10283 - Philosophy of Language (1)

Academic Year 2023/2024

Course contents

THE COMPLETE COURSE SYLLABUS IS AVAILABLE ON VIRTUALE AT THIS LINK: https://virtuale.unibo.it/mod/resource/view.php?id=1067190


Identity, Existence and Truth

In this course we will discuss some fundamental topics in the philosophy of language, such as identity, truth, and existence. We will address these topics by first introducing some well-known conundrums from five classic essays by key figures in the history of analytic philosophy (Frege, Russell, Tarski, and Quine) who have contributed greatly to the development of the discipline. We will analyse and evaluate some of the solutions discussed in these essays, also paying attention to the historical context in which the puzzles were introduced. There are three advantages of this approach: first, it will prompt us to reflect on deep and fundamental philosophical problems; second, it will bring to the fore a crucial aspect of philosophical practice, namely what it means to engage with a philosophical problem in search of a solution; third, by analysing four classic essays by key analytical philosophers, it will provide some historical background. We will focus in particular on the following puzzles:

P1) If Hesperus and Phosphorus are linguistic expressions referring to the same planet, Venus, why does the phrase 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' seem more informative than the banal phrase 'Hesperus is Hesperus'? (a puzzle about identity statements)

P2) The sentence 'the current king of France is bald' is true or its negation is true. However, if we look at the lists of men who are bald and those of men who are not bald, we do not find the current type of France. Are we to conclude, contrary to appearances, that the sentence is meaningless?

P3) Suppose I assert: 'Everything I say is false'. How can my statement be true without also being false? (a puzzle about truth)

P4) How can we consistently deny the existence of a thing? For example, how can we consistently deny the existence of Pegasus if, by saying that Pegasus does not exist, we are apparently saying something true about Pegasus? (A puzzle about non-existent entities)


[English versions of the texts are available if needed]

Frege, Gottlob (1892) “Über Sinn und Bedeutung” in Zeitschrift
für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik, 100:25–50, rist. in G. Frege Kleine Schriften, a cura di I. Angelelli, Hildesheim, Olms, 1990; trad. it. di E. Picardi, “Senso e significato” in Gottlob Frege Senso, funzione e concetto. Scritti filosofici. (a cura di C. Penco e E. Picardi), Bari: Laterza, 2001 (si consiglia la seconda II ristampa con correzioni refusi). Ristampato in in P. Casalegno, P. Frascolla, A. Iacona, E. Paganini, M. Santambrogio (a cura di), Filosofia del linguaggio, Milano: Raffaello Cortina, 2003: 18–41.

Russell, Bertrand (1905) “On Denoting”, Mind, 14:479–493; Trad.
it. di A. Bonomi “Sulla denotazione” in in A. Bonomi (a cura di), La
struttura logica del linguaggio, Milano: Bompiani, 1973: 179–195.

Quine, Willard V.O. (1948) “On What there is”, Review of Metaphysics 2 (5):21–36; rist. con aggiunte in W.V.O. Quine, From a Logical Point of View, Cambridge (Mass.), 1953. Trad. it. di P. Valore “Che cosa c’è” in Da un punto di vista logico. Saggi logico-filosofici., Cortina, Milano, 2004:13–33.

Tarski, Alfred (1944) "The semantic conception of truth and the foundation of semantics", Philosophy and Phenomenological Rsearch 4:341-376; trad. it in L. Linsky (a cura di), Semantica e filosofia del linguaggio, Il Saggiatore, Milano, 1969.

Teaching methods

Active learning methodology

This teaching seeks to implement an active teaching method aimed at facilitating learning in a context of group activities.

To do this, three actions will be implemented

1. the use of peer instruction during lessons;
2. the use of the Wooclap application (http://wooclap.com);
3. the use of the Perusall social reading platform (http://perusall.com).

This course will have an optional blended format in which of in addition to face-to-face lectures there will be activities in asynchronous online on the Perusall platform (Perusall.com).


Course Unit 1: Introduction to the Philosophy of Language course and methodology

Lecture 1-2: introduction to the course

Course unit 2: identity and propositional attitudes puzzles

  - asynchronous online activity on Perusall on Frege's "Sense and Meaning"
- Lessons 3-6: presentation of the identity puzzle and discussion

Course Unit 3: The existence puzzle

- asynchronous online activity on Perusall on Russell "On denotation" and Quine "On what is there"

- Lessons 6-9: presentation of the identity puzzle and discussion

Course Unit 4: the truth puzzle

-asynchronous online activity on Perusall on Tarski's "The semantic conception of truth".
- Lessons 9-15: presentation of the liar's paradox and discussion


The methodology employed is that of peer instruction invented by Harvard experimental physicist Eric Mazur (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer_instruction ). Peer instruction is a teaching method that exploits the potential of social interaction to guide learning. Synchronous face-to-face lectures will take place by means of a series of in-class comprehension questions -ConcepTests- to test understanding of specific points of the course material, students will answer these questions and work in small groups confronting each other when it comes to addressing the points that are most difficult for them. The lecturer will play both the role of knowledge transmitter when it comes to clarifying some misunderstandings in relation to the questions, and the role of facilitator when it comes to facilitating the discussion of the questions in groups. Each lesson will presuppose the reading of materials that will be read and discussed by the students beforehand online in the digital asynchronous social learning environment provided by the Perusall.com platform (specially designed by Mazur's Harvard group to support peer instruction).

During in-class hours, students will be able to answer questions posed by the lecturer using the free Wooclap application (http://wooclap.com/ ). Depending on the answers given, the teacher will or will not ask the students to discuss with each other for a few minutes and then check their understanding of the point again. The answers given in class will be stored anonymously in the system and will not be assessed for the final examination.

The conduct of an in-class lesson using peer instruction can be illustrated with the following steps:

  1. Students read the assigned materials on the Perusall social reading software (https://perusall.com/) and leave questions and comments before coming to class.
    Students will have access to the online course materials via both Virtual and Perusall (https://perusall.com/ ).
    Attending students will be asked to read the assigned material on Perusall once a week and make comments and questions online (especially on points that are not clear to you).
  2. The lecturer reviews the students' feedback on the texts read in advance on Perusall by interacting with them asynchronously.
    During face-to-face class time, students' misconceptions and difficulties that arose online through students' questions on Perusall are elicited, addressed and resolved.
    A lesson is divided into a series of comprehension questions -ConcepTest- possibly preceded by mini-lessons.
    A ConcepTest is a short conceptual question designed to give students an opportunity to test their learning (student observations on Perusall are the best material for creating ConcepTests). Wooclap (https://app.wooclap.com/) will be used to have the ConcepTests answered during the lesson.
    The structure of a face-to-face lesson is as follows:
    A lesson topic can be presented with a mini-lesson (10-15 minutes) or you go directly to the question.
    A ConcepTest is presented.
    Students first answer the ConcepTest individually.
    If most students provide incorrect answers, students are asked to discuss their answers in small groups with their peers and instructors, and then answer again.
    The cycle is completed with an activity to clarify any incorrect answers through guided class discussion.

Assessment methods

The final grade in the examination will be based on the evaluation of a written essay (also called 'paper') and an oral examination in which the essay will be discussed.

The length of the essay is:

(1) for those who have enrolled in Perusall and done all the assignments (attending students) short essay;

(2) for those who have not enrolled in Perusall or have not done all the assignments long essay (non-attending students).

Essay format: For guidance on how to format the essay, it is very useful to consult the rules for writing the essay in the philosophy workshop (obviously ignoring the guidance on the number of pages):
https://corsi.unibo.it/laurea/Filosofia/laboratorio-di-filosofia-norme-per-la-redazione-norme-di-redazione.pdf/@@download/file/NORMS%20 OF%20DRAWING.

Short essay length (for those who have enrolled in Perusall and have done all 4 assignments): at least 1000 words and no more than 2000 words (all inclusive: first name, surname, course of study, title, bibliography).

Length of long essay (for those who have not enrolled in Perusall or have not done all 4 assignments): at least 1500 words and no more than 2500 words (all inclusive: first name, surname, freshman, course of study, title, bibliography).

Formatting: double line spacing, font size 12
Electronic format pdf, doc or odt.

Essay topic: The choice of topic must be within the course content.

The reference bibliography consists of the texts covered in the course together with any secondary literature to be found in the syllabus bibliography that will be provided on Virtuale.

Submission:The essay must be submitted online on Compilatio (the link will be given on Almaesami at the same time as the roll call).

ERASMUS STUDENTS: erasmus students can write the essay in English and can make use of an equivalent bibliography in English.


I will use these criteria to determine the following assessment thresholds:

30 and praise excellent proof, both in knowledge and in the critical and expressive articulation.

30 excellent test, complete knowledge, well articulated and correctly expressed, with some critical ideas.

27-29 good test, comprehensive and satisfactory knowledge, substantially correct expression.

24-26 discrete test, knowledge present in the substantial points, but not exhaustive and not always correctly articulated.

21-23 sufficient proof, knowledge present in a sometimes superficial way, but the general thread is understood. Short and often inappropriate and incomplete expression and articulation.

18-21 superficial knowledge, the common thread is not understood with continuity. The expression and the articulation of the discourse also have significant gaps.

<18 insufficient evidence, absent or very incomplete knowledge, lack of orientation in the discipline, defective and inappropriate expression. Examination not passed.


People with disabilities and DSA

Persons with disabilities or specific learning disorders are entitled to special adaptations in relation to their condition, subject to assessment by the University Service for Students with Disabilities and DSA. Please do not contact the lecturer, but contact the Service for an appointment. The Service will determine what adjustments are appropriate. Further information can be found at site.unibo.it/studenti-con-disabililita-e-dsa/it/per-studenti.

Teaching tools

Virtuale, Wooclap, Perusall

Office hours

See the website of Sebastiano Moruzzi


Quality education

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.