This course reviews central issues in theory of meaning, in particular the relation between meaning and reference to objects. What explains our ability to refer to objects? Is the ability to think about an object a matter of standing in an appropriate causal relation to it? And if we take this view, does it help us to understand how thought might be in the end a biological phenomenon? We will look at basic lines of thought set out here by Kripke and Putnam, and theorists such as Evans and Dretske who have built on their ideas. We will also look at the contrasting view of meaning and reference presented by the later Wittgenstein. We will begin, however, with the classical views of Frege and Russell. There are five units in the course: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Sense and Reference The Causal Theory of Reference Naturalizing Content Following a Rule Acquaintance There is a basic distinction between a singular term that refers to a particular object, and a general term that can be used to describe any one of a range of objects. Examples of singular terms are proper names such as 'Wittgenstein', or 'California'. Examples of general terms are predicates such as '___ is a philosopher', or '___ is on the coast'. Our focus will be on the question how it can be that singular terms refer to objects. In the first unit we will look at Frege's argument that there must be such thing as the sense of a singular term, in virtue of which it refers to objects. Is the sense of a singular term, as Searle suggests, a family of descriptions? Or is the situation rather, as Russell suggests, that reference is too primitive a phenomenon to be explained in terms of descriptions, and has rather to be explained in terms of our immediate contact with the objects we think about? In the second unit we will look at theories that develop Russell's idea. They say that reference is a causal phenomenon: what allows you to think or talk about an object is that it has had some causal impact on you. These theories reject the idea that what sets up the connection between a name and an object is a set of descriptions. They say that what makes the connection between the name and the object is some causal connection between the object and the use of the name. These causal theories of reference can be put into the broader context of a view about what makes it possible for biological organisms in general to represent the world around them. Meaning and reference are achieved by creatures which are part of the physical world; but how can a merely physical creature have managed to get into a position whereby it can think and talk about its surroundings? What makes the difference between a creature that is capable of meaning and reference and one that is not? In the third unit we will look at attempts to answer these questions that generalize the causal theory of reference. Fixing the reference of a singular term - setting up the connection between the name and the object - is an element in there being such a thing as gettting it right or wrong when you say something. But how could merely causal or biological phenomena have brought it about that there is such a thing as getting it right or wrong when you speak? And what brings it about that we all use words in sufficiently similar ways for communication to be possible? Wittgenstein argued that no explanations can be given of these points. If this is correct, then the fact that there is such a thing as getting it right or wrong in your use of language cannot be grounded in merely causal phenomena. And there is no explanation of the possibility of communication. In the final unit we will look again at Russell's idea that acquaintance with objects is what makes it possible for us to refer to them. We will review Davidon's idea that the mistake was to talk about reference at all. And we will look at a recent attempt by a psychologist to give a scientific account of acquaintance with objects, in line with the causal theory. Finally, we will see that the force of Russell's idea has to do with the role of conscious experience in making it possible for us to think about the objects around us. By the end you should have some knowledge of the principal problems and theories in this area, and you should be able to make an independent assessment of them.