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Philosophy of Language


Admission requirements

This course is only accessible to:

  • Bachelor's students in Philosophy who have passed the first year and have furthermore obtained at least 10 EC of the compulsory components of the second year, including: Wetenschapsfilosofie or Philosophy of Science, and Analytische filosofie or Language and Thought.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement, and for whom this course is part of their programme.


How do linguistic expressions become meaningful? Which role do grammatical rules and context play in interpreting signs? One dominant approach in the analytic philosophy of language (from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus onwards) is that to understand a sentence means to know when it is true, as well as that the meaning of an expression is constituted by what it refers to. In this course we will look at a historical context of the truth-conditional, referentialist theory of meaning and we will try to understand what prompted other alternative approaches to meaning (e.g. use-based theories, contextualism, aboutness, internalist semantics). We start by focusing on an important historical debate between Frege and the formalists (Grundgesetze der Arithmetik, vol 2) and continue by examining Wittgenstein’s critical response (Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle, Voices of Wittgenstein). Further will look at how Wittgenstein developed his idea of rule governed language games in a dialogue with Frege (The Big typescript, Philosophical Investigations). We will also look at some recent debates concerning meaning and reference, notably Chomsky’s intermalist semantics, contextualist theories of meaning, Fodor’s language of thought hypothesis and the theories of aboutness. We will also explore some connections between Wittgenstein’s philosophical methodology and recent topics in conceptual engineering.

In this course we will use extracts from the books of Frege, Wittgenstein, Chomsky and Fodor, as well as a number of recent research articles on the topics covered in the course.

Course objectives

Students who successfully complete the course will have:

  • established in-depth knowledge of historical and contemporary topics in philosophy of language;

  • reached familiarity with Frege's, Wittgenstein's, and a number of recent views on metasemantics.

Students who successfully complete the course will:

  • be able to engage in current research and discussion in philosophy of language;

  • have developed advanced research skills through oral presentations and writing assignments.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Paper

  • Oral presentation

  • Active participation in class (quiz, discussion) and oral presentation is required for admission to the final exam


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average of two subtests:

  • Paper (80%)

  • Oral presentation (20%)


To be announced.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

We will use extracts from:

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, Wittgenstein and Vienna Circle, The Voices of Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations.

  • Gottlob Frege, Frege Against the Formalists: A Translation of Part of Grundgesetze der Arithmetik.

  • Noam Chomsky, New Horizons.

  • Fodor, LOT 2, Hume Variations

  • Selected journal articles
    All extracts and journal articles are available in the electronic form (or in the University library).


Enrolment through uSis for this course is not possible. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga


Not applicable.