PHI201 Reference and Truth

PHI201 Reference and Truth

End of Semester Essay Topics


See p.3 above for further details of word-count and deadline for the essay(s) etc. When there are multiple questions within a topic (e.g. a, b, c) you just choose one of them. If you are doing two shorter essays, they must be questions from two different topics.


Whichever essay(s) you choose, be sure to explain the key terms clearly and carefully. For each topic there are one or two central readings in the Resources List, which you should expect to spend a lot of time on. The various overview books listed in the Outline will be useful for all of these topics. You should feel free to use readings that go beyond the suggestions I have given, provided, of course, that you give full references in your bibliography. Feel free to check with me that I agree they are suitable, if you wish.


  1. Frege: Sense and Reference

Frege argues that the sense of an expression isn’t a mental image or other psychological entity. Explain and evaluate Frege’s argument.


  1. Descriptions
  2. Russell poses a number of puzzles involving descriptions. Explain two of these puzzles and how Russell’s theory is supposed to solve them. Are the solutions good ones?
  3. Explain and assess Strawson’s criticisms of Russell’s Theory of Descriptions and the alternative position he defends.
  4. Does consideration of what Donnellan calls referential uses of descriptions show that Russell has not captured the meaning of sentences involving definite descriptions?


  1. Descriptive Theories of Names

What are Description Theories of Proper Names? What arguments against these theories are there, and do they work?


  1. The Causal Theory of Names

Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of causal theories of names.


  1. The Causal Theory of Natural Kind Terms

Explain and assess the causal theory of reference for natural kind terms.

  1. Necessity, Analyticity and the A Priori

“All and only necessary truths are knowable a priori”. Discuss.



  1. Meaning, Intention and Convention
  2. a) Can I mean whatever I want by the noises I utter? Discuss in relation to Grice’s account of non-natural meaning.
  3. b) Explain Lewis’s account of convention. How successful is his account of the conventional nature of language?


  1. Implicature

What we communicate often goes beyond what we have literally said. How successful is Grice’s notion of implicature in illuminating this phenomenon?