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Kripke on Wittgenstein on rules and private language


To: Yasuko S.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Kripke on Wittgenstein on rules and private language
Date: 26 June 2007 11:41

Dear Yasuko,

Thank you for your email of 19 June, with your essay, 'Playing a role rather than following a rule', which is on Kripke's argument in 'Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language'.

Two things I liked about this essay were that you show that you are prepared to take a position in criticizing Kripke's account of Wittgenstein, and also that you give arguments for your view. This is the kind of thing that a university admissions tutor will be looking for in evaluating your essay.

As you probably know, Kripke's book has generated a huge amount of discussion. Other things being equal, your argument would carry more weight if you located your view in relation to what other participants in this discussion have said. John McDowell, for example, argues that Wittgenstein accepts a 'naturalized Platonism', i.e. the acceptability from Wittgenstein's point of view of talking - within what McDowell terms the 'logical space of reasons' - about meanings in a Platonist style, provided that we do not succumb to the metaphysical illusion of interpreting this Platonism as entailing the existence of 'superlative facts' about meaning ('Mind and World' p. 92 and footnote).

I would emphasize that you don't have to do this. I don't want you to start worrying if you prefer to do a 'clean' critique based purely on your reading of Wittgenstein and Kripke. However, if any other readings have influenced our view, in any way, then it would be better to cite them rather than leave the reader guessing.

Also, I should warn you that I am going to make some remarks based on my take of Wittgenstein, Kripke and my reading of your essay. I don't want you to take these as 'criticisms' which necessarily require a response in terms of changing what you have written. My views are not definitive. By all means go through what you have written again and improve it if you can. If you can't then it is better to leave it.

Crispin Wright has a view about rule following (see e.g. his book 'Wittgenstein on the Foundations of Mathematics') which sounds a lot more like what one would get if one pursued Kripke's analogy with Hume's'sceptical solution' to the problem of causality. According to Hume, a statement to the effect that A caused B entails the existence of a universal generalization - referring to all places and times - which in effect makes a causal claim a very powerful claim. Similarly, Wright's idea is that meanings can be defined in terms of community agreement, which in a similar way makes the statement that an expression means such-and-such a very strong claim. Who can ever speak for the entire community with any degree of confidence?

Kripke doesn't seem to go as far as this. I'm wondering, therefore, whether your criticism in 3. ('Kripke's Begging the Question') is really fair. But let's look at the crucial paragraph in PI, 201. 'If everything can be made out to accord with the rule, then it can also be made to conflict with it. And so there would be neither accord nor conflict here.' Wittgenstein goes on to say, 'It can be seen that there is a MISUNDERSTANDING here...'. Kripke seems to want to agree that there is no such thing as 'accord' or 'conflict' with a rule. The rule has no logical power to constrain what we do therefore we are free do what we like. 'Each new application we make is a leap in the dark.'

Wittgenstein's reply to this would be, 'There is a way of grasping a rule which is NOT AN INTERPRETATION.' In other words, there ARE rules, and we DO grasp them. We show that we grasp them by what we do 'in actual cases'. This is 'naturalized Platonism'. It is perfectly OK to talk about meanings - provided that one is not tempted by the illusion of 'superlative facts' lying behind our ordinary practice of discussing and criticizing one another's use of words.

I think that you and Kripke are both right about the private language argument. The point is that there IS no single argument which deserves the label, 'private language argument'. 202 is a version of 'the' private language argument, and so is 258 (sensation 'S'), and so is 293 (beetle in the box). AND all the bits in between.

There are rules by virtue of which a person's use of words is evaluated as 'right' or 'wrong'. These rules presuppose the existence of a community and a 'form of life'. The philosopher who falls under the illusion of the 'private object' believes that he/she has found an object which the mind is so 'close' to the subject to that it is impossible to be 'wrong' about it. But this is complete nonsense. If you can't be 'wrong' then you can't be 'right' either. It's as simple as that. The way to read what Wittgenstein says about 'private language' is as responses to numerous attempts to defend the vision of the private object - all of which fail, for different - and interesting - reasons.

You say at one point, 'It is not the denial of a private inner realm of phenomena but it is nonsense to take it into consideration. The essential thing about inner experience is that nobody knows whether other people also have this or something else.' Wittgenstein would take that statement as an expression of the illusion that he is battling against (cf. the beetle in the box). Yes, he is not denying an inner realm of phenomena. He is not denying that we have pains, and do not merely exhibit pain behaviour etc. etc. But he would strongly reject the idea that I can never know whether my THIS (e.g. looking up at a blue sky) is the same or different (e.g. same or different colour - but we needn't stop there) from your THIS.

One possible reason why one might make this mistake is that Wittgenstein himself gives the example of sensation 'S'. So one is tempted to read his argument as saying that we 'have' S all right, but just can't talk about it, we can't introduce the term 'S' into the language game. Hence your example of the useless chess piece. However, this misses the point that this is a hypothesis which Wittgenstein is setting up for the sake of reductio ad absurdum. We do have sensations - including sensations we have never experienced before - but this is NOT how we refer to them.

I could go on, but I'll stop there. I haven't mentioned all the things I liked in your essay, so you might get the wrong impression. Overall, this is not a bad piece of work.

All the best,