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Language and Reality

An Introduction to Philosophy of Language

Published onAug 24, 2021
Language and Reality

1 • Introduction1

In the 20th century philosophy has taken a ‘linguistic turn’.2 Philosophical progress, so it was thought, could only be achieved through the meaning of the words in which philosophical problems were formulated. The linguistic turn was motivated by two tenets: the first is that the only way to analyze thought is via an analysis of language. The second tenet is that our world is structured by the language we speak. As a result, philosophers in the analytical tradition dedicated their efforts mainly, if not exclusively to language. This examination was a means to an end; their interests were not in language itself, but in how an analysis of language could solve philosophical problems. We could call this ‘philosophy of language’ in the broad sense, by which is meant a particular way of practising philosophy, a philosophical methodology. Some philosophers even went as far as stating that the philosophy of language had become prima philosophia in Aristotle’s sense, by which is meant that prior to addressing problems in other areas of philosophy, issues within the philosophy of language have to be resolved. Even the ontological debate about realism (the view that there is a structured, ready-made world out there awaiting discovery) and idealism (the view that the structure of the world is somehow dependent on the mind) had to be reformulated and settled in terms of the philosophy of language. This approach is to be distinguished from ‘philosophy of language’ in a narrow sense, a branch of philosophy, closely affiliated to linguistics, that aims to describe and explain features of language that are of interest in themselves.

Given their underlying motivation, philosophers of language in the 20th century focussed on the relationship between language and the world, and language and the mind. The central problem in this regard was: what is meaning? A theory of meaning was supposed to give an account of the relationship between language (and thus the mind) and the world. ‘The reference relation’ is crucial in this regard: does the meaning of words determine what objects they refer to in external reality, which would be congenial to idealists, or are words like labels that can be attached to objects that are mind-independent items, as realists would have it? Does language actively shape our view of the world, or is there a world independent of our linguistic characterization? There are two conflicting intuitions at work while attempting to answer the question what meaning is. The first is that speakers of a language determine themselves what their words mean. In the history of philosophy this mentalist intuition is known in particular of the account by John Locke (1632–1704), according to which a word uttered by a speaker stands for (or refers to) to the corresponding idea in the mind of that speaker. When I use the word ‘dog’, it can stand only for the idea dog in my mind, not to yours nor to the dog itself (only indirectly via the idea). (Essay 4.4.3) To avoid the suggestion that there is a necessary connection between a word and an idea, Locke insists on the ‘inviolable right’ I have to assign my own word to my own idea (3.2.8). But if every speaker is the arbiter of the meaning of his or her own words, communication becomes impossible. Locke admits that we have to conform ourselves to the common usage of a word on pain of misunderstanding, and indeed common language ‘regulates the meaning of words pretty well for common conversation’ (3.9.8), but the immediate meaning of the word, he insists, can only be the idea in the speaker’s mind.

The mentalistic thesis of words standing for mental ideas invites a simple objection that is based on the phenomenology of linguistic understanding. If we hear someone speak and if we understand what he or she is saying, we hear immediately meaning in the sounds they utter and do not have to figure out via a process of calibration and interpretation what the speaker wants to convey.

The opposite intuition is that the meaning of language resides in a relationship between language and the world. The simplest expression of this intuition is the naïve theory of meaning,3 according to which the meaning of a proper name is the object or person it stands for.4 The naïve theory of meaning presupposes that there is a ‘ready-made’ world out there, to which words can be attached like labels; it thus presupposes ontological realism. Many philosophers in the 20th century felt that traditional questions, like the controversy between realism and idealism about the external world, could be reformulated in terms of the philosophy of language. In this chapter I describe how the development of the philosophy of language in the 20th century is determined by the struggle between these two intuitions. I also examine whether philosophers of language subscribe to realism or idealism.

2 • Frege

Despite its intuitive plausibility the naïve theory of meaning faces objections that are hard to overcome. The German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege (1848–1925) raised two objections in his seminal article “On Sense & Reference” (1913). The first is known as the problem of the informativity of identity statements.5 During a certain part of the year a heavenly body is visible during the morning and has accordingly been called ‘Morning Star’. A few months later the morning star has disappeared, but a heavenly body is visible during the evening that just as appropriately has been called ‘Evening Star’. According to lore, Pythagoras discovered that the planet Venus that was called ‘Morning Star’ during part of the year, was the same heavenly body that had been called ‘Evening Star’ during another part of the year. One thus discovered that the identity-statement ‘Morning Star is Evening Star’ is true in reality. One knew the meaning of the words ‘Morning Star’ and ‘Evening Star’, but one did not know that these were two names for the same planet.

This constitutes a problem for the naïve theory of meaning. The reason is simple: if the meaning of a noun is the object the name stands for, then the ‘Morning Star’ has the same meaning as the ‘Evening Star’, namely the planet Venus. Someone who knows the meaning of these nouns, should therefore, without examining the heavenly sky in reality, be able to know that the identity-statement ‘Morning Star is Evening Star’ is true. That identity-statement should then be just as uninformative as tautologies as ‘Morning Star is Morning Star’ or ‘The Evening Star is Evening Star’. For short: the naïve theory of meaning cannot explain why identity-statements such as ‘Morning Star is Evening Star’ are informative.

Frege offered a second objection. The Dutch Marxist Henk Sneevliet was well acquainted with Leon Trotski. We are entitled to say that ‘Sneevliet knew that Trotski was the architect of the Red Army.’ After having read his biography we know that Trotski was born as ‘David Bronstein’, a fact Trotski tried to conceal. If the naïve theory of meaning is correct, the names ‘Bronstein’ and ‘Trotski’ have the same meaning. If that were true, we ought to be able to substitute ‘Bronstein’ for ‘Trotski’ getting ‘Sneevliet knew that Bronstein was the architect of the Red Army.’ However, it is likely that Sneevliet did not know this. So, we are not allowed to substitute ‘Bronstein’ for ‘Trotski’, since the substitution does not preserve the truth-value of the initial statement. Once again, we have to conclude that there is more to meaning than just the object the word stands for.

Frege raised two further objections. First, people make up stories and, with some exceptions, we are able to make sense of them. But how are we able to do that, if the naïve theory of meaning is correct? Names in fiction do not stand for objects in reality, so they cannot be meaningful. But they are. So, the naïve theory of meaning cannot be correct. The next objection is closely related to the previous one: we occasionally assert that something or somebody does not exist. ‘Santa Claus does not exist’ is such a negative existential statement. But how do we understand these statements, according to the naïve theory of meaning? Once again, we have to conclude that there must be more to meaning than just the object the proper name stands for.

Frege provided the following solution. When we talk about the planet Venus using the proper name ‘Evening Star’, we are not only talking about the heavenly body, but we are also presenting and thinking about that object in a particular way. We can talk about a countless number of things by using different names or descriptions for them. Frege presents the example of the intersection of the medians of a triangle. That point can be referred to as ‘the intersection of median a and median b’, but also as ‘the intersection of median a and median c’, or as ‘the intersection of median b and median c’. The very same intersection-point is thus presented to us in three different ways. This mode of presentation is, according to Frege, an important ingredient of the meaning of a word. It is this mode of presentation that distinguishes the meaning of the proper name ‘Evening Star’ from the meaning of the proper name ‘Morning Star’. Frege, therefore, concluded that the meaning of proper names and of words in general not only consists in that what words stands for (or designate, refer to) in reality, but also in the sense that contains the mode of presentation of what the words stand for.

With respect to the controversy between realists and idealists Frege’s philosophy of language combines insights from both sides of the debate. On the one hand he concedes to the idealists that we need to grasp the meaning (the sense) of the word Evening Star in order to recognize the planet Venus as the Evening Star. So, the way we perceive reality is determined by the language we speak. On the other hand, Frege assumes with the realists that reality is structured into discrete objects. There is a planet Venus out there that we can perceive in a particular (Evening Star) kind of way.

Does this notion of sense indeed solve the problems concerning meaning?

3 • Russel’s theory of descriptions

One of the first philosophers who acknowledged Frege’s genius was Bertrand Russell. Despite his admiration he was also a stern critic.6 In what has become a classic paper, ‘On Denoting’, Russell observed that Frege’s semantical theory, and in particular his notion of sense, cannot account for the meaningfulness and truth of many ordinary sentences. For example, ‘A man is walking in the street’. The sentence is true, there are several men walking in the street, but to whom does the noun ‘a man’ refer? Is the notion of sense (mode of presentation) of any help here? Russell applied the technique of formal logic (see chapter “The Study of Informational Processes” of this handbook), which Frege had put forward in 1879, to show that the grammatical surface structure of a sentence is different from the logical deep structure. In the sentence ‘A man walks in the street’ ‘a man’ is the grammatical subject. The sense of ‘a man’ is, according to Frege, the mode of presentation of the reference. But to whom does ‘a man refer’? And if there is no referent, how are we to decide who is walking in the street and thus whether the sentence is true or false? Russell solves this problem as follows: logical analysis reveals that what is being said in ‘A man walks in the street’ is ‘There is at least one entity that is a man and that entity is walking in the street.’ A related difficulty Russell observed concerns so-called definite descriptions, like ‘the present prime minister’, which were regarded by Frege as being semantically similar to ‘real’ proper names, like ‘Johnson’ or ‘Merkel’. If Frege is right, a sentence like ‘The present King of France is bald’ cannot be true or false, since the definite description ‘The present King of France’ does not refer to anybody. According to Russell, this is a mistake. He argued that this sentence is false. If Frege’s philosophy of language is correct, the phrase ‘the present King of France’ must have an object to which the phrase refers to after all, otherwise the sentence cannot be true or false. Since in our actual world there is no King of France at present, some philosophers therefore assume that there is an abstract realm outside space and time in which fictional objects, like the present King of France, exist. Russell vehemently objected to this move, which he took to be a too large departure from common sense. Instead, he revised Frege’s analysis of sentences. In Russell’s analysis, the logical deep structure of the sentence about the king of France being bald is a conjunction of three propositions: There is at least one entity that is King of France & There is only one entity that is King of France & That entity is bald. Since the first conjunct is false, the entire sentence is false, which gives Russell the result he was looking for. Russell’s common sense, which he called his ‘robust sense of reality’ was thus satisfied.

4 • Ordinary language philosophy

For decades Russell’s theory of descriptions was hailed as ‘that paradigm of philosophy’. It therefore came as a shock, certainly for Russell, that in 1950 P. F. Strawson published an article in which he argued that Russell had ignored important distinctions. ‘The present King of France is bald’ is a perfectly meaningful sentence in English, but no one in his or her right state of mind will presently (neither in 1950 nor in 2021) use that sentence to assert that the thought expressed in that sentence is true or false, because there is no King of France. A meaningful assertion of that sentence in real life presupposes that there is a King of France. According to Strawson, we ought to distinguish, first, type sentences, for instance as they occur in schoolbooks on grammar, from, second, uses of sentences in certain type circumstances, and third, token utterances by a particular speaker on a particular occasion. Only the last, token utterances, are eligible for truth and falsity. Type sentences do not refer; only speakers do in acts of asserting sentences.

Strawson’s approach was representative of the way philosophy was practised in Oxford in the first decades after the Second World War. So called ‘ordinary language philosophy’ adhered to a distinctive philosophical methodology: many, if not all, philosophical problems would disappear, if only philosophers paid sufficient heed to the way the central notions in terms of which a philosophical problem was formulated were used in ordinary language.

Already in 1949 Gilbert Ryle had published The Concept of Mind. In the first chapter he famously analysed the Cartesian mind-body problem. According to Ryle, the Cartesian mind was a ‘para-mechanical hypothesis’, motivated by a wrong-headed theory of meaning. Ryle labelled this mistaken theory of meaning the “Fido” – Fido principle, his name for what we have called ‘the naïve theory of meaning’ (the name ‘Fido’ refers to the dog Fido). If the meaning of a word is the object it stands for, then, since the word ‘mind’ is meaningful, it ought to stand for an object as well. This, however, Ryle argued, is a category mistake. The mind is not a kind of thing on the same par as a body or an object.The example Ryle used to illustrate this view is the following. A visitor to Oxford wants to see the University of Oxford. He is being shown the colleges and the Bodleian Library. When the tour is over, the visitor inquires “But where is the University of Oxford?” It has escaped his notice that the University of Oxford is an entity of a different category: it is the organization of the colleges, not an institution that requires a physical infrastructure. The visitor has already seen the University of Oxford. In the same manner an examination of the way in which words for mental states are used in daily life, e.g. ‘being afraid’ and ‘anxious’, establishes that they do not refer to mental states hidden behind someone’s eyes, but instead to publicly observable, overt behaviour.

Analysing ordinary language could solve philosophical problems. One of the most prominent ordinary language philosophers, J. L. Austin, wrote: “[...] our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connexions they have found worth marking in the lifetimes of many generations: these surely are likely to be more numerous, more sound, since they have stood up to the long test of the survival of the fittest, and more subtle, at least in all ordinary and reasonably practical matters, than any that you or I are likely to think up in our armchairs of an afternoon—the most favoured alternative method.” (Austin, 1949, p. 130) Although Austin’s articles exhibit the ordinary language approach to philosophy, his main and most lasting contribution was to the study of language as an end in itself rather than as a goal clarifying and solving philosophical problems. His 1955 William James lectures How to do things with words were the impetus to the speech act theory, that inaugurated the rise of a branch in linguistics called pragmatics, which focuses on the use of language in interaction.7 In these lectures Austin criticized the tendency within the philosophy of language developed since Frege to focus almost exclusively on sentences that can be true or false. Austin pointed out that many linguistic utterances are not meant to be assertions that can be true or false, but acts that are governed by highly specific criteria of correctness. Making a promise, for instance, requires that the speaker is sincere, that he or she lives up to the promise and that what he or she promised can be achieved.

Once attention was being drawn to these aspects of language, it dawned rather quickly on philosophers that language use is often intended as a performative action. We perform or do something by speaking, e.g. by promising something. Subsequently, Austin came to the view that assertions are also acts, speech acts, just like promises, and that they ought to be regarded as a separate subclass.

Austin attempted to set up a systematic speech act theory. Any linguistic utterance is a speech act, in which we can formally distinguish how and which words are uttered in a syntactically orderly fashion (which he called ‘the locutionary aspect’), what kind of speech act is performed (‘the illocutionary aspect’), and what effect the speech act is supposed to establish (‘the perlocutionary aspect’). For instance: if someone standing next to a frozen pond yells: ‘The ice is thin!’, the locutionary aspect is the syntactically correctly formulated indicative ‘The ice is thin’; the illocutionary aspect is a warning, and the perlocutionary aspect is the effect on the audience of not attempting to walk on the ice.

Austin tried to give a systematic classification of speech acts on the basis of their illocutionary aspect. However, it turned out to be extremely difficult to provide a systematic taxonomy of speech acts in a principled manner. Some philosophers argue that this was to be expected, since any attempt to develop a systematic account of meaning ignores the context-sensitivity of language.

With respect to the question of the opposition between realism and idealism ordinary language philosophers are nowadays often viewed as being committed to a naïve realist, common sense view of reality, since that is the conception of reality that is presupposed by ordinary language. Opposed to Austin’s reverence for ordinary language was his collega proximus at Oxford, A. J. Ayer, who believed, on the contrary, that ultimately all problems, even philosophical problems, were empirical ones that ultimately had to be solved by natural science.

5 • Language and the unity of science

Ayer’s source of inspiration was the Vienna Circle. In the thirties he had visited Vienna and he had met the Circle’s most prominent members, Schlick, Carnap, Neurath, who defended what they called ‘logical positivism’. Impatient with the lack of progress in philosophy they urged that the scientific method ought to be applied in philosophy. They rejected intuitions as a reliable source of knowledge on the basis of the following argument. According to the logical positivists, the appeal to intuitions has led to meaningless metaphysics forming houses of cards that can be blown away if we adhere to the methodology of empirical science. In their battle against metaphysics the logical positivists employed a singular weapon: the principle of verification. Its content was: the meaning of a sentence is its method of verification. The principle was intended to establish a clear criterion on the basis of which one could accept a sentence as meaningful or reject it as nonsense.

In the case of mathematical statements, the method of verification was the construction of a proof. In the case of empirical statements, even as outlandish as ‘On the back of the moon a Japanese magnolia is coming into leaf’, the principle leads us to conclude that this is a meaningful sentence, because we are able to stipulate a method of how we could verify the statement. But in the case of a statement like ‘Being and Nothing are ultimately the same’, a phrase the logical positivists interpreted as a metaphysical one, there is no way of verifying it. It, therefore, ought to be rejected as nonsense.

Straightforward as the principle might seem, it encountered an insurmountable objection. What if we apply the principle to its own content? How can we verify the principle of verification? It turns out that we cannot, and it must therefore be rejected as an article of faith. In philosopher’s jargon: the principle is self- referentially incoherent. Logical positivism rested on a metaphysical assumption.

6 • The philosophy of logical atomism

Logical positivists have often been accused of defending a shallow form of scientism. The book they hailed as their source of inspiration most certainly was not. The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the most dense, impenetrable and intriguing works of philosophy ever written. The logical positivists interpreted the following proposition from this work as, what they called, the above mentioned principle of verification: “To understand a sentence means knowing what has to be the case, if the proposition is true.” (proposition 4.024). This proposition, however, ought to be read against the background of Wittgenstein’s picture theory of meaning.

As we have seen, Russell argued in his theory of descriptions that the grammatical form of a sentence conceals its logical deep structure. This was a poignant criticism of Frege, but it leaves unanswered the question, to which Frege did propose an answer: what is meaning? Russell and Wittgenstein collaborated in the years preceding the First World War on a theory that should provide an answer to precisely that question. According to their philosophy of logical atomism, we should further pursue the analysis of the logical structure underneath the grammatical surface structure of a sentence. Somewhere in that depth language ‘hits’ reality. The logical atoms out of which a meaningful sentence is composed have a one to one relationship with the logical structure of the state of affairs it describes. This brought Wittgenstein to the view that, since ordinary language sentences are meaningful, such a sentence must be a logical picture of the state of affairs it describes. But what about the statements of logic, that is, statements that tell us something about the relationship between sentences? Are they too pictures of states of affairs? And what about ethical statements or other philosophical assertions that do not seem to state a matter of fact? Do they all represent states of affairs? To account for the meaningfulness of logic Wittgenstein appeals to a distinction between saying and showing. Sentences can only be meaningful if they say something about the world. Logical sentences do not say something about the world. In acknowledging the truth of a logical tautology, we show that we have understood the meaning of the logical symbols, but we have not said anything about the world. The distinction can also be applied to ethics. An ethical statement doesn’t say something about the world. Ethics is a matter beyond the limits of language: it has to be shown. You do not say that you are a good human being, you show that in your actions.

A question that is left unanswered in the Tractatus is what these mysterious logical atoms are. According to Russell, they are the simplest pieces of information that we acquire in sense perception. As he calls them: they are ‘sense data’, to which we refer with logical proper names like ‘this’ and ‘that’. Sense data are the deliverances of the senses to the mind. It is a notion that Russell picked up from psychologists, true to his belief that philosophy is part of the unity of science.

7 • Meaning is use

After the Second World War, A.J. Ayer, following Russell, employed the scientific notion of sense data8 to give a foundation for our knowledge about the external world. According to Ayer this foundation is based on the deliverances of the senses, sense data, whether these represent reality truthfully in veridical perceptions or not, as in is the case in hallucinations. Ayer sees it as the task of philosophers to construct a coherent and consistent theory about the external world. First, philosophers should develop and employ a ‘sense datum language’ in terms of which we describe our perceptions: yellow-here, feeling so-and-so. Second, philosophers should translate this so called ‘sense datum language’ into ordinary ‘object’ language (‘banana’) and then examine which sentences of this language fit into a coherent theory about the world and which cannot and are presumably reports of illusions.

The first problem is the simple question of what such a sense-datum language amounts to. It has turned out that it is nearly impossible to design a language with words that only refer to sense data, like green-here, bitter-here. But let us suppose that it were possible to do so. What are then the requirements such a sense datum language would have to meet? First and foremost, since we cannot share our sense data, it needs to be an essentially private language, in the sense that only the person whose language it is can understand it. In his second major book, Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein argued that such a private language is impossible. Let us suppose, first, that it is possible to give meaning to words for private experiences. Whenever experience Y occurs, we say ‘Oeph’ in our private language. In ordinary life and language, we occasionally make mistakes. We think we see a green lemon, but it is a lime. After having examined the fruit we correct our mistake. This calibration on objects in reality is an essential element in speaking a language. Is such a correction procedure possible in a private language? Wittgenstein claims that it is not: “[...] I have no criterion of correctness. One would like to say: whatever is going to seem right to me is right. And that only means that here we can’t talk about ‘right’.

But there is an even more fundamental problem that Wittgenstein exposes at the beginning of the Philosophical Investigations. We assumed that we could give in our private language names to private experiences, supposedly in ostensive definitions, i.e. definitions of a word by pointing to the object or property that is the meaning of the word, for example ‘This is yellow’. But the very idea that putting a name to an object (in general, not just to private experiences) as a kind of label to secure the tie between language and reality is a mistake. That there is more to meaning than being a label for an object (what we have called ‘the naïve theory of meaning’) Wittgenstein shows with a description of a particular situation in which certain words are used in a particular way (which Wittgenstein calls ‘a language game’). Imagine a builder and an assistant. The builder shouts ‘Hammer!’. Suppose all there is to meaning and understanding is a connection between the name and the object it stands for. In that case the assistant only has to establish a connection in his mind between word and the object hammer; he only has to know of what object the word hammer is a label. But, of course, the boss demands more, he wants his assistant to bring him the hammer, so he can apply this tool. By yelling ‘Hammer!’ he wants his assistant to do something.

Wittgenstein condensed his view in the slogan: “the meaning of a word is its use in the language.” Wittgenstein thus seemed to pursue a middle course. On the one hand he rejected the idea that words could be tied to objects in reality via ostensive definitions; on the other hand, he rejected Locke’s idea that words refer primarily to mental ideas in our minds. This raises the question where Wittgenstein stands in the realism versus idealism debate. Many interpreters attribute to Wittgenstein a version of linguistic idealism. What they mean by that can be elucidated with an example. Two people walk along the beach. Suppose one of them knows the meaning of the word wave, the other does not. “See how many waves are approaching the beach,” the person who knows the meaning of the word wave exclaims. The other person only perceives a mass of dark, grey water. Knowing the meaning of the word wave enables someone to perceive structure in an amorphous lump of grey water. Linguistic idealism is the position that understanding a language provides one with a capacity to impose particular structures on reality as we perceive it. In terms of the Fregean theory of meaning, described in this chapter: we first have to grasp the sense of a word, in order to be able to single out the object the word refers to.

The question now arises of how we get from the sense to the object referred to. A simple answer to that question is that the sense is a description of that object. However, we have learnt from Russell’s criticism of Frege that descriptions cannot be equated with proper names. Boris Johnson will always be called ‘Boris Johnson’, but he will not always be the present prime minister of the UK. So that description is, at the time of writing, true of Johnson, but false at a date in the future.

This has led Saul Kripke to call proper names rigid designators. Kripke was a brilliant logician, who already as a student in high school laid the foundations for a formal system in which arguments that employ the notions of necessity and possibility could be examined. Rigid designators are expressions that refer to the same thing in every possible situation. ‘Johnson’ is therefore, a rigid designator, but ‘the present prime minister of the UK’ is not. Kripke, and his colleague, Hilary Putnam, claim that words for natural kinds such as water are also rigid designators. At some point in history an initial ‘baptism’ has taken place when someone named an object by pointing to it, e.g. “This is an elm”. After that initial baptism ceremony later uses of the word ‘elm’ can all be brought back to this initial name-giving: there is a causal link through history that connects present people using the word ‘elm’ to that very same object that has been baptised with the natural kind term ‘elm’. So, if someone now refers to an object by saying ‘That is an elm’, it has to belong to the very same natural kind as the object in the initial baptism ceremony, otherwise the word has not been used correctly.

This so-called ‘causal theory of reference’ brings us back to the view that names are labels we attach to objects that are already out there, waiting for their discovery. Kripke and Putnam, near the end of the 20th century, have reversed the linguistic turn. Their philosophy of language presupposes an outspoken form of realism: there is a ready-made world out there, consisting of discrete objects to which we assign words as labels.

8 • Conclusion

The ‘causal theory of reference’ became the dominant theory at the end of the 20th century. The course of the history of philosophy of language thus was a full circle, because this meant a return to the idea that the meaning of a noun is the object it stands for, what we have called ‘the naïve theory of meaning’. What have we learned along the way? We cannot but conclude that the philosophy of language cannot carry the weight it was supposed to do. The fundamental ontological question of whether realism or idealism about the external world is true cannot be answered within the philosophy of language. Nor can an analysis of thinking be complete, if it only analyses thoughts that can be put into words. So, the fundamental tenets of the philosophy of language with which we started this chapter have to be rejected. But what has been achieved by focussing on language is that philosophy has become much more precise, technical in certain respects, and more aware of its own methodology. Philosophy of language has produced indispensable tools, like Frege’s distinction between sense and reference, and awareness of the distinction between talking about words and talking about things, for doing philosophy in many of its sub-disciplines, like meta-ethics, metaphysics and the philosophy of mind. In general, it has made philosophers even more sensitive to the important but sometimes elusive role of language in the way in which we phrase our philosophical ideas, problem and theories. As an offshoot: although the philosophy of language in the broad sense might no longer be at the centre stage of philosophy, contemporary philosophy of language (in the narrow sense as ‘philosophy of linguistics’) is flourishing, as a branch of science independent from philosophy.


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