THE FATE OF ANALYSIS, #42–Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument: A Rational Reconstruction.
By Robert Hanna
TABLE OF CONTENTS
X. Gödel-Incompleteness and Formal Piety: The Death of Classical Logicism in Thirty-One Steps
X.2 Twenty-Five of the Thirty-One Steps
X.3 Conclusion: The Last Six Steps
XIII.2 The Private Language Argument: A Rational Reconstruction
XIII.3 Is Wittgenstein a Behaviorist? No.
XIII.4 Wittgenstein on Meanings, Sensations, and Human Mindedness: A Rational Reconstruction
XIV. Wittgenstein and the Investigations 4: §§316–693 and 174e-232e
XIV.1 Linguistic Phenomenology
XIV.2 Two Kinds of Seeing
XIV.3 Experiencing the Meaning of a Word
XIV.4 The Critique of Logical Analysis, and Logic-As-Grammar
XV. Coda: Wittgenstein and Kantianism
XV.1 World-Conformity 1: Kant, Transcendental Idealism, and Empirical Realism
XV.2 World-Conformity 2: Wittgenstein, Transcendental Solipsism, and Pure Realism
XV.3 World-Conformity 3: To Forms of Life
XV.4 The Critique of Self-Alienated Philosophy 1: Kant’s Critical Metaphilosophy
XV.5 The Critique of Self-Alienated Philosophy 2: Wittgensteinian Analysis as Critique
XVI. From Quine to Kripke and Analytic Metaphysics: The Adventures of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction
XVI.1 Two Urban Legends of Post-Empiricism
XVI.2 A Very Brief History of The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction
XVI.3 Why the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction Really Matters
XVI.4 Quine’s Critique of the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction, and a Meta-Critique
XVI.5 Three Dogmas of Post-Quineanism
Chapter XVII. Crisis Management: Husserl’s Crisis, Post-Classical Analytic Philosophy, and The Ash-Heap of History
XVII.1 Husserl’s Crisis and Our Crisis
XVII.1.2 The Thematic Structure of the Crisis
XVII.1.3 Theme 1: A Husserlian Critique of Science
XVII.1.4 Theme 2: A Teleological Interpretation of European Culture Since the 17th Century, Focused on the History of Modern Philosophy
XVII.1.5 Theme 3: The Core Notion of the Life-World
XVII.1.6 Theme 4: Transcendental Phenomenology
XVII.1.7 Crisis? What Crisis?
XVII.2 Formal and Natural Science After 1945, and the Rise of Natural Mechanism
XVII.3 The Emergence of Post-Classical Analytic Philosophy
XVII.4 The Two Images Problem and its Consequences
XVII.5 The Rise, Fall, and Normalization of Post-Modern Philosophy
XVII.6 Why Hasn’t Post-Classical Analytic Philosophy Produced Any Important Ideas in the Last Thirty-Five Years?
XVII.7 The Ballad of Donald Kalish and Angela Davis: A Micro-Study
XVII.7.3 The Ballad
XVII.7.4 The Double Life Problem, and Your Options
XVII.8 On Irad Kimhi’s Thinking and Being, Or, It’s The End Of Analytic Philosophy As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
XVII.8.2 The Classical Analytic Package, and Kimhi
XVII.8.3 Kimhi’s Five Main Claims, and What’s Wrong With Them
XVII.8.4 Can Logic Absolve Us of Our Sins and Redeem the World?
XVIII. Epilogue: The New Poverty of Philosophy and Its Second Copernican Revolution
XVIII.2 Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Philosophy Revisited
XVIII.3 The New Poverty of Philosophy
XVIII.4 How is Philosophy Really Possible Inside the Professional Academy? A Global Metaphilosophical Problem
XVIII.5 Philosophy’s Second Copernican Revolution, Part 1: The Metaphilosophical Paradigm Shift to Anarcho- or Borderless Philosophy
XVIII.6 Philosophy’s Second Copernican Revolution, Part 2: The Metaphysical Paradigm Shift to Humanistic Neo-Organicism
XVIII.7 Conclusion: Let’s Go There
The first 35 installments in this online series followed the 2020 working draft version of THE FATE OF ANALYSIS.
Starting with installment #36, all subsequent installments follow the 2021 final draft version of the book.
This installment contains section XIII.2.
Chapter X is new in the 2021 final draft version.
But you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete 2021 final draft version of the book, which contains all eighteen chapters, including the new chapter X, and a full bibliography, HERE.
XIII.2 The Private Language Argument: A Rational Reconstruction
1. Let’s consider the possibility of languages that are solipsistic with respect to their semantic contents (as opposed to languages that are solipsistic with respect to their syntactic vehicles, whether trivially or not), and, more specifically, consider the possibility of sensation languages:
But we could also imagine a language in which a person could write down or give vocal expression to his inner experiences — his feelings, moods, and the rest — for his private use? — Well, can’t we do so in our ordinary language? — But that is not what I mean. The individual words of this language are to refer to what can only be known to the person speaking; to his immediate private sensations. So another person cannot understand the language. (PI §243)
2. Now such sensation languages are solipsistic with respect to their semantic contents by virtue of the fact that the sensations for which the words stand are knowable by the individual speaker alone:
In what sense are my sensations private? — Well, only I can know whether I am really in pain; another person can only surmise it. (PI §246)
3. And if sensations are to be knowable in any way by the individual speaker, then it must also be possible for the speaker to identify and re-identify her sensations over time and across individual persons:
“Another person can‘t have my pains.” — Which are my pains? What counts as a criterion of identity here? Consider what makes it possible in the case of physical objects to speak of “two exactly the same,” for example, to say “This chair is not the one you saw here yesterday, but is exactly the same as it.” In so far as it makes sense to say that my pain is the same as his, it is also possible for us both to have the same pain. (PI §253)
4. If, however, sensations are knowable by the individual speaker alone, then that speaker‘s identification and re-identification of those sensations over time will lack any criteria for correctness:
Let us imagine the following case. I want to keep a diary about the recurrence of a certain sensation. To this end I associate it with the sign “E” and write this sign in a calendar for every day on which I have the sensation. — I will remark first of all that a definition of the sign cannot be formulated. — But I can still give myself a kind of ostensive definition. — How? Can I point to the sensation? Not in the ordinary sense. But I speak, or write the sign down, and at the same time I concentrate my attention on the sensation — and so, as it were, point to it inwardly. — But what is this ceremony for? for that is all it seems to be! A definition surely serves to establish the meaning of a sign. — Well, that is done precisely by the concentration of my attention; for in this way I impress on myself the connection between the sign and the sensation. — But “I impress it on myself” can only mean: this process brings it about that I remember the connection right in the future. But in the present case I have no criterion of correctness. One would like to say: whatever is going to seem right to me is right. And that only means that here we can‘t talk about “right.” (PI §258)
5. Moreover, if an individual speaker‘s identification and re-identification of sensations over time lack any criteria of correctness, then it’s also possible for everyone to believe that they are sharing the same sensation, yet still have different sensations:
The essential thing about private experience is really not that each person possesses his own exemplar, but that nobody knows whether other people also have this or something else. The assumption would thus be possible — though unverifiable — that one section of mankind had one sensation of red and another section another. (PI §272)
6. And if it’s possible for everyone to believe that they’re sharing the same sensation yet still have different sensations, then it’s also possible for everyone to have no sensations at all, in which case it’s impossible to determine whether the sensation-word has any meaning at all:
If I say of myself that it is only from my own case that I know what the word “pain” means — must not I say the same thing of other people too? And how can I generalize the one case so irresponsibly? Now someone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case! — Suppose that everyone had a box with something in it: call it a “beetle.” No one can look into anyone else‘s box, and everyone says that he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle. — Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing. — But suppose the word “beetle” had a use in these people‘s language? — If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something; for the box might even be empty. — No, one can “divide through” by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is. (PI §293)
7. Therefore, sensation languages are impossible.
8. And by a simple generalization of the same argument, cognition languages — especially those in which words have meaning by standing for rule-following impressions — are also impossible:
And to think one is obeying a rule is not to obey a rule. Hence it is not possible to obey a rule “privately”: otherwise thinking one was obeying a rule would be the same thing as obeying it. (PI §202)
Are the rules of the private language impressions of rules? — The balance on which impressions are weighed is not the impression of a balance. (PI §259)
9. Therefore private languages are impossible, and it follows that linguistic meanings or semantic contents are not determined wholly and solely by what is inside individual speakers’ heads (or their Cartesian souls).
The conclusion clearly states Wittgenstein’s anti-individualism about semantic content. So, otherwise put, The Private Language Argument is ultimately an argument for externalism about semantic content — namely, the thesis that linguistic meanings or semantic contents are determined at least partially by what is outside individual speakers’ heads (or Cartesian souls). And the Private Language Argument also indirectly shows that Wittgenstein is a radical syntactic vehicle externalist. For it’s not signs per se, and especially not signs in a mental language or lingua mentis, but instead only public uses of signs by judging animals like us, that have linguistic meaning or semantic content.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 539
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 29 March 2021
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