Gillian Russell

Philosophy Professor at UNC Chapel Hill

Phil 306 : Philosophy of Language (Spring 2015)

Class Times: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11.30am-1pm
Location: McDonnell Hall 361

Instructor: Professor Gillian Russell
Office hours: Thursdays 2-3pm or by appointment
Office: 209 Wilson Hall
grussell – at – artsci – dot – wustl – dot – edu

Teaching Assistant: Tyler Paytas
Office Hours: Tuesdays 3.30-5.30pm

Location of office hours: The Cave (in the basement of Wilson Hall)
Email: tylerpaytas – at – wustl – dot – edu

Course Website:

This is an upper-level undergraduate course in the philosophy of language. There will be three main sections. The first introduces a number of classic, central topics in the area, including e.g. names, descriptions, implicature and externalism as well as many of the tools necessary for later parts of the course. The second section looks at applications of philosophy of language in the political sphere, such as treatments of slurs, propaganda, and the treatment of pornography as free speech. The last section focuses on artificial formal languages, for example, the kind one uses in logic.

Our subject is heavily influenced by work in logic, and to an increasing extent, by the work of theoretical linguists. Previous courses in these areas may help you, though they are not required.

One of the more difficult aspects of the course will be the reading, which consists largely in longish, original articles written as research papers for other philosophers (rather than as introductory texts aimed at students.) I recommend that you take a look at Jim Pryor’s article “How to read a philosophy paper” – he gives some good advice on approaching this kind of reading.

Many of the readings for the course can be found in the course reader: Philosophy of Language, edited by Martinich and Sosa. Some of the assigned readings are not included in this collection, but those will be linked from this webpage, or posted on the ares site for the course. (You can access ares here:

Readings and Topics

Readings marked with an ‘(MS)’ can be found in Martinich and Sosa’s Philosophy of Language.

Tuesday 13th January

Introduction to the subject. No preassigned reading.

Part 1: Names and Descriptions

Thursday 15th January – Frege’s Philosophy of Language

Reading: “The Thought: A Logical Inquiry” – G. Frege (MS)

Tuesday 20th January – Frege’s Puzzle

Reading:”On Sense and Reference” – G. Frege (MS)

Thursday 22nd January – Russell’s Theory of Descriptions

Reading: “On Denoting” – B. Russell (MS)

Tuesday 27th January – Descriptions and Existence

“On What There Is” – W.V.O. Quine (on jstor)

Thursday 29th January – Strawson’s Response to Russell

Reading: “On Referring” – P.F. Strawson (MS)

Paper 1 is due today

Tuesday 3rd February – The Referential/Attributive Distinction

Reading: “Reference and Definite Descriptions” – Keith Donnellan (MS)

Thursday 5th February – Implicature

Reading: “Logic and Conversation” – H.P.Grice (MS)

Tuesday 10th February – Names

Reading: Extract from Naming and Necessity – S. Kripke (MS)

Thursday 12th February

Second class on Naming and Necessity, no additional reading.

Tuesday 17th February – Semantic Externalism

Reading: “Meaning and Reference” – H. Putnam (on J-stor:
This one is also in the reader (MS).

Thursday 19th February – Context

Reading: “Assertion” – R. Stalnaker (MS)

Tuesday 24th February

Review class for midterm

Thursday 26th February


Part II – Language and Politics

Tuesday 3rd March

Reading: “Politics and the English Language” – G. Orwell,

Optional additional reading: Geoff Pullum’s criticisms:

Thursday 5th March

Reading: “Subordinating Speech” – I. Maitra (to be placed on ares)

Tuesday 10th March

Spring Break

Thursday 12th March

Spring Break

Tuesday 17th March

Reading: “Slurs and Stereotypes” – R. Jeshion (on ares)

Thursday 19th March – Speech Acts

Reading: “What did you call me? Slurs as Prohibited Words” – L. Anderson and E. Lepore

Paper 2 is due today (Now due Thursday April 2nd.)

Tuesday 24th March

Reading: “Performative Utterances” – J.L. Austin (MS)

Thursday 26th March – Pornography and Free Speech

Reading: “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts” – R. Langton,

Tuesday 31st March

Reading: “Language as a Mechanism of Control” from Why Propaganda Matters – J. Stanley (ares)

Part 3 – Formal Languages

Thursday 2nd April

Revised deadline: Paper 2 is due today

Reading: Excerpt from Frege’s “Begriffsschrift” (on ares)

Readings from here on were updated on 4/6/2015

Tuesday 7th April –

No class

Thursday 9th April

“Language as a Mechanism of Control” from Why Propaganda Matters – J. Stanley (ares)

Tuesday 14th April – Formal languages

Reading: Excerpt from Frege’s “Begriffsschrift” (on ares)

Thursday 16th April

Excerpt from Formal Languages in Logic – C. D. Novaes (on ares)

Tuesday 21st April

Selections from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (on ares)

Thursday 23rd April – Final Paper due

Top secret special final class – no reading required. Final paper due today.


Assessment is by way of two very short papers, one midterm exam, and a longer term paper. Your grade will be weighted as follows:

First short paper 300 words max 10% 29th January
Midterm Exam 30% 25th February
Second short paper 300 words max 20% 19th March 2nd April
Term Paper 1500 words max 40% 23rd April

I will provide prompts for each of the papers. If you like, you may also develop your own paper topic (except in the exam) but if you’d like to do this I strongly recommend discussing it with Tyler or me first (you might either come to our office hours, or send us an outline by email.)

I prefer papers to be double-spaced, with page numbers. Please clip or staple the pages together. Your name should be placed on the final page only. Papers can be turned in by placing them in the appropriate drawer in the “turn in” filing cabinet in the philosophy department by 3.30pm on the day on which they are due. (The office closes at 4pm and we discourage students from knocking on the door at 4pm when the staff are trying to go home.)

I’m willing to look at drafts of papers, on the condition that the draft is emailed to me at least one week prior to the paper deadline. This is to give me time to read it carefully and write you comments, and then give you enough time to rewrite the paper ahead of the deadline.


Any cases of suspected plagiarism, or other problems with academic integrity, will be reported to the Dean in his role as head of the academic integrity committee.

Pass/Fail Option

Students taking the course pass/fail will need an overall grade of C- for a pass.