“‘We Can Go No Further’: Meaning, Use, and the Limits of Language”

In Hanne Appelqvist (ed.), Wittgenstein and the Limits of Language. New York: Routledge. pp. 93-114 (2019)
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A central theme in Wittgenstein’s post-Tractatus remarks on the limits of language is that we ‘cannot use language to get outside language’. One illustration of that idea is his comment that, once we have described the procedure of teaching and learning a rule, we have ‘said everything that can be said about acting correctly according to the rule’; ‘we can go no further’. That, it is argued, is an expression of anti-reductionism about meaning and rules. A framework is presented for assessing the debate between reductionist and anti-reductionist readings of Wittgenstein’s views about meaning and use. It is argued that that debate cannot be settled merely by reference to Wittgenstein’s general opposition to reductionism. An important argument for anti-reductionism about rules and meaning, from Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, is discussed. Putative evidence of reductionism about meaning in the Brown Book is considered; an alternative reading is proposed. The nature of Wittgenstein’s anti-reductionism is examined. It is argued, first, that Wittgenstein accepts that semantic and normative facts supervene on non-semantic, non-normative facts and, second, that at many points his treatment of meaning and rules goes beyond the kind of pleonastic claim that is often taken to define non-reductionist, quietist, positions in philosophy.

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William Child
Oxford University


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