Gillian Russell

Philosophy Professor

Phil 345: Reference and Meaning (Fall 2016)

Class times M/W 3.35-4.50pm, Dey 202

Course Website:

Course Instructor:

  • Professor Gillian Russell
  • Office hours: Monday 11am-noon, Tuesday noon-1pm.
  • Office Location: Caldwell Hall, 203
  • Email: gillian UNDERSCORE russell AT unc DOT edu

This is an upper-level undergraduate course in the philosophy of language. There will be three main sections. The first section introduces the 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 third section focuses on the question of the place of language in the methodology of philosophy itself.

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, 6th edition, 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 electronic reserves site for the course.

Topics, Reading Assignments, Deadlines etc.

  • Readings marked (M) are in the course textbook. Others will be made available via electronic reserves or links from this website.

Week 1

  • Wednesday 24th August: No assigned reading. What is philosophy of language?

Week 2 – Propositions

  • Monday 29th August: “The Thought: a Logical Inquiry” – Frege (M)
  • Wednesday 31st August: “On Sense and Reference” – Frege (M)

Week 3 – Descriptions

  • Monday 5th September: NO CLASS – Labor Day
  • Wednesday 7th September: “On Denoting” – Bertrand Russell (M)

Week 4

  • Monday 12th September: “On what there Is” – Quine
  • Wednesday 14th September: “On Referring” – Strawson (M)

Week 5 – Descriptions and Names

  • Monday 19th September: “Reference and Definite Descriptions” – Keith Donnellan (M)
  • Wednesday 21st September: Extract from Naming and Necessity – S. Kripke (M)

Week 6 – Names and Semantic Externalism

  • Monday 26th September: Second Class on Naming and Necessity, no additional required reading.
  • Wednesday 28th September: “Meaning and Reference” – Putnam (M)

Week 7

  • Monday 3rd October: “Assertion” – Stalnaker (M)
  • Wednesday 5th October: NO CLASS

Week 8

  • Monday 10th October: Review Session
  • Wednesday 12th October: In Class Midterm Examination

Week 9 – Externalism and Context

  • Monday 17th October: “Meaning and Reference” – Putnam
  • Wednesday 19th October: “Assertion” – Stalnaker

Week 10 – Language and Politics

Week 11

  • Monday 31st October: “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts” – R. Langton, available on Jstor here:
  • Wednesday 2nd November: “Subordinating Speech” – I. Maitra (on electronic reserves, accessible through Sakai)

Week 12

  • Monday 7th November: “Logic and Conversation” Grice (M)
  • Wednesday 9th November: “What did you call me? Slurs as Prohibited Words” – L. Anderson and E. Lepore (on electronic reserve)

Week 13

  • Monday 14th November: “Language as a Mechanism of Control” from Why Propaganda Matters – Stanley
  • Wednesday November 16th: NO CLASS.

Week 14 – Language and Philosophy

  • Monday 21st November: “Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology” – Carnap, available on J-stor here:
  • Wednesday 23rd November: NO CLASS (Thanksgiving)

Week 15

Week 16

  • Monday 5th December: Chapters 1 and 2 of The Philosophy of Philosophy – Williamson, to be made available on e-res.
  • Wednesday 7th December: Make up class, in case any of the above take more time than planned (highly likely.)

There is no final exam for this class, but we still have to meet at the scheduled exam time for the final class of the course on Saturday, December 10th at 4pm. (No additional reading.)


  • 20% of your grade for this course will come from completing 10 Memos and 20 comments, (as explained below.)
  • 30% of your grade will come from two short papers (15% for the first, 15% for the 2nd.) The short papers should be 2 pages each (about 500 words.) Short paper 1 is due on Friday 9th September. (You should put it in my mailbox in Caldwell Hall by 3.30pm.) Short paper 2 is due on Friday 30th September.
  • 25% of your grade will come from the in-class Midterm Exam on Wednesday 12th October.
  • 25% of your grade will come from the final term paper, due at the last class on Wednesday 7th December. The final term paper should be 8 pages (about 2000 words.)

I will send out prompts for all the papers.

Memos and Comments

In this course, doing the assigned reading prior to each class is very important. It is vital to your understanding of the material we are covering and it improves the level of discussion in class. In order to create a class culture in which everyone does the reading, 20% of your grade for the course is for something we will call “Memos and Comments.”

A Memo is a paragraph (roughly 50-200 words) that you write in response to an assigned reading. Memos can do various things, including: outline an argument from the text, clarify a thesis, disagree with a thesis or with one of the premises, give a counterexample to a claim made in the text, question the meaning of the text, offer an interpretation of a particular paragraph, or an analogy that helps to make the author’s point, etc. Memos are due by 8pm on the night before the relevant class. I will be sending you all an email outlining the mechanics of posting them to our Sakai site.

A Comment is a response to another student’s Memo. It may be one or more sentences (it doesn’t have to be long.) All comments should be constructive and respectful – remember that this is a formally assessed exercise, everyone in the course will be able to see your comment, and your name is attached to it – but you ARE allowed to disagree with something from the original memo. Other things you might do in Comments include: give another example that illustrates or strengthens the student’s point, compare the paragraph they are discussing with a related one, disagree with the student’s main point, challenge a presupposition of their point, etc. Comments on other students’ memos are due before the relevant class starts.

Over the course of the semester you are required to write 10 memos, and 20 comments, though you are encouraged to do more, perhaps responding to every text we read. However, if you complete your 10 memos and 20 comments in a satisfactory fashion, then you will receive the full 20% of the Memos and Comments grade. You will have completed your memos and comments in a satisfactory fashion if:

  • they were all on time
  • they are original to you and relevant to the text or memo in question

If you don’t complete 10 Memos and 20 Comments in a satisfactory fashion, then you will receive 0 for the Memos and Comments part of your grade. Note that Memos can be done as far ahead of time as you like – if you wanted to read all the texts next week and write your memos you could – but they cannot be “made up” after the deadline. I recommend that you plan to have all your memos and comments finished a few weeks before the end of the semester, to allow for contingencies such as illness or family emergencies.

Honor Code

All students must be familiar with and abide by the Honor Code, which covers issues such as plagiarism, falsification, unauthorized assistance or collaboration, cheating, and other grievous acts of academic dishonesty. Violations of the Honor Code will not be taken lightly.

The Center for Student Success and Academic Counselling

Located in the Student Academic Services Building, the CSSAC offers support to all students through units such as the Learning Center and the Writing Center.

Reasonable Accommodations Policy

Any student in this course who has a disability that may prevent them from fully demonstrating their abilities should contact Disability Services as soon as possible to discuss accommodations.

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