WITTGENSTEIN AND KRIPKE

The later philosophy of Wittgenstein, as presented in the 'Philosophical Investigations', and other writings published after his death, is not excessively hard to understand, at least in its main outlines, but it is notoriously difficult to expound or summarise without apparent distortion. Where the object is to refer to this philosophy, some degree of distortion may be unavoidable as a form of shorthand, or simplification, which casts no reflection on the superiority of a more circumspect and painstaking presentation. Among professional philosophers, Wittgenstein is generally accepted as one of the greatest of the twentieth century. It is not easy to dismiss him as a passing intellectual fashion. For anyone interested in the traditional problems of philosophy, Wittgenstein is essential reading, he puts forward compelling arguments that are not to be lightly dismissed. Anyone who thinks about these questions seemingly has to confront what he has to say. He challenges at a most fundamental level the still persuasive opinions of thinkers like Descartes, Locke, Hume and Kant. For those of his followers whom we call Wittgensteinians, he has largely solved the problems of philosophy. Some believe that his ideas have far reaching implications for culture and society that have not been widely explored or understood.

Saul Kripke's book Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language would be, from the viewpoint of an orthodox Wittgensteinian, an attempt to reduce the scale of Wittgenstein's achievement. Read in this way, the book is a subtle attack, and therefore interesting, it suggests how it might be possible to reject Wittgenstein's conclusions, from a well articulated position of sympathetic understanding. If this does not seem much, it should be recalled that other opponents of Wittgenstein, Russell for instance, have claimed not to see the point of what he was doing. It was Ernest Gellner's view that:- "..this philosophy need only be stated clearly for certain disastrous defects in it to become apparent" (Words and Things).

Kripke's main target is the 'private language argument', which he treats as more fundamental than has generally been allowed. He emphasises the continuity of Wittgenstein's philosophies of mathematics and of language. It is to be noted that mathematicians have tended to reject Wittgenstein's arguments, finding greater use for more realist accounts of the foundations of their subject.

For the Wittgensteinian, the aphorisms of the Philosophical Investigations are like teaching aids, clarifying and elucidating Wittgenstein's central insight, which it is pedantic and unhelpful to obstruct with nit picking objections. Kripke does not read them in this manner. From this point of view, he takes issue with Wittgenstein over a number of minor points, thereby deliberately missing the main one, which is that of showing how philosophical perplexity arises, and how it may be dissolved. He treats the Investigations as a continuous argument open to criticism at every step, rejecting the idea that much has to be accepted before it can be understood. Wittgenstein, like any other writer with a point of view, is fair game for an unsympathetic critic to take issue with on the details of his exposition. In doing this Kripke serves notice that he does not feel constrained to accept Wittgenstein's total vision, and will only follow him as far as rigorous argument will lead. For example, p. 48 "Such a famous slogan as 'My attitude towards him is an attitude towards a soul. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul', sounds much too behaviouristic to me. I personally would like to think that anyone who does not think of me as conscious is wrong about the facts, not simply 'unfortunate', or 'evil', or even 'monstrous' or 'inhuman' in his 'attitude' (whatever that might mean)." Again, .."My own linguistic intuitions do not entirely agree with Wittgenstein's remarks."

By pinning Wittgenstein down, he tries to undermine some of his claims. He says that Wittgenstein is led to reject the commonsense concept of 'meaning', apparently with the bizarre consequence that- "There can be no such thing as meaning anything by any word" (p.55). Wittgenstein's denial of the possibility of private language is treated as a counterintuitive move designed to overcome this paradox. In speaking thus, Kripke naturally leaves open the possibility for the reintroduction of what he considers to be the commonsense concept.

The reanimation of concepts which philosophical criticism has identified to expose as errors and cast into limbo has a number of historical parallels. One that springs to mind is the response of the compilers of the Hermetic canon, in Hellenistic Egypt, to rationalist criticisms of the 'worship of idols', like those advanced by Mohammed somewhat later. The Egyptians were accused of bowing down to graven images of wood and stone, basing their religion on the false idea that their statues have life. Therefore their whole faith was held to be irrational. In defence, the sophisticated believer would deny that he would ever be so foolish as to imagine the statues had souls. The idea of an inner life to statues was quite irrelevant to his religion. He argued that the figures he worshipped were symbolic representations of the gods, which were themselves symbols of the higher intelligences described in the Platonic philosophy. The Hermeticist declined to accept this position, claiming that it did not not reflect what people felt when they worshipped the gods. If they did not think of the statues as possessing souls, worship would be empty and meaningless. Accordingly, much intellectual effort was put into giving them souls. On the Hermeticist account the Egyptian priests were able to bring down Platonic intelligences by magical means to inhabit their statues. This was hardly to restore the views of the ordinary person, and as much may be said of a view of meaning that tries to oppose Wittgenstein by focussing on a resuscitated concept of 'private language'.

Kripke writes of Wittgenstein's 'sceptical paradox', for which he gives him credit as perhaps the most ingenious in the history of philosophy. It may be thought the paradox about rules and meaning expressed in Lewis Carroll's paper What the Tortoise said to Achilles, had made a very similar point. Kripke compares Wittgenstein's ideas to those of Hume or Berkeley, in the sense that Hume rejects 'private causation', Berkeley the 'metaphysical myth of matter', and Wittgenstein the 'private language'.

Wittgenstein himself viewed his own philosophy as an attack on scepticism, which he saw as involving the attempt to interpret one language game by the rules of another on the assumption that only the latter game were paradigmatic and truly meaningful. But the corollary of this is what has been compared to Nagarjuna's concept of 'emptiness', the idea of the irrelevance of private mental contents, feelings and imagery, to understanding and meaning. Liberated from the constraining demands of such imagery, we recognise that 'language games' can take an unlimited variety of forms. It is such private imagery, he suggests, that creates confusion, and seeming paradox, as uses of language that conflict with the paradigms appear impossible or meaningless. Presenting Wittgenstein as a sceptic, is to undermine his objective of resolving all the problems of philosophy.

Is the concept of meaning denied by Wittgenstein really so natural to thought as that of causation denied by Hume? Some might think Kripke is guilty of misrepresentation in focussing so strongly upon this, disregarding the fact that bewitchment is held to be a feature of all language, not just of the concept of meaning. Kripke speaks of Wittgenstein's view of meaning as reducing to a 'stab in the dark'. That is not how Wittgenstein would describe what he believes. He maintains the irrelevance of these feelings and pictures that keep cropping up in the mind, and which seem essential to what Kripke calls the commonsense concept. The question 'Whether there can be a private language' would be a side issue. The denial of private language need not be thought of as a paradox; it is intended to elucidate.

Kant's solution to Hume's objection to causation was to treat the belief in it as an inextricable feature of our cognitive apparatus. What to Hume was something incomprehensible, was for Kant a necessary precondition of thought. Kant objected to Hume's critical scepticism on more than purely theoretical grounds, it represented a world view which he found distressing and objectionable. Is there an analogy between the anti Wittgensteinian views hinted at by Kripke and Kant's attack on Hume? Are some of the attacks on Wittgenstein inspired by the objective of undermining the Wittgensteinian world view? What could we say this world view is? Many would deny that Wittgenstein's thoughts on matters of 'culture and value' (the title of one compilation of his writings) are in any way connected with his philosophy of language. Anthony Flew, for example, writes that "save for a few haunting, dogmatic apothegms at the end of his Tractatus- he never related his findings to questions of world outlook".

Nevertheless, Wittgenstein was much occupied with religious and spiritual questions, as well as the more technically philosophical. He had the greatest respect for religious writers like Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky. Insofar as religious language games have their own internal rules, they are as logically acceptable as material object, mathematical, or any other language games. This was not the view of analytical philosophers like Bertrand Russell and the logical positivists. In this sense Wittgenstein's concerns in the field of 'Culture and Value' do relate to his logical discoveries.

His outlook is anti dogmatic, and in a sense free spirited. One could say that it is very permissive. Rather than defending established beliefs, he opens and explores avenues of thought. Such permissiveness was a feature of his teaching method. "...people were often exasperated by his ending the discussion of a philosophical puzzle with 'Say what you like'..." (John Wisdom on Wittgenstein, Paradox and Discovery Blackwell 1965). There are different uses to which the adage 'say what you like' might be put. The most bigoted and obscurantist opinion may claim justification through this permission. On Wittgenstein's view of meaning, however, such an opinion would lose its power to coerce us mentally by fixing its interpretation for all time. Wittgenstein's interpretation of the adage is therefore in this sense a liberating one.

Kripke's parallel between Wittgenstein and Hume may be extended to questions of general outlook. For what is the cultural effect of critical scepticism? Its primary target is orthodox ideology. It shows the inconsistency of this with other forms of discourse, attacking what it alleges to be prejudice and superstition. Scepticism usually claims to liberate. The sceptic aims to show less that some mode of thought is not possible, than that it is not necessary. Ordinary discourse may not be justifiable in the way it is often thought to be, but it is useful and indispensable, unlike metaphysical discourse. Hume claimed the popular concept of causation to be unintelligible. Even if it is held to be a simple element of experience, capable of no further explanation, on Hume's view the concept of intelligibility sought is not only mysterious but unnecessary.

We know what Kant wanted to restore in opposing Hume:- dogmatic religion and morality. He could be said to have initiated a reactionary movement in philosophy. For what are said to be our natural beliefs, at each stage of enquiry concepts are devised aiming to fix them firmly. Every error defined by philosophy finds its defence. Like Aristotelianism before him, Hegelianism after him was a very sophisticated way of justifying beliefs, defending common ways of thinking and feeling against sceptical criticism. Thus Aristotle has been used to defend orthodox Christianity or Islam, Hegel the faith in progress, and the authority of certain political ideas. This type of philosophy aims to preserve the common way of thinking by providing a philosophical justification which gives it necessity, rather than just possibility.

The effect of Wittgenstein's contribution is to replace necessity by possibility, here resembling the sceptical position. He speaks of language games. Games are something we can choose to play or not. If we do play we have complete freedom within the rules. What is missed, by those who dislike this way of thinking, is the element of compulsion, the idea of a concept of meaning that compels a rule being interpreted in one desired way. One of the most essential features of rules is the leeway they give. This applies in political life as well as elsewhere. Attempts to overcome it have been satirised by Orwell as the idea of thoughtcrime. Even this, if it is to be intelligible, requires public criteria for its meaningful application. The totalitarian despot, in his demand for absolute conformity to the spirit and inner meaning of his laws, reserving for himself the power to determine how they should have been interpreted, is considered to have dispensed with the rule of law altogether.

In agreeing to abide by some rule or law, I have been given so much leeway. People may change the rules as much as they like, trying to compel assent to some inward concept of meaning that magically binds, but in so doing they still give rules to observe. It seems senseless to try to penetrate behind to some idea of private meaning. One might try to express this point by saying that what I mean cannot compel. In contradicting this, and saying that meaning does compel, one produces a concept of meaning that again need have no hold over anyone else, something possible, not necessary, possibly thinkable, not necessarily thinkable. Language can work very well without it. It may be possibly necessary, but not necessarily necessary. To avoid this one may create a new concept that is necessarily necessary, but this will still only be possibly necessarily necessary, not necessarily necessarily necessary, and so ad infinitum. The elusiveness of Wittgenstein in this respect recalls the myth of Proteus, or the transformations of some Hindu god battling with a similarly metamorphosing demon king.

'Meaning is use' is one Wittgensteinian slogan, said to have been coined by Gilbert Ryle. Trying to define what Wittgenstein's philosophy would not permit is difficult, because for whatever verbal formula we come up with, some use might be found, Wittgenstein no more being able to fix a private meaning for his sentences than anyone else. Chris Gudmunsen, in his book 'Wittgenstein and Buddhism' (Macmillan 1977), has argued that Nagarjuna's Madhyamika philosophy expresses a similar insight with the concept of the Void, or emptiness. If meaning is use, then in respect of meaning, everything is permitted, except, in a sense, the refusal of this permission. Here perhaps lies the root of paradox, and

 

LETTER TO CRISPIN WRIGHT

Reading your article "Wittgenstein on Mathematical Proof" (Wittgenstein Centenary Essays, Cambridge 1992), I think that the flaw in your argument against Kripke's interpretation of Wittgenstein occurs in your first assumption.

"The first assumption is the platitude that the truth-value of a statement, as used on a particular occasion, is a function of its content, so used, and the then obtaining state of the world in relevant respects.....Since, by the first, platitudinous assumption, truth-value on an occasion is always a function, in part, of content, and since - by the Sceptical Paradox - what it is correct to think about the content of a sentence, as used on a particular occasion, is not a substantial question, it follows that the truth-value of the sentence, as used on that occasion, is not a substantial question either".

Given the so called Sceptical Paradox, the assumption is far from platitudinous. It seems to me that Kripke's Wittgenstein, whom I shall call "Kripwitt" for short, would reject it without any difficulty at all. He could not accept that truth is a function of something that he does not admit to be a factual matter.

In thinking of particular occasions, Kripwitt rejects the idea of a fact about meaning or intending, in plain contrast with other facts, the possibility of which he holds to be intelligible. If he does this, why on earth should he not reject an analysis of factual truth in terms of functions of "content", meant as facts about intended meaning?

On the obvious understanding of the "platitudinous assumption", fact statements, held to exist, are partly functions of content questions (or something understood through content questions), which are taken to include something Kripwitt analyses as meaningless. It is an odd kind of function where in every case one of the arguments is meaningless. Here is a function that is claimed to be platitudinous, yet for Kripwitt it can have no application at all.

Interpreting the assumption slightly differently, some strange truth values can get passed on. Your argument applies the so called Sceptical Solution to transmit the value of "not being a substantial question", or "content commitment", to all particular statements of truth value. The assumption seems to have taken a new character, to the effect that what are called factual statements (whatever they are) are partly functions of what are called content questions (whatever they are). If this is a platitude, its implications are not immediately obvious.

Why should Kripwitt accept any supposed functional relationship that renders impossible the distinction he has made between factual discourse and the meaning relation? How can this be platitudinous?

Even if it is granted that it is platitudinous to talk of truth value as partly a function of content, in the new sense, how does this entail that properties like "content committedness" must be passed on? If someone were to argue that a sentence is partly a function of letters of the alphabet, would he thereby be committed to holding that every property of a sentence must be applicable to the individual letters or vice-versa?

JSM 1991