Private Language

David Stern

in The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199287505
Published online January 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 Private Language

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Ludwig Wittgenstein's treatment of private language has received more attention than any other aspect of his philosophy. Yet, for more than fifty years, a remarkably self-contained exegetical tradition has defined the terms of debate and the principal positions that are discussed. Orthodox interpreters hold that the proof that a private language is impossible turns on showing it is ruled out by some set of systematic philosophical commitments about logic, meaning, and knowledge. Leading candidates for this ground on which the argument depends have included the analysis of concepts, the grammar of our everyday language, the logic of criteria, or the nature of our rule-following, practical activity, or form of life. This article introduces an alternative interpretive tradition, which not only rejects the orthodox methodology, but also rejects the presupposition that Wittgenstein's principal aim is to provide a deductive proof that the idea of a private language leads to contradiction. Finally, it examines some of the leading readings of Philosophical Investigations §258, the passage most frequently discussed by orthodox interpreters.

Keywords: Ludwig Wittgenstein; private language; philosophy; logic; grammar; rule-following; Philosophical Investigations; form of life; concepts; criteria

Article.  8935 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy

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