Wittgenstein on Rule Following: A Critical and Comparative Study of Saul Kripke, John McDowell, Peter Winch, and Cora Diamond

Dissertation, King's College London (2003)
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This thesis is a critical and comparative study of four commentators on the later Wittgenstein’s rule following considerations. As such its primary aim is exegetical, and ultimately the thesis seeks to arrive at an enriched understanding of Wittgenstein’s work through the distillation of the four commentators into what, it is hoped, can be said to approach a definitive interpretation, freed of their individual frailties. The thesis commences by explicating the position of Kripke’s Wittgenstein. He draws our attention to the ‘sceptical problem’ of how we are to resolve the apparently paradoxical situation that whilst we seem to use language meaningfully, there is no fact about us that constitutes our meaning one thing as opposed to something else, and consequently the possibility of our actually meaning anything seems to evaporate. Kripke interprets Wittgenstein as accepting the validity of the sceptical problem, but seeking to establish that the force of the problem is radically diminished because the justification which it has shown to be unobtainable is actually unnecessary for rule following to take place. McDowell tries to show that Kripke is mistaken when he views Wittgenstein as endorsing scepticism in this way, because he sees Kripke as failing to appreciate a section of Philosophical Investigations which suggests that one ought to reject the sceptical paradox by correcting the misunderstanding which gives rise to it. McDowell reads Wittgenstein’s claim as being that we mistakenly think we are caught in a dilemma which requires us either to endorse the sceptical paradox or to subscribe to a mythological picture of rule following; whereas, so the thought goes, we must reject the entire dilemma. Although McDowell’s criticism of Kripke is essentially correct, he is motivated to that criticism by an incorrect reading of Wittgenstein. Central to this misinterpretation is his failure to note Wittgenstein’s belief that universal scepticism is nonsensical. Winch does much to flesh out the nature of Wittgenstein’s claim here, although he makes the mistake of attributing to Kripke that position which the latter finds in Philosophical Investigations. Despite inheriting this error from Winch, Diamond nonetheless improves on his attempt to characterize the shortcomings of Kripke’s reading as an interpretation of Wittgenstein, enabling the thesis to reach a conclusion about Wittgenstein’s understanding of rule following.
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