Reading books about philosophy of language I came cross a lot of terminology like "metaphysics", "epistemology", "aesthetics", "logical positivist" etc. As I'm a total beginner in this area, I'm looking for a book on philosophy of language that's suited for beginners, i.e. that explains the terminology that's used.

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    I disagree about the SEP, it's especially not handy for beginners. I also don't quite understand your question. Are you looking for a book to check the terminology you didn't understand, or for a book on philosophy of language, that is easier to read because it explains its own terminology?
    – iphigenie
    Mar 29, 2013 at 10:13
  • @iphigenie Latter Mar 29, 2013 at 11:24
  • I edited the question accordingly, I hope that's alright.
    – iphigenie
    Mar 29, 2013 at 12:07
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    Try the IEP its an easier read than the SEP, its less academic. Also Sophies world is a novel about philosophical ideas that you may find rewarding. Mar 29, 2013 at 21:43
  • I'd suggest use of Wikipedia, while already reading a book, to get informed about the unknown concepts. You can further research those concepts after completing the book you are currently reading. I have found out that following a linear path from basic subjects to advanced ones when studying a school as a beginner is not more advantageous than not doing so; therefore when in such position, I pick whatever concept excites me the most and start from that.
    – user5555
    Feb 20, 2014 at 12:28

4 Answers 4


William Lycan's book is easy to read, though perhaps a bit dry. I've used it for an introductory course once. On the other hand, you could also just start by reading original texts. Basic Topics in the Philosophy of Language, edited by Robert Harnish is one of the best collections of seminal articles. It seems to be out of print at the moment, but perhaps you're lucky and spot it in a used book store at a reasonable price.


A great book on terminology would be Papineaus "Philosophical Devices: Proofs, Probabilities, Possibilities, And Sets". It introduces almost everything to get started with philosophy,e.g. the mathematical apparatus, logics, the important distinctions: type/token, use/mention, a priori/a posteriori, analytic/synthetic, necessary/contingent/possible and so on.

You won´t find anything on logical positivism in it, though (i think).

  • The question was about finding a book about philosophy of language that doesn't use too much terminology or explains the one it does use, not about a book on terminology.
    – iphigenie
    Mar 29, 2013 at 17:15
  • Papineaus book introduces all relevant terms, which is what OP wanted. Especially the Chapter "naming and necessity" should be relevant for philosophy of language and it helps with understanding the books that OP is reading. Since the Philosophy of language makes use of maths and logic (see frege and russell) aswell, i advise to read the whole book.
    – Lukas
    Mar 29, 2013 at 17:37
  • @iphigenie - the actual terms that OP posted aren't really language-specific, so it's a little difficult to assess what OP really wants. I agree with suggesting Papineau, or even Baggini's Philosopher's Toolkit. Any decent philosophy dictionary would seem to fit the bill here.
    – Ryder
    Apr 2, 2013 at 9:21

I quite enjoyed Scott Soames' Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, Volumes 1 and 2. It provides critical introductions to some of the more important philosophy of language writers--from 1900 to the present.


If I were you, I'd start with Alexander Miller's book. (I like it better than the Lycan intro text mentioned in one of the other comments, because I find it easier reading for beginners.)

I'd also get the Martinich & Sosa anthology and read along those primary texts with the Miller.

After that you'd be ready for a more advanced text like Soames's Philosophy of Language book (which is different than his two volume history of analytic philosophy--both are excellent resources though).

  • The Martinich and Sosa volume is quite pricey, but the course I took based on Lycan's volume involved photocopying a vast majority of it. So I recommended it despite the price.
    – virmaior
    Feb 19, 2014 at 17:08

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