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Summary To a first approximation a private language would be a language that only one person can understand, perhaps as a matter of necessity. Many philosophers have thought that there couldn't be such a language, that any meaningful language must be such that, at least in principle, more than one person could understand it. The main source for arguments against the possibility of private languages has been Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, although it remains a matter of controversy precisely what Wittgenstein aimed to show, what his arguments were, and whether those arguments were successful. More recent work has attempted to articulate in more detail than Wittgenstein arguments for and against the possibility of private languages. A further issue concerns what the consequences would be if it were demonstrated that private languages are not possible. Would it, for example, have consequences for the nature of experience, or its effability?
Key works Wittgenstein 2009 Includes Wittgenstein's seminal discussion of issues about the possibility of private languages. It is a matter of controversy precisely where the core discussion takes place. Kripke 1982 Very important presentation by Saul Kripke of a line of argument against the possibility of private languages based on Wittgenstein's discussion. Wright 1984 Important critical discussion of Kripke's argument and his interpretation of Wittgenstein. Baker & Hacker 1984 Another important critical discussion of Kripke. Ayer & Rhees 1954 Early discussion of issues about whether there could be private languages. Bar-On 1992 Useful discussion of the possibility of solitary, as opposed to private language, and of the relations between the two issues.
Introductions Candlish 2008 Craig 1997
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  1. S. C. A. (1973). Can There Be a Private Language? Review of Metaphysics 27 (2):412-413.
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  2. D. F. Ackermann (1983). Wittgenstein, Rules and Origin - Privacy. Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research 1:63-69.
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  3. M. Shabbir Ahsen, Private Language Questions in Contemporary Analytical Philosophy Analytical Study of Wittgenstein's Treatments of Private Language and its Implications.
    Wittgenstein's treatment of private language is the dissolution of some of the major problems in traditional philosophy. Philosophical problems, for Wittgenstein, are the conceptual confusion arising due to the abuse of language. They can be fully dispensed with by commanding a clear view of language. Language, for Wittgenstein, is on the one hand, the source of philosophical problems while, on the other hand, it is a means to dispense with them. Private language is one such issue which is ultimately rooted (...)
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  4. Liliana Albertazzi & Roberto Poli, Attaining Objectivity: Phenomenological Reduction and the Private Language Argument.
    Twentieth Century philosophical thought has expressed itself for the most part through two great Movements: the phenomenological and the analytical. Each movement originated in reaction against idealistic—or at least antirealistic—views of "the world". And each has collapsed back into an idealism not different in effect from that which it initially rejected. Both movements began with an appeal to meanings or concepts, regarded as objective realities capable of entering the flow of experience without loss of their objective status or of their (...)
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  5. Uri Almagor (1990). Odors and Private Language: Observations on the Phenomenology of Scent. [REVIEW] Human Studies 13 (3):253-274.
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  6. Erich Ammereller & Eugen Fisher (eds.) (2004). Wittgenstein at Work: Method in the Philosophical Investigations. Routledge.
    Wittgenstein at Work: Method in the Philosophical Investigations explores the least well-understood aspect of Wittgenstein's later work: his aims and methods. Specially-commissioned papers by twelve of the world's leading Wittgenstein scholars analyze the way he approached key topics such as rule-following and private language, and examine his remarks on clarification, nonsense and other central notions of his methodology. Many contributors touch on the therapeutic aspects Wittgenstein's approach, the focus of much current debate. Wittgenstein at Work provides both students and specialist (...)
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  7. G. E. M. Anscombe (1985). Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 15 (1):103-109.
  8. G. E. M. Anscombe (1985). Critical Notice: Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 15 (4):103-9.
  9. Benjamin F. Armstrong (1984). Wittgenstein on Private Languages: It Takes Two to Talk. Philosophical Investigations 7 (January):46-62.
  10. A. J. Ayer (1954). Can There Be a Private Language? Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supp. Vol 28.
  11. David Bain (2004). Private Languages and Private Theorists. Philosophical Quarterly 54 (216):427 - 434.
    Simon Blackburn objects that Wittgenstein's private language argument overlooks the possibility that a private linguist can equip himself with a criterion of correctness by confirming generalizations about the patterns in which his private sensations occur. Crispin Wright responds that appropriate generalizations would be too few to be interesting. But I show that Wright's calculations are upset by his failure to appreciate both the richness of the data and the range of theories that would be available to the private linguist.
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  12. Gordon P. Baker & P. M. S. Hacker (1984). On Misunderstanding Wittgenstein: Kripke's Private Language Argument. Synthese 58 (3):407-450.
  13. Gordon P. Baker & P. M. S. Hacker (1984). Scepticism, Rules and Language. Blackwell.
  14. Dorit Bar-On (1992). On the Possibility of a Solitary Language. Noûs 26 (1):27-46.
  15. David Braybrooke (1963). Personal Beliefs Without Private Languages. Review of Metaphysics 16 (June):672-686.
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  16. Robert Briscoe (2004). Single-Mindedness: Language, Thought, and the First Person. Dissertation, Boston University
  17. Alex Byrne, Private Language Problem [Addendum].
    Although the proper formulation and assessment of Ludwig Wittgenstein's argument (or arguments) against the possibility of a private language continues to be disputed, the issue has lost none of its urgency. At stake is a broadly Cartesian conception of experiences that is found today in much philosophy of mind.
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  18. Stewart Candlish, Private Language. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    cannot understand the language.”[1] This is not intended to cover (easily imaginable) cases of recording one's experiences in a personal code, for such a code, however obscure in fact, could in principle be deciphered. What Wittgenstein had in mind is a language conceived as necessarily comprehensible only to its single originator because the things which define its vocabulary are necessarily inaccessible to others.
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  19. Stewart Candlish (2002). Private Language, Private Objects. The Philosophers' Magazine 18 (18):32-33.
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  20. Stewart Candlish (1980). The Real Private Language Argument. Philosophy 55 (211):85 - 94.
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  21. J. V. Canfield (2001). Private Language: The Diary Case. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79 (3):377 – 394.
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  22. James D. Carney (1971). The Private Language Argument. Southern Journal of Philosophy 9 (4):353-359.
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  23. James D. Carney (1960). Private Language: The Logic of Wittgenstein's Argument. Mind 69 (276):560-565.
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  24. Vincent M. Cooke (1974). Wittgenstein's Use of the Private Language Discussion. International Philosophical Quarterly 14 (1):25-49.
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  25. James W. Cornman (1968). Private Languages and Private Entities. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 46 (2):117 – 126.
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  26. Cf De Costa (1998). Cogito e linguagem privada. Kriterion 39 (98).
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  27. Charles Crittenden (2007). Review of Stephen Mulhall, Wittgenstein's Private Language: Grammar, Nonsense, and Imagination in Philosophical Investigations, ##243-315. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2007 (5).
  28. Suzanne Cunningham (1983). Husserl and Private Languages: A Response to Hutcheson. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 44 (1):103-111.
  29. Suzanne Cunningham (1976). Language and the Phenomenological Reductions of Edmund Husserl. Nijhoff.
    CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Rene" Descartes started modern Western philosophy on its search for an absolutely certain foundation for knowledge. ...
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  30. Suzanne Cunningham & Lenore Langsdorf (1979). Language, the Reductions, and "Immanence". Research in Phenomenology 9 (1):247-259.
  31. Kim Davies (1981). Empiricism and the Private Language Argument. Philosophical Quarterly 31 (125):343-347.
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  32. Hannah Dawson (2003). Locke on Private Language. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11 (4):609 – 637.
  33. Benjamin Ike Ewelu (2008). Private Language Thesis and its Epistemological Import: A Study in Philosophy of Language. Delta Publications.
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  34. F. Feldman, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language - an Elementary Exposition - Kripke,S.
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  35. Tyrus Fisher (2011). Quine's Behaviorism and Linguistic Meaning: Why Quine's Behaviorism is Not Illicit. Philosophia 39 (1):51-59.
    Some of Quine’s critics charge that he arrives at a behavioristic account of linguistic meaning by starting from inappropriately behavioristic assumptions (Kripke 1982, 14; Searle 1987, 123). Quine has even written that this account of linguistic meaning is a consequence of his behaviorism (Quine 1992, 37). I take it that the above charges amount to the assertion that Quine assumes the denial of one or more of the following claims: (1) Language-users associate mental ideas with their linguistic expressions. (2) A (...)
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  36. Jesus Padilla Y. Gálvez (1986). Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An Elementary Exposition. Theoria 2 (1):207-210.
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  37. Newton Garver (1960). Wittgenstein on Private Language. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 20 (3):389-396.
    Could we imagine a language in which a person could express his inner sensations or experiences for his private use? the author explicates wittgenstein's views, Giving one, An expose of certain considerations which lend plausibility to the notion of a private language, And two, A reduction "ad absurdum" of the notion of a private language or private understanding. The utility of a sign and its intelligibility in the common language go hand in hand; a sign which is supposed to be (...)
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  38. Bernard Gert (1986). Wittgenstein's Private Language Arguments. Synthese 68 (3):409-39.
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  39. Carl Ginet (1999). Qualia and Private Language. Philosophical Topics 26 (1/2):121-38.
  40. Carl Ginet (1983). Castaneda on Private Language. In Tomberlin (ed.), Agent, Language, and the Structure of the World: Essays Presented to Hector-Neri Castaneda. Hackett.
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  41. Irwin Goldstein (1996). Ontology, Epistemology, and Private Ostensive Definition. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56 (1):137-147.
    People see five kinds of views in epistemology and ontology as hinging on there being words a person can learn only by private ostensive definitions, through direct acquaintance with his own sensations: skepticism about other minds, 2. skepticism about an external world, 3. foundationalism, 4. dualism, and 5. phenomenalism. People think Wittgenstein refuted these views by showing, they believe, no word is learnable only by private ostensive definition. I defend these five views from Wittgenstein’s attack.
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  42. Richard E. Grandy (1976). The Private Language Argument. Mind 85 (338):246-250.
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  43. Paul Gregory, Kripke on Private Language.
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  44. Andrea Guardo (2012). Kripke's Account of the Rule-Following Considerations. European Journal of Philosophy 20 (3):366-388.
    This paper argues that most of the alleged straight solutions to the sceptical paradox which Kripke (1982) ascribed to Wittgenstein can be regarded as the first horn of a dilemma whose second horn is the paradox itself. The dilemma is proved to be a by-product of a foundationalist assumption on the notion of justification, as applied to linguistic behaviour. It is maintained that the assumption is unnecessary and that the dilemma is therefore spurious. To this end, an alternative conception of (...)
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  45. Peter Hacker (1972). Frege and the Private Language Argument. Idealistic Studies 2 (3):265-287.
  46. Steven Hall (2008). Review of Stephen Mulhall, Wittgenstein's Private Language: Grammar, Nonsense, and Imagination in Philosophical Investigations §§243–315. [REVIEW] Philosophical Investigations 31 (3):272–280.
  47. Oswald Hanfling (1984). What Does the Private Language Argument Prove? Philosophical Quarterly 34 (137):468-481.
  48. Clyde Laurence Hardin (1959). Wittgenstein on Private Languages. Journal of Philosophy 56 (12):517-528.
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  49. Rom Harré (1995). Skepticism, Rules, and Private Languages. International Studies in Philosophy 27 (2):141-143.
  50. Larry Hauser (1995). Natural Language and Thought: Doing Without Mentalese. Behavior and Philosophy 23 (2):41-47.
    Hauser defends the proposition that our languages of thought are public languages. One group of arguments points to the coincidence of clearly productive (novel, unbounded) cognitive competence with overt possession of recursive symbol systems. Another group relies on phenomenological experience. A third group cites practical and methodological considerations: Occam's razor and the "streetlight principle" (other things being equal, look under the lamp) that motivate looking for instantiations of outer languages in thought first.
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