Philosophy of Language


Essay Topics on Recent Trends in Philosophy of Language


Under Parts I - III, respond to each of the essay topics.  Under Part IV, respond to one of the essay topics.  Write in your own words (with few direct quotes and little paraphrasing) and aim for accuracy, relevancy, clarity, and incisiveness.   Each response is to be between 350 and 400 words.  (After each response, please provide a word count.)  Your exam of about 1,500 total words is due on the third class following the distribution of the essay topics.  Grades on late exams will be lowered one letter grade for each class day that they are late.  Exams are to be printed on white paper with a staple or paper clip in the upper left corner and are not to be placed in folders.



I.  Heidegger’s "The Nature of Language"

Heidegger says "The word alone gives being to the thing" (p. 62) and "Language is the house of Being" (p. 63).  Moreover, he claims Thinking is not a means to gain knowledge.  Thinking cuts furrows into the soil of Being (p. 70).  Such thinking is linked with listening (e.g., p. 71).  Making reference to the preceding quotes and to his concepts of neighborhood (p. 93) and nearness (p. 103), sketch the nature of the relation between Being and language in Heidegger and the role of poetry and (meditative) thinking as a needed alternative to (calculative) instrumental thinking.


II.  Foucault’s The Order of Things

Foucault claims he is looking for the table "upon which, since the beginning of time, language has intersected space" (p. xvii), yet noting (at least of aphasiacs but perhaps for all of us) that "the sick mind continues to infinity, creating groups then dispersing them again" (xviii).  In developing his view that "there is nothing more tentative...than the process of establishing an order among things" (p. xix), Foucault describes his methodology as an archaeology of the human sciences.  Making reference to the preceding quotes, sketch Foucault’s view on systems of classification, including those of language, and address some of the peculiarities of the current episteme.


III.  Gay on Responding to Linguistic Alienation and Linguistic Violence

Gay distinguishes linguistic alienation and linguistic violence.  In relation to linguistic alienation, he contrasts private and personal sublanguages.  In relation to linguistic violence, he contrasts offensive and oppressive language.  Making reference to these distinctions, address how someone can be inappropriately alienated from particular spoken or written discourse and how language can be used to do violence or to advance a practice of linguistic nonviolence.


IV.  bell hooks and Lynne Tirrell on Responding to Oppressive Discourse

a.  bell hooks on the Oppressor’s Language and Linguistic Diversity
In her chapter on "Language" bell hooks quotes the line from Adrienne Rich’s poem, "This is the oppressor’s language yet I need it to talk to you," and bell hooks herself writes, "It is difficult not to hear in standard English always the sound of slaughter and conquest."  Nevertheless, learning the alien tongue yields personal power for waging resistance and for forging alternatives.  Explain how these remarks and others expose the violence behind standard language and support diversity among peoples and within forms of speaking.

b.  Tirrell on Responding to Racist and Sexist Langue
In her essay on "Racism, Sexism, and the Inferential Role Theory of Meaning," Lynne Tirrell reviews the debate between Absolutists and Reclaimers on how to respond to historically derogatory terms about African Americans and women.  Beyond the reservations she has about each, Tirrell notes how such epithets "depend for their force and for their content upon a system that favors those not taken to be denotable by the terms."  In relation to one of the epithets analyzed, describe problems with both the Absolutist and Reclaimer approaches and explain how Tirrell’s analysis stresses the connection of the injustice of racist and sexist discourse with other injustices in the practices of a society.