Sensations, Natural Properties, and the Private Language Argument

In Kevin Cahill & Thomas Raleigh (eds.), Wittgenstein and Naturalism. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 79-95 (2018)
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Wittgenstein’s philosophy involves a general anti-platonism about properties or standards of similarity. On his view, what it is for one thing to have the same property as another is not dictated by reality itself; it depends on our classificatory practices and the standards of similarity they embody. Wittgenstein’s anti-platonism plays an important role in the private language sections and in his discussion of the conceptual problem of other minds. In sharp contrast to Wittgenstein’s views stands the contemporary doctrine of natural properties, which holds that there is an objective hierarchy of naturalness amongst properties, a hierarchy that is completely independent of our concepts or practices. Some authors have appealed to the natural properties view to offer an explicitly anti-Wittgensteinian account of sensation concepts. The paper discusses these competing views of properties and sensation concepts. It is argued that, if our account of concepts of conscious states starts from a commitment to natural properties, we are bound to recognize that our actual classificatory practices also play a crucial role in determining which properties our concepts pick out. On the other hand, if we start from the anti-platonist position, we are bound to recognize that we also need a notion of sameness of property that extends beyond our limited capacity to recognize similarity or sameness of property. The correct view, it is concluded, must occupy a middle position between an extreme anti-realism about properties and an extreme version of the natural properties view. It is suggested that Wittgenstein’s own view does just that.
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