DS-1997-05: The Fiber and the Fabric: An Inquiry into Wittgenstein's Views on Rule-Following and Linguistic Normativity

DS-1997-05: Stein, Harry (1997) The Fiber and the Fabric: An Inquiry into Wittgenstein's Views on Rule-Following and Linguistic Normativity. Doctoral thesis, University of Amsterdam.

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The Fiber and the Fabric: An Inquiry into Wittgenstein's Views on Rule-Following and Linguistic Normativity
Harry Stein

Some philosophical books are important, some are good; many are neither, a blessed few are both. Leaving the elusive category of the 'good' undefined, one might yet try to pinpoint some of the qualities that account for the importance, or rather, for a particular kind of importance a philosophical work might have. Firstly, the kind of work I have in mind brings a problem into the open that has for some time been a persistent conundrumj ust on the threshold of the 'collective philosophical consciousness'. Secondly, though, its treatment of this problem is far from conclusive or is even felt to be quite muddled or unacceptable. For the reader of such a work, the sudden recognition of the problem is thus paired with the certainty that he might yet improve on this particular handling of it. In this way, a philosophical work might well be important without being good and, paradoxically, its importance might evenbe increased by the fact that it is, in particular respects, not a good book.
Kripke's 'Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language', out of which the present work grew, is undoubtedly an important book. Wittgenstein's remarks on rule-following that Kripke singles out for discussion have always been regarded as a particularly hard and somewhat elusive part of the Investigations. Kripke succeeds in giving them a clear-cut and succinct interpretation. Furthermore, Kripke's exegesis highlights a persistent systematical problem concerning the possibility of giving a reductionist account of linguistic normativity that has usually been given less attention than it deserves. Now such reductionist issues somewhat broadly defined always turn on the question whether something indeed is what it is, or whether it is really some other thing. Concerning such problems, my general sentiment is that of Boswell, though I am not unfamiliar with the kind of surprise Bommel so well expresses. In fact, this thesis starts out in Boswell's spirit, while becoming more Bommelian towards the end, as a short overview will make clear.

Chapter 1 presents a critical introduction to Kripke's 'Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language' and lays the groundwork for a systematical discussion of Kripke's claims. Kripke interprets Wittgenstein's remarks on rule-following as endorsing a 'sceptical paradox' that leads to the conclusion that 'there is no such fact as anyone meaning anything by anyword'. Kripke thinks that this paradox, all by itself, is 'obviously absurd', and he argues that Wittgenstein tries to mitigate its most destructive consequences by supplying it with a 'sceptical solution'. According to this 'solution', thereare indeed no facts about meaning, yet on the basis of a communally shared agreement in 'blind inclinations' for language use one can at least account for our employment of words in general and the word 'meaning' in particular.
The first job we undertake is to analyse Kripke's paradox. It is argued that this paradox follows from the demand that any fact about meaning should meet two conditions. The first one we call the normativity condition. It requires that any putative fact about meaning should account for the normative features of our ordinary concepts of meaning or rule-following. Thus, on this condition a fact about meaning must account for the observation that someone who means something particular by a word should employ that word in a specific way, whether or not he in fact always does so. Secondly, facts about meaning must meet a reduction condition, which holds that one must be able to specify such facts in non-normative or non-intentional terms. If these two restrictions are accepted then it follows indeed as Kripke claims that 'there is no such fact as anyone meaning anything by any word'.
The remainder of the chapter gives an exposition of Kripke's sceptical solution and goes into some of the standard objections that have been raised against Kripke's arguments. It is shown that these objections are inconclusive.

Since Kripke claims that his paradox is only acceptable provided it can be given a sceptical solution, the solution that he offers obviously plays a pivotal role in his account. For if it proves to fail, the paradox becomes untenable and should have to be regarded as a reductio ad absurdum of the conjunction of the conditions that generate it. Kripke's sceptical solution is the object of our inquiry in Chapter 2. Firstly, it is shown by textual evidence that Kripke's solution, as it is actually presented, fails to meet the standards that any acceptable solution should meet according to Kripke. It therefor fails by Kripke's very own standards. Secondly, in order to give Kripke maximal benefit of the doubt, we embark on a somewhat tortuous attempt to remedy this shortcoming and improve on Kripke's solution. This turns out to be of no avail. Kripke's solution cannot fulfil its purported task of tempering the consequences of his paradox.
After this criticism, which is purely internal, we take a step back and scrutinize Kripke's solution from an external point of view. It is argued that the building stones of this solution - the 'blind inclinations for language use' that we allegedly possess - are largely fictional and that the possession of such 'blind inclinations' is neither necessary nor sufficient for ascribing a meaning to someones words.

Now that the sceptical solution turns out to fail beyond all remedy, one is left with the sceptical paradox in all its unmitigated nihilistic force. Since this paradox was derived from the simultaneous acceptance of a normativity condition and a reduction condition - as wasexplained in Chapter 1 - there are now several options for dealing with it, which are plotted out at the beginning of Chapter 3. Firstly, one might still hold that both conditions are acceptable, in which case either:
a. one comes up with a new fact about meaning that meets both conditions but has been overlooked by Kripke, or:
b. one grants Kripke that no such facts exist and one tries to live with the paradox.
It is argued that neither of these options is viable.
The second way of dealing with the paradox is to reject one of the conditions that generated it. In that case, either:
a. one rejects the reduction condition and holds that linguistic normativity is a primitive phenomenon that cannot and need not be reduced to non-normative facts, or:
b. one rejects the normativity condition.
In order to spell out a workable version of this last option one has to take some care. After all, the normativity condition held that our ordinary linguistic concepts have normative features, and this observation cannot plausibly be denied. However, in order to derive Kripke's paradox it is also necessary to hold that these normative features are intrinsic to any acceptable linguistic concept, and that they have therefore to be accounted for by anyone who intends to present an account of language, meaning, etc. Thus, there are two ways in which one might shrug the burden of the normativity condition without having to deny that our ordinary linguistic conceptshave normative features. Either:
i. one pleads for a conceptual revisionism, and holds that our ordinary normative linguistic concepts can be replaced by scientifically improved linguistic concepts that are non-normative and thus allow of a reductive treatment, or:
ii. one holds on to our ordinary linguistic concepts, but argues that normativity is a 'conceptual feature' of such concepts that is merely of interest to philosophers; the scientist should rather tell us what some such phenomenonas meaning 'really is'.
The remainder of chapter 3 is devoted to a discussion of these strategies for shrugging the normativity condition. Most attention is given to the first strategy: the revisionist one. We elaborately discuss Chomskys detailed proposal for such a conceptual revision, and argue that his attempt is ultimately self-defeating. After that, the second strategy is critically discussed. The chapter ends with an attempt to further elucidate the problems confronting reductionism by modeling the several aspects featuring in the debate on a machine that sorts tomatoes according to a certain classification.

When Kripke's paradox cannot be defused by giving up the normativity condition, as is established in chapter 3, we must next look at the possibility of escaping from it by denying the reduction condition. Since, in my view, it is such a non-reductionist approach that Wittgenstein endorses we have now arrived at a point where exegetical questions about Wittgenstein's later work can be wedded to the systematical problem as it has thus far been developed. In the remainder of the book we elaborate on the intricasies of a non-reductive stance towards linguistic normativity by taking Wittgenstein's work as our focus.

Before turningto Wittgenstein's views on rule-following and meaning Chapter 4 presents an investigation of Wittgenstein's philosophical method. We start with discussing a rather persistent interpretation of Wittgenstein, according to which all philosophical problems are in his view exclusively due to a misuse of ordinary language and can therefore only be (dis)solved by pointing out the semantical digressions in question and leading the philosopher back to the 'safegrounds of language'. Against this view, we argue the following points. Firstly, the idea that a misuse of language is the sole root of philosophical problems is itself of doubtful cogency. Secondly, this interpretation mislocates Wittgenstein's unease about traditional philosophy, which does not primarily stem from the view that such philosophy is not properly rooted in ordinary language, but rather, that it is not (ethically) rooted in ordinary life. Thirdly, to focus exclusively on Wittgenstein's linguistic qualms about philosophy is to make a caricature of his over-all view onphilosophy, and threatens to set us on the wrong footing when it comes to understanding his remarks on meaning and rule-following. Alternatively, we explore a different and more interesting strand in Wittgenstein's conception of (doing) philosophy by focussing on his remarks about the non-verbal, pictorial representations that we - often unwittingly - employ. The role that pictures play in the later Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy is a relatively unexplored topic, and our treatment of it is therefore largely exploratory and exegetical.

In chapter 5 we turn to Wittgenstein's rule-following considerations proper. We start by applying the insights about pictures gained in the previous chapter to the opening section of the 'Philosophical Investigations', where, in contrast to Augustine's picture of the essence of language, Wittgenstein presents his alternative picture of a language without essence. In our unpacking of this section, we have occasion to mention and explain three features of the later Wittgenstein's global perspectivethat will reappearin the more detailed discussions that are to follow: his anti-foundationalism, his non-reductionist naturalism, and his philosophical anthropology that gives priority to action over thought and insight, to the social over the individual, and to phenomena that are extended over time over momentary phenomena.
Next, we try to get a proper grasp on the central problematic of the rule-following discussion in PI ## 138 - 242 by going into the relation between this part of the work and the preceding sections of the Investigations. We argue, pace Kripke, that in the rule-following discussion Wittgenstein does not present a sceptical argument against the factual status of rule-following or meaning in general. Rather, in this discussion Wittgenstein discusses an objection to his own, previously established view that the meaning of a word is its use in the language. The use of words is not basic, so the objection goes, but is rather grounded in an individual understanding that underlies the communal use of words while being itself use-independent. In view of that, the main aim of the rule-following discussion, as we read it, is to settle the priority relation between, on the one hand, some allegedly foundational, use-independent, individual and momentary phenomenon such as a sudden flash of understanding and, on the other hand, the use of language as an ungroundable social phenomenon that is extended over time.
Section three then presentsa detailed and exhaustive analysis of ## 138 - l42 and ## 201 - 202 that contain some of Wittgenstein's main arguments for settling this priority question in favour of our extended practices of language use. After this detailed exegesis of Wittgenstein's 'negative' arguments, section four presents an overview of Wittgenstein's 'positive' views concerning our normative practices of language use. The following points are isolated, explained and discussed:
* Meaning something or, more generally, following a rule is not grounded in anything transcending a practice of usage. It is not founded on anything an individual might grasp or possess, and it is not determined by reasons or justifications.
* The reasons and justifications that we have for using language as we do ultimately run out and terminate in a bedrock of unpremeditated, immediate action. (Though it is a crucial feature of our practices that reasons and justifications can and must sometimes be given).
* The processby which we (onto-genetically) become a member of a practice is by drill and dressage, not by any intellectual grasp.
* Our practices of language use presuppose a framework of natural and contingent conditions and regularities of both a human and non-human kind.
* Acting in accordance with a rule is primitive in the sense that it cannot be reduced to a more basic agreement in actions or to objective regularities.
* A practice is a temporally extended phenomenon, and single acts of meaning or intending require a proper embedding in such an extended practice.
* Our practices for using language are in fact of an intrinsically social nature. To the extent that our practices for language use are social practices, the 'facts about meaning' are social facts. And to that extent, facts about individuals are not constitutive for meaning.
We conclude this section by arguing that Wittgenstein's positive points primarily bear on philosophical anthropology, rather than on semantics.
The closing section of this chapter raises the question what implications these views about language have for our metaphysical conception of the individual person. Roughly put, if no set of individual facts is constitutive to a meaningful use of language, as Wittgenstein argues, and being in command of a languageis nevertheless essential for being an individual person, as seems a reasonable assumption, then the time-honoured view of individual persons as autonomous, self-contained substances would seem no longer to be tenable. This is not a problem Wittgenstein seems to have been aware of, and it takes us to the confines of the present work.

Remaining within these confines, we may still, in an indirect way, throw some light on this question by investigating, in Chapter 6, Wittgenstein's remarks in 'Über Gewißheit' on the relation between our endeavors to acquire knowledge and the constitutive framework of certainties on which these are dependent. Starting from Moore's remarks on certainty and the traditional kind of scepticism to which these were addressed, Wittgenstein argues both against the cogency of such wholesale doubt and against the idea that 'certain knowledge' is the key to answering it. Knowledge and doubt, it is pointed out, both stand in need of reasons and justification procedures, and for that reason, both knowledge and doubt require the existence of a prior framework of convictions that are practically taken to stand firm. To be rational, in other words, is not to entertain certain doubts, and the attempt to turn sceptical paranoia into method destroys the very possibility of inquiry itself.
The embedding, constitutive context of our ordinary epistemic exploits is made up of what Wittgenstein calls 'certainties'; these thingsthat are indubitable for us and constitute the 'hinges' on which our ordinary inquiries turn. In our enquiry, we try to bring some order to Wittgenstein's unedited remarks in 'Über Gewißheit', so as to get a firmer grasp on the nature and scope of this transcendental framework.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Report Nr: DS-1997-05
Series Name: ILLC Dissertation (DS) Series
Year: 1997
Subjects: Cognition
Depositing User: Dr Marco Vervoort
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
URI: https://eprints.illc.uva.nl/id/eprint/2002

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