Selected passages from the Secondary Literature on
Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language

1. Problems with Kripke's Sceptical Challenge/Paradox

"It is noteworthy that the way Kripke sets up his sceptical paradox initially parallels traditional scepticism in assuming that only entailment will license a derivative cognitive claim. Nothing in the past or in the present, in my mind or my behaviour, entails that I now mean by 'plus' what I previously meant by 'plus'. And so on. This observation parallels defences of scepticism about the past, about other minds or about induction. And, of course, we need not accept any such arguments. What shows that I meant green by 'green' is the way I explained 'green', and what shows that I meant grue is giving a quite different explanation. That I gave such-and-such an explanation does not entail that in applying 'green' to this object I am using 'green' in accord with what I meant by it hitherto, but it provides perfectly adequate grounds for that judgment (if anyone is interested in such a bizarre question)."
G. Baker and P. Hacker, Scepticism, Rules and Language, p. 33.

The 'hypothesis' that Joan means quus by 'plus' is one that can be empirically refuted, by asking Joan what 57 + 2 is. To be sure, it is 'logically possible' that Joan would still answer the question 'What is 2 + 57?' by saying '59' rather than by giving the answer which is correct on the 'quus' interpretation of 'plus', namely '5', since Joan might make a mistake in 'quaddition'. The inference from the response '2 + 57 =59' to 'Joan does not mean quus by "plus"' is not a deductive inference. But so what? As Austin famously reminded us, 'Enough is enough: it doesn't mean everything'.
Hilary Putnam, "On Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Mathematics", p. 253.

Kripke is . . . disarmingly aware that he is foisting onto Wittgenstein's text what is not to be found inscribed on its surface . . . . I have assumed that Wittgenstein can be satisfactorily interpreted without seeing his text as the occasional surfacing of an underlying systematic argument but rather by paying close (and perhaps somewhat pedantic) attention to what he actually says. . . . This observation is not intended as a piece of self-congratulation on my part, but as a recognition of the procedural difference between Kripke and me. For what Kripke has done is to produce an impressive and challenging argument which bears little affinity with Wittgenstein's own problems and claims: in an important sense Kripke and the real Wittgenstein are not even dealing with the same issues (they have a different 'problematic').
Colin McGinn, Wittgenstein on Meaning , p. 60.

Kripke's explanation is . . . that Wittgenstein has propounded an irrefutable skeptical paradox and come up with a 'skeptical solution' -- a "sceptical conclusion about rules and the attendant rejection of private rules." . . . The exegesis is wrong. Wittgenstein was not putting forward skeptical arguments; the 'new skeptical problem' about which Kripke expresses such great admiration on page 60 -- is Kripke's.
G.E.M. Anscombe, "Review of Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language", p. 347.

[Kripke's] challenge marries the idea that our ordinary practices exhibit conceptual features that must be preserved (transparency, normativity) to the idea that those practices do not yield true justifications of our ascriptions, since they do not fend off bizarre Goodmanesque possibilities. These two ideas pull in opposite directions: it is no wonder that nothing can meet the demands imposed by the two in tandem.
In sum, Kripke's concern is with physicalist reductions of meaning notions, a concern that is narrower than Wittgenstein's and arises on a different basis; and Kripke's challenge relies on a highly problematic mixture of demands imposed on reductions. Thus it does not appear that Kripke has provided the means to illuminate Wittgenstein's views on the nature of meaning, or the ways in which the rule-following considerations are to support them.
Warren Goldfarb, "Kripke on Wittgenstein on Rules", p. 479.

Kripke's reading of the project of the Philosophical Investigations raises a number of issues. These include his evaluation of the notion of a rule, his interpretation of the private language arguments, his uses of the term "intention," and his truncated reading of §201. In this chapter I shall address and attack this interpretation of Wittgenstein as a questionable reading of the Philosophical Investigations, and I shall suggest some alternative interpretations of Wittgenstein's views. Such an attack is crucial not merely to set the record straight on what Wittgenstein was about in the PI. An acceptance of Kripke's analysis results in a radical skepticism about rules themselves and thus challenges the rational basis for truth and language.
Patricia H. Werhane, Skepticism, Rules and Private Language, p. 94.

So is it a real truth that the right rule for '+' is in force amongst us? My own answer would be that we do have dispositions that enforce this judgement. They make it the only possible judgement about ourselves, when we describe each other's thoughts. The concealed bent-rule follower is a theoretician's fiction. Whenever we try to fill out the story, of a person or a community that really adopts a bent rule, it turns out that the singularity in the rule (by our lights, of course) must affect the dispositions to behave that the community or individual shows. I have argued this elsewhere in connexion with Goodman's paradox. The concealed bent-rule follower is often thought of as though nothing about him is different until the occasion of bent application arises. But this is wrong.
Simon Blackburn, "The Individual Strikes Back", pp. 290-1.

George . . . rightly observes that I say nothing about the [Kripke's] Wittgensteinian normativity requirement; nor, in my view, does anyone else, if we mean something intelligible and substantive. The discussion relies throughout on unanalyzed notions of 'community' and 'language' and others that have been given no clear sense.
Noam Chomsky, "Reply to George and Brody", pp. 192.

And one must agree -- though perhaps with more reluctance than McGinn can be credited with -- that Kripke does misrepresent, in significant respects, the overall gist of the discussion of rules and rule-following which Wittgenstein's later writings contain. In particular, as commentators on Kripke's book have pointed out almost without exception, Wittgenstein does not accept the paradox -- it is another question whether it is the same as Kripke's Sceptical paradox -- with which Investigations 198-201 are concerned.
Crispin Wright, "Review of McGinn", p. 289.


2. Problems with KW's Case against Private Language

S[aul] Kripke, in Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language . . . contends that the 'real private language argument lies in §§143-242 [of PI], indeed that the conclusion is already established by §202. For a multitude of reasons this is a complete distortion of the argument and content of Wittgenstein's book.
P.M.S. Hacker, Insight and Illusion (Revised Edition), p. 247.

Returning to the statement that "If one person is considered in isolation, the notion of a rule as guiding the person who adopts it can have no substantive content" (p. 89) -- the conclusion that seemed to undermine the individual psychology framework of generative grammar -- we see that this must be understood as referring not to an individual whose behavior is unique but to someone "considered in isolation" in the sense that he is not considered as a person, like us. But now the argument against private language is defanged. We consider Robinson Crusoe to be a person, like us. He has a private language with its own rules, which we discover and attribute to him by some means other than those allowed in [Kripke's] Wittgenstein's solution to the skeptical solution.
Noam Chomsky, Knowledge of Language, p. 233.

Although I do not think that Kripke has Wittgenstein right, my subject . . . is not the historical Wittgenstein but Kripke's Wittgenstein. I shall argue that, even if the main argument -- the skeptical argument -- which Kripke finds in Wittgenstein, is sustained, there is strong prima facie reason to doubt whether the accommodation with it -- skeptical solution --which Kripke represents Wittgenstein commending can really be lived with; whether, indeed, that accommodation is so much as coherent. And I shall canvass ways, unconsidered (or only very cursorily considered) by Kripke, for resisting the skeptical argument. The upshot will be that the RFC [rule-following considerations], as interpreted by Kripke, are flawed by a lacuna, and that, even if the lacuna were filled, the PLA [private language argument] could nevertheless not emerge in the manner that Kripke describes.
Crispin Wright, "Kripke's Account of the Argument Against Private Language", p. 760.

In what is [Kripke's] Wittgenstein's solution supposed to consist? The propositions which we endeavour to express are no longer accorded truth-conditions with which their meaning might be equated. How could they be if all facts of the matter have been done away with? What is put in their place is conditions of assertibility. And these are a matter of social agreement. The teacher judges that his pupil has mastered the rule of addition if he obtains enough of the same results as the teacher is himself disposed to reach. I am on the right semantic track so long as my verbal usages agree with those of my community. This may sound very well, until we pause to consider what agreement comes to in this context. In the case of the teacher no provision has been made for anything more than the fact that on similar occasions he and his pupil make similar marks or noises. The practice of the community is supposed to bestow meaning on my utterances. but what is the community except a collection of persons? And if each of those persons is supposed to take his orders about meaning solely from the others, it follows that none of them takes any orders. The whole semantic house of cards is based upon our taking in each other's washing, or would be if there were any laundry to wash. On [Kripke's] interpretation, Wittgenstein's argument, so far from proving that private languages are impossible, proves that they are indispensable.
A. J. Ayer, Wittgenstein, pp. 73-4.

In [Kripke's] Wittgenstein's "solution," the community turns up as a deus ex machina. People can be credited with possessing and understanding concepts, notwithstanding the impossibility of our ever identifying the rules governing our use of terms. Men can be credited with comprehension simply by virtue of their incorporation in a community whose members appear to tolerate each other semantically. Such membership in a shared-reaction group is all that "comprehension" can ever mean.
. . . As Groucho Marx might have said, I for one would not wish to join a community that understood people like me.
Why anyone should count this as a solution is totally beyond my understanding (though Kripke appears to be impressed). It looks to me much more like a dogmatic refusal to face the problem -- like treating a mystery as its own solution.
Ernest Gellner, "Sentiments And Sentences", p. 37.

Now reconsider the private linguist, meaning someone who believes that he has given an inner state a semantically essential role. . . . We seek to show that this is not a real practice. Let our private linguist accept the basic point, admitting that the mere offering of words, images and so on, does not determine a rule of application, or principle that is really in force. But he does not accept that his candidate practice is unsatisfactory. What has LW [or KW] got to show him?
'Whatever is going to seem right is right' -- there is no distinction between his seeming to himself to follow a rule, and his genuinely doing so. It has often been suggested that this charge is unargued, or, if argued, only supported by overtly verificationist considerations. My endeavour has been to show how difficult it is to release the public from its attack.
Simon Blackburn, "The Individual Strikes Back", p. 298.

The notion of 'community', in fact requires clarification that has never been given, and that I suspect cannot be given in any relevant way, for reasons discussed in Knowledge of Language. Recourse to this notion by [Kripke's] Wittgenstein, Tyler Burge and many others assumes the notion to be clear enough, but it is not. . . . In general, all discussions that make use of an unanalyzed notion of community in considering norms, conventions, 'misuse of language', etc., must be seriously reconsidered. It is doubtful, in my view, that they can be made coherent in any way relevant to the issues at hand.
In brief, if the communities introduced in the analyses are homogeneous, the resort to a 'community' contributes nothing; if they are not homogeneous in relevant respects, the argument does not go through. Furthermore, if I follow the conventions of some 'English-speaking community' and Boris follows the conventions of some 'Russian-speaking community', it is plainly because Boris and I differ in some respect, in some property of our mind/brains; George and I follow (more or less) similar conventions because our mind/brains are (more or less) similar in the relevant respects and different from Boris's. I do not deviate from my 'norms' or 'conventions' if I differ in judgments and other behavior from George or Boris.
Noam Chomsky, "Reply to George and Brody", pp. 190-1.

There is further reason for not attributing to Wittgenstein a social theory of meaning and rule following: it apparently rules out the possibility of a Robinson Crusoe making up and following his own rules. . . . Kripke deals with this by saying that, if we think of Robinson Crusoe as following a rule, "we are taking him into our community and applying our criteria for rule following to him." This seems to me inadequate. For one thing, of course we would be applying our criteria; but that's what we do when we call something a "rock," and that doesn't make being a rock a socially constituted condition, unsatisfiable in isolation from a community. Secondly, we can think of Robinson Crusoe as following rules we don't have [but] . . . Kripke's sceptical solution . . . apparently rule[s] out any creative Robinson Crusoe.
Brian Loar, "Critical Review of WRPL", pp. 279-80.

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Last modified September 5, 2011
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Dept. of Philosophy