Phil 546

Topics in the Philosophy of Language


(You can find a .pdf version of the course syllabus here.)

This course is an high-level survey of central issues in the philosophy of language. Our main concern will be with the notion of meaning. In the first part of the course we will look at various ways of motivating and developing a powerful approach to meaning in terms of truth-conditions. In the second, longest part of the course, we will look at different questions that arise for this approach to meaning. Which specific questions we will focus on will depend on how things evolve and on the interests of class participants, but they may include: Can a truth-conditional theory of meaning be a theory of understanding? Can it account for the behavior of presuppositions and donkey anaphora? Can we assign truth-conditions to all well-formed, meaningful sentences? Is a truth-conditional theory of meaning genuinely explanatory? How can speakers know the truth-conditions of sentences in their language? Are truth-conditions enough to account the complexities of communication?


All readings will be made available electronically. It is your responsibility to check the readings section of this website periodically.

Each day of class you will be expected to be familiar with the material we will be discussing. Thus, you should leave yourselves plenty of time to do the readings. The readings for this course are challenging, and you should go over them more than once (for some helpful tips, read Jim Pryor’s ‘Guidelines on Reading Philosophy’). Do not be discouraged if there are some things you do not understand. Just make a point of noting what it is you don’t understand, and bring your questions with you to class. In philosophy especially, the most rewarding discussions often result from the simplest questions.


This class is only open to graduate students in philosophy or to undergraduates who have taken three prior courses in philosophy. I will only consider making exceptions for students with a strong enough background in linguistics, computer science, and cognate fields.

Although this is not a technical class, you will be at an advantage if you have done some formal logic before. I strongly encourage undergraduate students who have not yet taken Phil 110 (Intro to Logic), or a similar class, to contact me as soon as possible.

Course requirements

It is a good idea to think of the seminar—-whether or not you are enrolled for credit—-as a reading group of which you are an active participant.

If you are entolled in this course for credit, you will submit weekly ‘response pieces’ on one of the assigned papers for that week. These are expository in nature. Most weeks, they will involve answering questions about the readings submitted the week before. Sometimes, they will involve stating the main thesis and outlining the author’s argument for it. In all cases, assignments should take no more than a page, and are due on Tuesdays by 3pm. Response pieces will not be graded, although failure to submit at least eight of them will affect your final grade for the course.

In addition, you will write three short papers (≤ 1,500 words).Each paper should be a critical response to one of the readings discussed in class.

Note that, as a condition of continued enrollment in this course, you agree to submit your papers to the Turnitin service for textual comparison or originality review for the detection of possible plagiarism. All submitted assignments will be included in the UMass Amherst dedicated database of assignments at Turnitin and will be used solely for the purpose of checking for possible plagiarism during the grading process and during this term and in the future.

Seminar credit

If you wish to obtain seminar credit, you will have to write a term paper instead of the second and third short papers, after meeting with me to discuss your paper topic. This should happen by 4/4. In addition, you will give a 30 minute seminar presentation during the course of the semester. We will discuss relevant details in due course.

Academic integrity

It goes without saying that everything you submit must be your own work. I take academic honesty very seriously. General principles of academic honesty include the concept of respect for the intellectual property of others, the expectation that individual work will be submitted unless otherwise allowed by an instructor, and the obligations both to protect one’s own academic work from misuse by others as well as to avoid using another’s work as one’s own. All students are expected to understand and abide by these principles. Each student must be familiar with the University’s Academic Honesty Policy. Any suspicion of plagiarism will be thoroughly pursued.

Students with disabilities

In order to help me make reasonable, effective, and appropriate accommodations to meet your needs, you should first register with Disability Services. Once you do that, please come talk to me. It would be most helpful to receive the proper paperwork as soon as possible so I can make the appropriate accommodations in a timely manner.