Steve Cooke

measuring the boundaries of our nation by the sun

In which philosophy of language proves somewhat soporific


It’s been a surprisingly busy week, and I’m rapidly learning that I should aim for just one of these readings per week and treat any I manage above that as a bonus.

Today I managed a chapter on the philosophy of language (by Martin Davies), which I selected because I find the field somewhat intimidating. I suspect that this is down to having studied politics for my degree and only come to philosophy during my PhD – philosophy of language is one of those areas that looks like it’s intimately connected with the very formal study of philosophy as an academic discipline.

Philosophy of language is concerned with linguistic meaning – whether of linguistic utterances or of the very idea of linguistic meaning itself. Davies’ chapter is clearly written, and its subject matter turned out not to be nearly as terrifyingly hard as I’d always imagined. However, I did come away from reading it with the realisation that this is definitely not an area of philosophy that I’ll be intentionally delving into again any time soon because, aside from its intersections with philosophy of mind, it seems astonishingly boring. I confess that, as a result, I skimmed several sections of the second half of the chapter. In my defence, it was a very long chapter and there wasn’t a single crazy hypothetical to snag my attention anywhere to be found!


Author: Steve C

I work in normative ethics, specialising in animal and ethics and political philosophy.

4 thoughts on “In which philosophy of language proves somewhat soporific

  1. A couple of my friends rave about Jaques Derrida and, purely by osmosis, I have become quite fond of the philosophy of language. Though it frequently manages to baffle me … albeit in a way that I “get” if you see what I mean.

    • The stuff I’ve been reading today is analytic philosophy of language – Derrida of a very different school (post-structuralist/Continental). I can’t comment on Derrida’s philosophy because, if I’m honest, I’ve never been able to extract any actual meaning from the words he puts on the page – the best I can manage is a feeble grasping at something approaching meaning. Take this video of the man smugly gibbering at camera:

      • Ah I hadn’t seen that one before, brilliant. Odd that I find him more accessible than many other philosophers; though I confess I’ve not read any of his work which, I am led to believe, is quite a challenge.

      • It’s a tremendous challange. When reading works like those of Derrida, I treat them as prose rather than philosophy and content myself to enjoying the feeling that I’m encountering something that probably profound, but which I will not be able to explain or learn anything relevant or useful from.

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