Professor Lars Hertzberg

Åbo Akademi University
Atkins Visiting Professor in Philosophy 2016

The class will take its departure from my work on a projected book with the working title Language is Things We Do. In the book, I will put two prevalent assumptions in contemporary philosophy of language to the question. It is widely assumed that what enables us to use words to communicate is the fact that language forms a system constituted by syntax and vocabulary. It is also assumed that a central task of philosophy is to lay out the boundaries of sense. What both assumptions have in common is the idea that the forms and conditions of sense can be laid down independently of particular speech situations. This assumption leads to a focus on sentences as the main units of inquiry.

I will argue that use precedes sense; thus it is our understanding of what is being said that enables us to identify the grammatical structure of a sentence, rather than the structure enabling our understanding. In fact, it is only when a sentence is regarded as an actual saying of something that it can truly be said to have a structure. Similarly, the question whether a range of words are nonsense or not can only genuinely be raised in the context of someone actually uttering the words. In this perspective, the focus of inquiry will be on conversational contexts rather than individual sentences.

The ideas are largely inspired by the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, but it will also contain a critique of some aspects of philosophers in the Wittgensteinian tradition. Among philosophers discussed are W V O Quine, Donald Davidson, J. L. Austin, Cora Diamond and James Conant.

The class will be presented in two sessions. Details of each session are provided below. RSVPs are required.


“How do sentences do it?”

Chapter 4 “In the midst of language”

Chapter 5 “Language: private, public, solitary, shared”

Chapter 6 “The issue of making sense”

Chapter 7 “Form, logic and language”

If you would like a Word version of the readings, these can be requested from