Topics in semantics and pragmatics

Basic Information

Course 2015/2016
Manuel García-Carpintero
Department of Philosophy
Universitat de Barcelona
Module 7. Issues in Contemporary Theoretical and Practical Philosophy


Wed. 11:30-14
Room 412, Facultat de Filosofia, UB


The course acts as an introduction to work on foundational issues of meaning, communication and interpretation, with a focus on current problems raised in recent debates in both philosophical linguistics and philosophy of language. We will look closely at the notion of intended meaning and the effect and role of context in determining what is said and what is meant and where to draw the boundary between the them. We will also discuss how and when communication can be seen as successful and in what way semantic and pragmatic theories can account for the sharing of information, thoughts and attitudes. The topics covered include issues of current research interest, with the aim that students taking up the course will have an understanding of how the meaning of various linguistic constructions is determined by a conjunction of semantic and pragmatic factors.


In the second part we will explore the debates by focusing on the nature of assertion – the speech act that we express by default when uttering declarative sentences. There has been a continuous discussion of the nature of assertion in contemporary philosophy. Grice and Strawson proposed in the 1960s an account in terms of communicative intentions, classically presented in polished form in Bach & Harnish’s (1979). Austin and Dummett propounded a contrasting normative account, while Davidson made influential sceptical remarks. Also at the end of the 1970s, Stalnaker influentially suggested to understand assertions as proposals to update a context set of information commonly taken for granted by conversationists. Recently, Tim Williamson’s (1996/2000) already classic paper on the topic has initiated a whole new industry: many papers have been published in recent years on the topic, mostly discussing the pros and cons of the account that Williamson proposed, according to which assertions can be individuated as propositional acts subject to the normative requirement that the asserter knows the proposition put forward. 


Schedule of Topics and Readings

Week 1            Linguistic underdeterminacy and context-sensitivity: Truth-conditional semantics vs. pragmatic conceptions of compositionality and speech-act compositionality. 

Weak 2            What is Said vs. What is Implicated: How context-sensitivity affects compositionality: tests for deciding where to draw the boundary between said- and implicated-content, and consequences for various positions in current debates: indexicalism, minimalism, truth-conditional pragmatics, radical contextualism.

Week 2            Varieties of non-truth-conditional content: Presuppositions and varieties of implicatures, and how they behave with respect to projection vs. embedding.

Week 3           Metaphor: non-cognitive vs cognitive theories.

Week 4           Irony: pretence vs echo theories vs hybrid theories; the role of attitudes.

Week 5           Expressive content: Expressive terms, Slurs vs. Pejoratives.

Week 6           Intention and Convention in Speech Acts: Strawson vs. Austin.


Week 7            Assertion and Context Updating: Stalnaker’s Picture; Lewis on Scorekeeping.

Week 8           Assertion and Norms: Williamson’s account and the debate it has engendered.

Week 9            Assertion and Indirection: Is it possible to assert indirectly, i.e., are there conversationally implicated assertions, metaphorical assertions, assertions in fiction?


Week 10         Explicit Performattives: Do they involve underlying assertions?


Learning outcomes

The aim is to foster understanding of foundational issues in philosophy of language—what meaning is, what it is constituted of, compositionality of truth-conditional meaning, inference and the extent to which linguistic meaning underdetermines what speakers communicate—through close study of influential theories of meaning and communication. Students should gain a good knowledge of the fundamental assumptions and problems raised in recent literature, as well as engage in discussions of linguistic phenomena such as metaphor, irony, racial epithets, slurs in the philosophy of language, tracing out similarities and contrasts with moral expressivism. 


The final grade for the course will be obtained on the basis of a final research paper (3000 words) (60%), class participation (20%), and a class presentation (20%).


Intended Learning Outcomes:


CB6 – Students should be able to critically understand central texts in the philosophy of mind in a way that puts them in a position to develop and apply original ideas.


CB9 - Students should be able to communicate their knowledge and their arguments to specialized audiences in a clear and articulate way.


CG1 - Students should critically assess and evaluate arguments and develop sound arguments of their own; and they should also be able to detect logical fallacies.


CG2. Students should be able to design, create, develop and undertake new and innovative projects in their area of ​​expertise.


CG3. Students should be able to engage both in general and specific discussions in the domain of the philosophy of the cognitive sciences. They should be able to conduct a philosophical discussion (orally and in written form), by putting forward, for example, general arguments or specific examples, in support of one’s position.


CG4. Students should be able to work both independently and in a team, in an international environment.


CG5 - Students should be able to identify methodological errors, rhetorical, conventional and uncritical assumptions, vagueness and superficiality.


CE1 - Students should be able to critically engage with the concepts and methods of contemporary philosophy of mind.


CE2. Students should be able to identify the core arguments and theories of contemporary philosophy of the cognitive sciences.


CG5. Students should be able to identify methodological errors, rhetorical, conventional and uncritical assumptions, vagueness and superficiality.



CE7 - Students should be able to critically use specialized terminology in the field of philosophy of philosophy of mind.



Anderson, Hasslanger, Langton (2014): “Language and Race”, Handbook of Philosophy of Language, ed. G. Russell & Delia-Graff, Oxford University Press.

Camp, L.  & Reimer, M. (2006): “Metaphor”, Handbook of Philosophy of Language, ed. E. Lepore & B. Smith, Oxford University Press, 845-863.

Camp, L. (2006): “Contextualism, Metaphor, and What is Said,” Mind & Language 21:3, 280-309.

Camp L. (2012): “Sarcasm, Pretense, and The Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction”, Noûs, 46, 587-634.

Fricker, Elizabeth (2012): “Stating and Insinuating,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society sup. vol. lxxxvi, 61-94.

García-Carpintero, Manuel (2006): “Recanati on the Semantics/Pragmatics Distinction,” Crítica 38, 35-68.

García-Carpintero, Manuel (2013): “Explicit Performatives Revisited”, Journal of Pragmatics, 49, 2013, 1-17, DOI: 10.1016/j.pragma.2013.01.005.

Lackey, Jennifer (2007): “Norms of Assertion”, Noûs, 41(4), 594-626.

Lewis, David 1979, “Scorekeeping in a Language Game”, Journal of Philosophical Logic 8, 339-359.

Neale, S. (ms). Determinations of meaning. Cuny/NYU Mind & Language Seminar, Spring 2013.

Richard M. (2008): When truth gives ou,. OUP (chapter 1: Epithets and Attitudes).

Stalnaker, Robert (1978): “Assertion,” in P. Cole (ed.) Syntax and Semantics 9, New York: Academic Press, 315-332.

Strawson, Peter (1964): “Intention and Convention in Speech Acts”, Philosophical Review 73, 439-460.

Weiner, Matthew (2005): ‘Must We Know What We Say?’ Philosophical Review 114, 227–51.

Williamson, Timothy (1996): “Knowing and Asserting”, Philosophical Review 105, 489-523.

Wilson, D. (2006): “The pragmatics of verbal irony: echo or pretence?” Lingua, 116, 1722-1743.