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Philosophy of Language

Philosophy of Language

Philosophers of language are not much concerned with what individual words or sentences mean. The nearest dictionary or encyclopedia may solve the problem of the meaning of words, and to speak a language correctly is generally to know what most sentences mean. What is more interesting for philosophers is the question of what it means for an expression to mean something. Why do expressions have the meanings they have? Which expressions have the same meaning as other expressions, and why? How can these meanings be known? And the best, and simplest, question might be, "what does the word 'meaning' mean?"

In a similar vein, philosophers wonder about the relationship between meaning and truth. Philosophers tend to be less concerned with which sentences are actually true, and more with what kinds of meanings can be true or false. Some examples of questions a truth-oriented philosopher of language might ask include: Can meaningless sentences be true or false? What about sentences about things that don't exist? Is it sentences that are true or false, or is it the usage of sentences?

Language, how things 'mean' something, and truth are important not just because they are used in everyday life; language shapes human development, from earliest childhood and continuing to death. Knowledge itself may be intertwined with language. Notions of self, experience, and existence may depend entirely on how language is used and what is learned through it.

The topic of learning language leads to all kinds of interesting questions. Is it possible to have any thoughts without having a language? What kinds of thoughts need a language to happen? How much does language influence knowledge of the world and how one acts in it? Can anyone reason at all without using language?

The philosophy of language is important because, for all of the above reasons, language is important, and language is important because it is inseparable from how one thinks and lives. People in general have a set of vital concepts which are connected with signs and symbols, including all words (symbols): "object," "love," "good," "God," "masculine," "feminine," "art," "government," and so on. By incorporating "meaning," everyone has shaped (or has had shaped for us) a view of the universe and how they have "meaning" within it.

Set for the task, many philosophical discussions of language begin by clarifying terminology. Some philosophers -- for instance some semiotic outlooks, and some works by linguist Noam Chomsky -- worry that the term "language" is too vague. Entire systems have been developed to clarify the field.

History of the philosophy of language
Major problems and sub-fields
 History of the philosophy of language
The inquiry into language stretches back to the beginnings of western philosophy with Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics.
 Major problems and sub-fields
Composition and parts, Principle of compositionality, Problem of universals and composition, The nature of meaning.