Is Wittgenstein Presenting a Reductio Ad Absurdum Argument in the ‘Private Language’ Sections of Philosophical Investigations §§ 243–315? [Book Review]

Philosophical Quarterly 67 (268):552-570 (2016)

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Abstract
The ‘Private Language’ sections of the Philosophical Investigations §§ 243–315 serve to undermine the idea that our ordinary felt sensations, e.g., of heat, or cold, or pain, together with our experienced impressions of colour or of sound, are ‘private’ or ‘inner’ objects, where an object mirrors in the mental realm what we associate with that of the physical. This paper explores Wittgenstein's method in these sections, together with the work of several of his commentators who agree with his ‘therapeutic’ approach to the denial of a possible private language. More significantly, however, it discovers a paradox in the fact that a number of philosophers who claim that his ‘Argument Against Private Language’ is unsuccessful point in reaching this conclusion to the very features concerning first-person sensation ascription that Wittgenstein employs to reveal that our ordinary sensations are not ‘private’ to us in that sense identified in § 243, which talks of ‘a language used to refer to what only its speaker can know’, viz, ‘his immediate private sensations’. This helps to explain why there is still no general agreement on the significance of §§ 243–315.
Keywords private language argument   philosophical privacy   private object   sensation   impression
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Reprint years 2017
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DOI 10.1093/pq/pqw079
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