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Philosophy of Language


Module Code: PI8003

  • ECTS Weighting: 10
  • Lecturer: Prof. James Levine
  • Contact Hours: 22

Module Outline

Throughout the history of philosophy, the charge has often been made that a given position is “self–refuting” or that it cannot be coherently thought or stated.  Such a criticism is often made, for example, against certain forms of relativism; but it is also made by Berkeley against the “realism” he opposes, as well as by critics of Kant, who claim it is “self–refuting” for him to hold that we can know nothing about things “as they are in themselves”.  The purpose of this seminar is to examine such “self–refutation” arguments—in particular, to consider if they have a common structure and to examine what, if anything, they establish.  To do so, we will look at a number of sources, including recent writings of such philosophers as Donald Davidson (“On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme”), Thomas Nagel (The View from NowhereThe Last Word), Paul Boghossian (Fear of Knowledge), Barry Stroud (Engagement and Metaphysical Dissatisfaction) and Graham Priest (Beyond the Limits of Thought) as well as earlier writings from Parmenides, Plato, Berkeley, Kant, Russell, Wittgenstein, A. N. Prior, J. L. Mackie, and John Anderson, the influential Australian philosopher.  Some of the readings we will look at will attempt to articulate the structure of self–refutation arguments; others either use such arguments against others or defend themselves against the charge that their own position is self–refuting.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Identify similarities and differences in different uses of self–refutation arguments.
  • Critically assess whether metaphysical conclusions can be drawn from self–refutation arguments.
  • Describe and assess the role of self–refutation arguments in this history of philosophy

PhD students will be required to write one substantial essay (3,000-4,000 words). Students should confirm the essay title with their lecturer.