Topics in semantics and pragmatics

Basic Information

Course 2017/2018
Michele Palmira
Department of Philosophy
Universitat de Barcelona
Module 7. Issues in Contemporary Theoretical and Practical Philosophy


Thursdays, 16:30-19:30
UB, Philosophy Faculty, room 402


The course will act as an introduction to the nature and implications of the distinction between semantics and pragmatics.

The course will be divided into two parts. In the first part (weeks 1-4) we will discuss some central pragmatic and semantic notions. These include: Grice’s notion of speaker meaning and the distinction between what is said and what is implicated; Kaplan’s distinction between character and content and its bearing on the meaning of context-sensitive expressions such as indexicals (“I”, “now”) and demonstratives (“here”, “she”); the notions of context and presupposition within Stalnaker’s model of communication.

The second part of the course will apply these general semantic and pragmatic notions to examine ironic and metaphorical uses of language, so-called thick terms having a twofold descriptive and evaluative dimension such as “generous” and “selfish”, and derogatory epithets such as “slut” and “faggot”.


There will be ten three-hour classes. Each class will consist of a forty-five minute lecture-style exposition, a fifteen-minute break, and a two hour seminar, in which we will discuss the assigned reading of the day. During the first part of the course (weeks 1-4), the instructor will expose the material. During the second part of the course (weeks 5-10), students are expected to give a thirty- to forty-five minute (single or joint) presentation of an assigned text. Students can choose the date and topic of their presentations during the first session. It is expected that students study the assigned texts carefully in advance, ask questions about them and participate in the discussion. Attendance is obligatory. The assigned texts will be distributed in advance.


The module will be evaluated by a weighted combination of various factors. Participation in class will be evaluated in terms of quality of preparation and of contributions to the discussion. Class presentation will be evaluated in terms of clarity of presentation. The essay will be due some time after the end of classes. You will be provided with a set list of questions. You can choose one of the questions and answer it, or else you can take it as a general guide or source of inspiration. The questions will be made available in the last third of the course. The essay will have a strict word limit of 3000 words. The weighting of the three factors is as follows:


Class participation: 10 %.

Presentation: 30 %.

Critical essay: 60 %.


The aim of the course to familiarise participants with the main issues and positions in the contemporary debate on the semantics vs. pragmatics divide, and to put them into a position where they can begin to defend a view of their own.

More specifically, this includes:

  • understanding the main positions in the semantics & pragmatics literature of the 20th and 21st century.
  • understanding most of the key notions and arguments used in this debate.
  • practicing the competent application of these notions in a philosophical debate.
  • developing the ability to articulate one’s own position in this debate (at least provisionally), and to defend it in argument.

General Learning outcomes:

CB6 – Students should be able to critically understand central texts in the philosophy of language 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.

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 language. 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 language.

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

CE4. Students should be able to assess the writings of leading contemporary philosophers in the field of philosophy and the cognitive sciences.

CE5. Students should be able to identify and critically engage with the current state of a particular philosophical debate, and form a reasoned view, even if provisional, about it.

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


Week 1 - Sept. 28th – Overview of Semantics and Pragmatics

(no reading)


Week 2 - Oct. 5th– What is said and what is implicated

Grice, P. H. (1978) “Logic and Conversation”, P. Cole and J. L. Morgan (eds.) Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 3, New York: Academic Press: 41-58.


Week 3 - Oct. 19th– Indexicals

Kaplan, D. (1989) “Demonstratives”, in J. Almog, J. Perry, and H. Wettstein (eds.), Themes From Kaplan, New York: Oxford University Press: 481-563 (excerpts).


Week 4 - Nov. 2nd – Presupposition and common ground

Stalnaker, R. (2002) “Common Ground”, Linguistics & Philosophy 25: 701-721.


Week 5 - Nov. 9th – Metaphor

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


Week 6 - Nov. 16th– Irony

Sperber, D. and Wilson, D. (1981) “Irony and the Use–Mention Distinction”, in P. Cole (ed.), Radical Pragmatics, New York: Academic Press: 183-197.


Week 7 - Nov. 23rd – Thick terms I

Väyrynen, P. (2012) “Thick Concepts: Where’s the Evaluation?”, in R. Shafer-Landau (ed.) Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 7, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012): 235-70.


Week 8 - Nov. 30th – Thick terms II

Kyle, B. C. (2013) “How Are Thick Terms Evaluative?”, in Philosophers’ Imprint 13(1): 1-20.


Week 9 - Dec. 14th – Slurs I

Hom, C. (2008) “The Semantics of Racial Epithets”, Journal of Philosophy: 416-40.


Week 10 - Dec. 21st – Slurs II

Anderson, L. and Lepore, E. (2013) “Slurring Words”, Noûs 47(1): 25-48.