An Essay on Saul Kripke's "Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language"

Dissertation, Syracuse University (1990)

The core of Saul Kripke's Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language is a compelling attack on the very possibility of linguistic meaning. Kripke suggests that this attack was the point of Wittgenstein's work on linguistic rules in his Philosophical Investigations. The major part of Kripke's attack is a criticism of the most plausible candidate for an account of meaning, viz. a view that accounts for meaning in terms of a speaker's dispositions to use linguistic terms. I separate out various threads in Kripke's dense attack, and I argue that there are two versions of the dispositional account of meaning--a "strict" version and a "loose" version--and that Kripke's criticisms are effective only against the former. I conclude that meaning is not in the dire condition that Kripke's argument suggests. The connection between this attack on meaning and Wittgenstein's famous rejection of the possibility of a "private language" appears to be one of the weakest features of Kripke's book. I discuss a novel interpretation of Wittgenstein's anti-private language argument, an interpretation based on a "normative" account of linguistic rules, and I argue that it is a more satisfying interpretation than Kripke's. ;It is typically assumed by students of Wittgenstein's work that his anti-private language argument was intended to have consequences for the philosophy of mind. To bolster my interpretation of Wittgenstein's anti-private language argument, I show how it connects with Wittgenstein's philosophy of mind. In particular, I show how this argument, on my interpretation, can be used to criticize a Cartesian view of sensations. ;In the latter part of my essay, I show how Kripke's argument against the "strict" dispositional account of meaning, which was discussed earlier, has interesting implications for two other philosophical issues: The problem with vague predicates illustrated by the famous "sorites paradox," and The current "realism/antirealism" debate
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