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General Information


Course Description

This course will focus on theories of meaning – i.e., systematic accounts of how linguistic expressions are meaningful and of what meaning itself is.  Our study will require us to address a number of problems in the three traditional areas of philosophy of language: (1) How does linguistic structure contribute to linguistic meaning?  What are the meaningful parts of sentences, and how do the meanings of these parts contribute to the meaningfulness of the whole? These are questions of syntax. (2) How does language relate to the world that we use language to talk about? How, for example, do names succeed in naming something? Can the meaning of a name be identified with the thing it names? Sentences also bear a relation to the world: some of them are true and some are false. How does the truth or falsity of a sentence depend on the behavior of its linguistic parts? These are questions of semantics. (3) Language is not simply a complex system of signs that somehow “represents” the world: it is a medium that we use to communicate with others in various ways. How does the meaning of what we say depend on what our intentions are when we say what we do? For what purposes do we use language, in addition to asserting the beliefs that we take to be true? Can meaning itself be understood in terms of linguistic use? These are questions of pragmatics.

Our approach will be to study in some depth a few of the classical 20th century writings on these issues (rather than reading a lot of things superficially). These will include Gottlob Frege’s theory of sense and reference, Bertrand Russell’s theory of descriptions, Saul Kripke’s possible-worlds semantics, Paul Grice’s notion of speaker-meaning, J. L. Austin on performative utterances, and John Searle’s theory of speech acts.






Official Course Website: Web CT

The official website for students enrolled in the course is on WebCT (https://webteach.csun.edu), and many essential course materials will be accessible only though WebCT.  I’ll use WebCT to post announcements, reminders of work due, notes, and study guides. If you have to miss class, check the website for the latest course information.

Course Specifics

Requirements & Grading

Schedule of Topics and Assignments (See WebCT)

Policy on Late or Missed Assignments

Policy on Academic Honesty


Deadline for Withdrawals

The deadline for dropping a course without a petition is Friday, September 12. Except in extraordinary circumstances, the University will not permit withdrawals after Friday, September 19. For details on University policy, see http://www.csun.edu/anr/soc/adjsched.html.



If you have a disability that may call for accommodation, please let me know. You must register with the CSUN Center on Disabilities, which will approve accommodations and provide you with any forms that I may need to sign. The Center on Disabilities is located in Bayramian Hall, Room 110; the phone is 677-2684.



The course specifics -- including course requirements, grading, and the schedule of assignments -- are subject to change at my discretion. All changes will be announced in class and by email. Unless due to circumstances beyond my control, changes in the schedule will be announced at least one week in advance.