consummation is possible in a relatively straightforward way.

Comment: [This is a stub entry. Please add your comments to help us expand it]

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Thalos, Mariam, , . Explanation is a genus: An essay on the varieties of scientific explanation
2002, Synthese 130(3): 317-354.
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Abstract: I shall endeavor to show that every physical theory since Newton explainswithout drawing attention to causes-that, in other words, physical theories as physical theories aspire to explain under an ideal quite distinctfrom that of causal explanation. If I am right, then even if sometimes theexplanations achieved by a physical theory are not in violation ofthe standard of causal explanation, this is purely an accident. For physicaltheories, as I will show, do not, as such, aim at accommodating the goals oraspirations of causal explanation. This will serve as the founding insightfor a new theory of explanation, which will itself serve as the cornerstoneof a new theory of scientific method.

Comment: A striking argument that science does not employ causal explanations. Since this is a commonly-held assumption, this would be interesting to present in the context of scientific methodology, or in an exploration of causation as part of a challenge to whether the idea of causation is actually useful or necessary. Provides good historical context to support its claims. Best taught at an advanced or graduate level.

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Thalos, Mariam, , . Nonreductive physics
2006, Synthese 149(1): 133-178.
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Added by: Nick Novelli, Contributed by:

Abstract: This paper documents a wide range of nonreductive scientific treatments of phenomena in the domain of physics. These treatments strongly resist characterization as explanations of macrobehavior exclusively in terms of behavior of microconstituents. For they are treatments in which macroquantities are cast in the role of genuine and irreducible degrees of freedom.

Comment: A good argument against reduction, grounded in scientific practice. Would be useful in a philosophy of science or a metaphysics context to explore and challenge the idea of reduction. Does a good job of explaining some fairly technical concepts as clearly as possible, but still best suited to graduate or upper-level undergraduate teaching.

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Thomasson, Amie, , . Answerable and Unanswerable Questions
2009, In MetaMetaphysics, eds. David Chalmers, Ryan Wasserman, and David Manley. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 444-471.
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Added by: Jamie Collin, Contributed by:

Summary: Thomasson argues that merely verbal disputes arise in metaphysics when ontologists misuse the words ‘thing’ and ‘object’. Application conditions fix the conditions under which a claim can be applied or refused, but some ontological disputes involve using the terms ‘thing’ and ‘object’ in such a way that they lack application conditions. When this happens there is no way to determine the truth values of the claims being made.

Comment: This would be useful in a course on metaphysics, ontology or metametaphysics. It gives an interesting and plausible articulation of the idea that some metaphysical disputes are illegitimate in some sense (an intution that some students share). This isn’t an easy paper, but it is clearly written and suitable for advanced undergraduates or graduates.

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Vermeulen, Inga, , . Verbal Disputes and the Varieties of Verbalness
2018, Erkenntnis 83(2): 331-348
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by: Ethan Landes

Abstract: Many philosophical disputes, most prominently disputes in ontology, have been suspected of being merely verbal and hence pointless. My goal in this paper is to offer an account of merely verbal disputes and to address the question of what is problematic with such disputes. I begin by arguing that extant accounts that focus on the semantics of the disputed statement S (Chalmers, Hirsch, Sider) do not capture the full range of cases as they might arise in philosophy. Moreover, these accounts bring in heavy theoretical machinery. I attempt to show that we can capture the full range of cases with an approach that is theoretically lightweight. This approach explains verbal disputes as a pragmatic phenomenon where parties use the same utterance type S with different speaker’s meaning. Moreover, it provides an answer to the crucial question Jackson’s (Erkenntnis 79:31-54, 2014) pragmatic account leaves, at best, highly implicit. Based on my account, we can distinguish between different ways in which disputes can be verbal and different extents to which they are defective. Distinguishing between these varieties of verbalness furthermore allows us to specify what kind of substantive issues remain to be discussed once the linguistic confusion is resolved.

Comment: Discusses verbal disputes and problems with existing accounts of verbal disputes, ultimately arriving on an account of verbal disputes that rely on speaker meaning. Far more accessible than other papers on the topic, and includes a number of thought examples of people talking past each other. Useful for introduction to the topic, but requires some background in philosophy of language.

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Vetter, Barbara, , . Dispositions without conditionals
2014, Mind 123(489): 129-156.
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Added by: Laura Jimenez, Contributed by:

Abstract: Dispositions are modal properties. The standard conception of dispositions holds that each disposition is individuated by its stimulus condition(s) and its manifestation(s), and that their modality is best captured by some conditional construction that relates stimulus to manifestation as antecedent to consequent. In this paper Vetter proposes an alternative conception of dispositions: each disposition is individuated by its manifestation alone, and its modality is closest to that of possibility – a fragile vase, for instance, is one that can break easily. The view is expounded in some detail and defended against the major objections.

Comment: This article serves as a complementary reading for the book Potentiality: From Dispositions to Modality, or as a replacement for those who are only interested in Vetter’s analysis of dispositions and not in her entire theory of potentialities. Recommendable for postgraduate courses in philosophy of language, metaphysics or philosophy of science.

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Wang Bi, , . Clarifying the Images (Ming xiang)
2004, In Richard John Lynn (ed.). The Classic of Changes: A New Translation of the I Ching as Interpreted by Wang Bi.
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Added by: Meilin Chinn, Contributed by:

Summary: From Wang Bi’s (226-249) seminal commentary on the Yi Jing (I Ching) or Classic of Changes. Bi catalogues and explains the relationship between images, ideas, language, and meaning. A key text that continues to be of importance in Chinese aesthetics, philosophy of language, and hermeneutics.

Comment: This text requires a basic understanding of early Chinese philosophy. It would be appropriate in an advanced undergraduate or graduate seminar on Chinese philosophy and/or aesthetics.

Related reading:

  • Ch. 26 of the Zhuangzi in Chuang-Tzu: The Inner Chapters. A.C. Graham, trans. Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2001.
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Wetzel, Linda, , . Types and Tokens
2006, in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. E.N. Zalta. Online: Stanford University.
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Added by: Jamie Collin, Contributed by:

Abstract: The distinction between a type and its tokens is a useful metaphysical distinction. In §1 it is explained what it is, and what it is not. Its importance and wide applicability in linguistics, philosophy, science and everyday life are briefly surveyed in §2. Whether types are universals is discussed in §3. §4 discusses some other suggestions for what types are, both generally and specifically. Is a type the sets of its tokens? What exactly is a word, a symphony, a species? §5 asks what a token is. §6 considers the relation between types and their tokens. Do the type and all its tokens share the same properties? Must all the tokens be alike in some or all respects? §7 explains some problems for the view that types exist, and some problems for the view that they don’t. §8 elucidates a distinction often confused with the type-token distinction, that between a type (or token) and an occurrence of it. It also discusses some problems that occurrences might be thought to give rise to, and one way to resolve them.

Comment: Would be useful in advanced undergraduate or postgraduate courses on metaphysics or philosophy of language. Though Wetzel’s goal is, ultimately, to address metaphysical questions about the existence of types, the type/token distinction crops up in many areas of philosophy, and this would be an excellent reference point for explaining what the distinction amounts to. Though the entry is on the less-discussed topic of types, it is also relevant to the more-discussed topic of universals.

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Wetzel, Linda, , . Types and Tokens: On Abstract Objects
2009, MIT Press.
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Added by: Jamie Collin, Contributed by:

Publisher’s Note: There is a widely recognized but infrequently discussed distinction between the spatiotemporal furniture of the world (tokens) and the types of which they are instances. Words come in both types and tokens – for example, there is only one word type ‘the’ but there are numerous tokens of it on this page – as do symphonies, bears, chess games, and many other types of things. In this book, Linda Wetzel examines the distinction between types and tokens and argues that types exist (as abstract objects, since they lack a unique spatiotemporal location). Wetzel demonstrates the ubiquity of references to (and quantifications over) types in science and ordinary language; types have to be reckoned with, and cannot simply be swept under the rug. Wetzel argues that there are such things as types by undermining the epistemological arguments against abstract objects and offering extended original arguments demonstrating the failure of nominalistic attempts to paraphrase away such references to (and quantifications over) types. She then focuses on the relation between types and their tokens, especially for words, showing for the first time that there is nothing that all tokens of a type need have in common other than being tokens of that type. Finally, she considers an often-overlooked problem for realism having to do with types occurring in other types (such as words in a sentence) and proposes an important and original solution, extending her discussion from words and expressions to other types that structurally involve other types (flags and stars and stripes; molecules and atoms; sonatas and notes).

Comment: The book, or extracts from the book, could be used in advanced undergraduate or postgraduate courses on metaphysics, nominalism or philosophy of language. Chapter 2 of the book provides a clear account of the ways Quine and Frege thought about ontological commitment and language. Chapters 3-5 are also useful for students who want to understand nominalism better, though more recent nominalist strategies, such as the kinds of fictionalism developed by Mark Balaguer and Mary Leng, are not addressed.

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Wilson, Deirdre, , Dan Sperber. Meaning and Relevance
2012, Cambridge University Press.
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Added by: Jamie Collin, Contributed by:

Abstract: When people speak, their words never fully encode what they mean, and the context is always compatible with a variety of interpretations. How can comprehension ever be achieved? Wilson and Sperber argue that comprehension is a process of inference guided by precise expectations of relevance. What are the relations between the linguistically encoded meanings studied in semantics and the thoughts that humans are capable of entertaining and conveying? How should we analyse literal meaning, approximations, metaphors and ironies? Is the ability to understand speakers’ meanings rooted in a more general human ability to understand other minds? How do these abilities interact in evolution and in cognitive development? Meaning and Relevance sets out to answer these and other questions, enriching and updating relevance theory and exploring its implications for linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science and literary studies.

Comment: Many of the essays contained in this book would be useful in a course on philosophy of language. Each chapter is self-contained and could be used individually. Many topics are covered, but chapters on pragmatics, implicature, explicature etc., the nature of metaphor, and the evolution of language may be most relevant to philosophy of language courses. The book has the benefit of being both cutting-edge and quite accessible for students. Suitable for undergraduates and graduates.

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