78012 - Mind and Language (1)

Course Unit Page


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

Quality education

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

This course will introduce to some central topics and arguments in the philosophy of mind and language in the tradition of analytic philosophy. The main aim is to engage in detail with some arguments and texts that have played a central role in contemporary discussions. Possible topics include: the nature of linguistic and mental content, the nature of thought and its relation to linguistic understanding; what is reference and meaning and what are their relations to intentionality and concepts; the relation between our inferential and representiational abilities and the nature of our rationality; the nature and our knowledge of our mental states; the relation between the physical and the mental domains. Students will acquire an understanding of some central topics in the philosophy of mind and language and they will be in a position to explain and to engage competently orally and in writing with these problems. More specifically they will be in a position to: * master the central concepts in the theory of language and mind; * understand the philosophical positions involved on the debates; * understand the arguments in favour or against the relevant philosophical theses; * have some appreciation of the significance of these issues for other areas of philosophy.

Course contents

Wittgenstein and Meaning Skepticism - the Rule Following Paradox

In many human activities there is a difference between a correct and an incorrect move. The correctness or otherwise of the moves we make in a practice therefore seems to be determined, at least in part, by rules that, in some way, guide our action in relation to the purpose of the practice. But if there are rules, there are also facts related to what the rules require, facts that, if we are capable of being part of this practice because guided by these rules, we must be able to learn and apply by acting in relation to them. Therefore, linguistic practice seems to have to incorporate this distinction: the assent to a certain assertion, expressed in a language that is understood, can therefore be correct or not. It therefore seems that the possibility of a linguistic practice obliges us to have to conceive what constitutes the correctness or incorrectness of an assertion regardless of one's disposition towards it. So there must be fats related to the rules governing the correctness of linguistic practice. Let's call these facts semantic rules - facts related to what semantic rules require. Semantic facts are the facts that, provided we are able to use a language because guided by the relative semantic rules, we must be able to learn and apply by acting in relation to them.

The central question is therefore: how is it possible to be guided by the semantic rules of the language we understand? It seems that three conditions must be met (Wright 2007):

  1. the semantic rules must instruct the conditions independently of the speakers, otherwise there would not be a real guide based on them (condition of objectivity) - which fact can render this operating condition so that it is already established, prior to each use, that a speaker competent should act and respond in a certain way to use the language competently?
  2. If our linguistic practice is guided by semantic rules, they must be made about the identity of the specific rule that we intend to follow that distinguish it from other rules (relevant condition) - but how can there be such facts if what we have said and done is compatible with having intended to follow in an indefinite number of rules different?
  3. Assuming that semantic rules have their own independence and specific identity, how can we account for our ability to be sensitive to what these rules require? How can we be guided by these rules?

In this course we will see how, by first formulating the problem in these terms, Ludwig Wittgenstein tried  to address the question in Philosophical Investigations (1953) and how the question was tackled later in contemporary analytic philosophy through the study of most prominent contributions - in particularly the ones by Saul Kripke, John McDowell, Paul Boghossian and Crispin Wright.


The complete syllabus (complete bibliography, exam methods, lesson calendar, etc.) will be available on IOL e-learning.

Class schedule

II period: Monday h. 1pm-3pm (aula A, via Centotrecento), Wednesday 1pm-3pm (aula D, via Centotrecento), Thursday h. 3pm-5pm (aula D, via Centotrecento)


Mandatory readings

  1. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophische Untersuchungen (1953), 4a ed. revised by P.M.S. Hacker and J. Schulte, Oxford: Blackwell, 2009. [Basic course's text in which Wittgenstein presents the question of following a rule, we will concentrate on §§ 138-242].
  2. Kripke, Saul (1982), Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An Elementary Exposition, Oxford: Blackwell.[The most famous and discussed interpretation of following a rule in which Kripke presents the skeptical paradox of following a rule and, arguing against any solution, offers a "skeptical solution" to the paradox.]
  3. Wright, Crispin. "Kripke's Account of the Argument against Private Language." Journal of Philosophy 71 (1984): 759-778. [Against Kripke, develops a primitivist response based on the speaker's intentions.]
  4. McDowell, John. "Wittgenstein on Following a Rule." Synthese 58 (1984): 325-363. [Against Kripke's interpretation and in favor of a "quietist" solution].
  5. Boghossian, Paul. "The Rule-Following Considerations." Mind 98 (1989): 507-549. [In favor of a primitivist solution.] Zalabardo, Jose. "Wittgenstein on Accord." Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 84 (2003): 311-329. [In favor of a Platonist solution.]
  6. Horwich, Paul. Wittgenstein's Metaphilosophy, Oxford: Oxfo University Press, chap. 5 "Kripke’s Wittgenstein". [In favor of a dispositionalist solution.]

Optional readings

  • McGinn, Marie (1997). Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgen- stein and the Philosophical Investigations. Routledge. [A clear and original guide to [1]]
  • Ahmed, Arif, (2010). Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. Continuum. [A very brief and clear introduction to [1]].
  • Baker, G. P. & Hacker, P. M. S. (2005). Wittgenstein: Understanding and Meaning: Volume 1 of an Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations, Part Ii: Exegesis §§1-184. Wiley-Blackwell. [The most detailed and phylogically accurate exegetical guide to the sections of [1] above to follow a rule.]
  • Baker, G. P. & Hacker, P. M. S. (2009). Wittgenstein: Rules, Grammar and Necessity: Volume 2 of an Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations, Essays and Exegesis 185-242. Wiley-Blackwell. [The most detailed and phylogically accurate exegetical guide to the steps of [1] on following a rule.]
  • Glock, Hans-Johann (1996). A Wittgenstein Dictionary. Wiley Blackwell. [A very rich guide to the terminology used by Wittgenstein in his works.]
  • Perissinotto, Luigi (1997). Wittgenstein. Una guida [in Italian]. Feltrinelli. [Short and clear introduction to Wittgenstein.]

Teaching methods

Together with the standard classroom lectures, I will employ quizzies on the elearning system and I will experiment the teaching method of peer instruction.

Assessment methods

Paper and discussion during exam.

I will use these verification criteria to determine the following evaluation 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.

Teaching tools

Slides, elearning and Wooclap software for the peer instruction method.

Office hours

See the website of Sebastiano Moruzzi