Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Five Private Language Arguments (International Journal of Philosophical Studies 12, no. 2 (2004))


This paper distinguishes five key interpretations of the argument presented by Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations I, §258. I also argue that on none of these five interpretations is the argument cogent. The paper is primarily concerned with the most popular interpretation of the argument: that which that makes it rest upon the principle that one can be said to follow a rule only if there exists a “useable criterion of successful performance” (Pears) or “operational standard of correctness” (Glock) for its correct application. This principle, I suggest, is untrue. The private language argument upon which it rests therefore fails.


Section §258 of Part I of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (henceforth PI §258) is one of the best-known and most controversial passages of that book. Many philosophers - including Malcolm Budd, John Canfeild, Hans-Johann Glock, P.M.S. Hacker, Paul Johnston, Anthony Kenny, Norman Malcolm, Marie McGinn and David Pears - claim to discern within PI §258 and the surrounding text a powerful argument against the possibility of a necessarily private language. Others dismiss the argument, typically on the grounds that it is verificationist.

My aim in this paper is twofold. The first aim is clarity. The dispute over whether the private language argument of PI §258 is cogent has been confused by the fact there are now five main interpretations of PI §258 currently on offer, each interpretation presenting a fundamentally different argument. I will set out and distinguish clearly all five private language arguments. My second aim is to explain why none of these arguments is, as it stands, cogent.

I begin by setting out what all the commentators discussed in this paper believe to be the target of PI §258: the suggestion that one might possess a necessarily private language.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Systems of Measurement (Ratio, Vol. 18, pp. 145-164, June 2005 )

Systems of Measurement

Wittgenstein and Kripke disagree about the status of the proposition: the Standard Metre is one metre long. Wittgenstein believes it is necessary. Kripke argues that it is contingent. Kripke’s argument depends crucially on a certain sort of thought-experiment with which we are invited to test our intuitions about what is and isn’t necessary. In this paper I argue that, while Kripke’s conclusion is strictly correct, nevertheless similar Kripke-style thought experiments indicate that the metric system of measurement is after all relative in something like the way Wittgenstein seems to think. Central to this paper is a thought-experiment I call The Smedlium Case.