cod. 1005312

Academic year 2014/15
1° year of course - Second semester
Academic discipline
Filosofia e teoria dei linguaggi (M-FIL/05)
Istituzioni di filosofia
Type of training activity
30 hours
of face-to-face activities
6 credits
hub: -
course unit
in - - -

Integrated course unit module: LANGUAGE AND MIND

Learning objectives

Students will acquire a good command of the literature on some interesting problem, looming large in contemporary philosophy of language and metaphysics. They will learn how to examine and assess philosophical arguments.

The course will mainly be run as an ongoing seminar, in which students are expected to present and discuss some work among those selected by the instructor. This ought to improve on their ability to state their own views and defend them with good arguments. Learning abilities and a general capacity to analyse fairly complex written texts will also be enhanced.

This is clearly related to all the so-called Dublin descriptors.


The course is meant to address students with some elementary knowledge of contemporary philosophy of language and, in particular, of the literature on direct reference. Normally, such knowledge can be acquired in a three years undergraduate course in philosophy.

Course unit content

Artworks resemble utterances and scientific theories, in so far as they belong to symbolic systems and are meant to talk about the world they inhabit, which they cooperate in constructing. In the last century, around the Sixties, the works of some philosophers – such as Languages of Art. An Approach to a Theory of Symbols by Nelson Goodman (1968), Art and Illusion by Ernst Gombrich (1960), Art and Its Objects by Richard Wollheim (1968) – have transformed the subject of aesthetics and made a central chapter of epistemology of it. Here are some of the questions they were asking: What is a symbolic system? What is a representation and, in particular, what is depiction? Are the laws of perspective merely conventional?For which arts, besides music and literature, is it possible to devise a notation? What distinguishes analogical representations from digital ones?

The theory of symbols envisaged by Languages of Art eschews appealing either to the historical dimension or to intentionality in the definition of notational systems and, more generally, of symbolic systems and languages, both verbal and non-verbal. After a few decades, and in the light of recent developments in the philosophy of language and metaphysics on these topics, the course discusses the adequacy of Goodman’s theory in a number of respects. Some of the distinctions introduced by Goodman, such as that between copy and forgery, and that between autographic and allographic arts, will be revisited.

Full programme

This course is one half of the integrated course “Mind and Language”, coordinated by professor Andrea Bianchi. The vote got in this course contributes 50% of the final vote of the integrated course.


Reference will be made to the following works, among others:

- Goodman Nelson, 2008, I linguaggi dell’arte, Il Saggiatore.
- Kaplan, David, 1990, “Words”, Journal of Philosophy.
- Kripke Saul, 1980, Nome e necessità, Boringhieri.
- Schwartz, S.P., 1977, (ed.), Naming, Necessity, and Natural Kinds, Cornell University Press.
- Wittgenstein Ludwig, 2009, Ricerche filosofiche, Einaudi.

During the course, which will mainly be run as an ongoing seminar, other works might become relevant.

Teaching methods

The instructor will give lectures only at the earliest stages of the course. Later on, the course will mainly take the form of an ongoing seminar. Students will be asked to read, and present to the class, short articles selected by the instructor.

In the end part of the course, students will choose a topic for a short essay, of the length of approximately ten pages. Choice of the topic must be approved of by the instructor. The essay will consist in giving arguments for a clearly stated claim.

Assessment methods and criteria

At the end of the course, students must write an essay, approximately of ten typewritten pages, probing a particular issue related to the general problem of the nature of artefacts. In the essay, students will defend some claim of their own choice, possibly with convincing arguments but, in any case, with the greatest clarity. There is no oral exam.

Other information

Students of the Universities of Modena and Ferrara will be able to attend the course online, using the software provided by their university. They will be able to take active part in the discussion in real time.