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The private language arguments of Ludwig Wittgenstein


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Stewart, RS 1983 , 'The private language arguments of Ludwig Wittgenstein', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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After an introduction I start by giving a brief outline of Wittgenstein's account of language about private sensations, the expressive use hypothesis, that sentences: about private sensations, e.g., "I am in pain", replace the natural primitive expressions of sensations. The expressive use is seen as analogous to the performative element in Austin's performative utterances.
There are besides the private language arguments proper, other reasons against private language, and I initially argue against these.
Firstly others can know I am in pain. However, some account still needs to be given,of,the fact that others still do not have my private feeling of pain.
Secondly "I know I am in pain" is seen as a Rylean category mistake, but this depends on whether "I am in pain" is only in the expressive (use category of utterance.
Thirdly another of Wittgenstein's points is like the Rylean distinction between sensation and observation, which makes it seem as though sensations cannot be known. I argue against this.
A fourth Wittgensteinian reason against private language is an argument about the rules of "know" and "pain", these rules making "know" logically redundant in "I know I am in pain". I see the plausibility of Wittgenstein's appeal to rules here as resting upon our natural bias towards the incorrigibility thesis. I argue that the incorrigibility thesis does not yield a premise strong enough to support Wittgenstein's argument. I then give reasons against the incorrigibility thesis, which makes the appeal to rules implausible, because the rules are not in accord with normal usage. Against the incorrigibility thesis I cite both Austin and the electroencephalogram argument, and then argue that the logical exclusion of doubt about incorrigible statements rest upon an empirical claim that there are no circumstances which preclude taking a statement as incorrigible. Wittgenstein's final move of shutting out doubt does not remove the problem.
One of the problems of dealing with Wittgenstein's elimination of "I know" from "I know I am in pain" is that he has two main reasons for this. The Blue Book contains mainly the reason that it is all a matter of rules. But the private language arguments of the Investigations yields as a solution the expressive use hypothesis. So the second reason is that of the Rylean category mistake. This can lead to confusion.
Next I examine the expressive use hypothesis more closely. To be consistent, if "I am in pain" is an expression of pain then "I" must also be an expression, and not be a reference to a person. Wittgenstein gives several reasons against "I" referring, but I do not find them conclusive.
I do not think that Wittgenstein later abandons in any clear way the expressive use hypothesis, but I give some reasons against it. Patients do need to observe and describe sensations. Words used to describe pains are borrowed from contexts in which they are descriptive. Some sensations have little natural expression, but are communicated through circumstances in which they arise. If "I am in pain" as a referring expression is not incorrigible, then as an expression it is not a criterion for-me being in pain.
I then examine the private language arguments proper. The first private language argument appears to rely on the unreliability of memory, but I argue that this is not the deep aspect, and that the problem of public checking to determine correct and incorrect usage is the basic point. Ayer's criticism meets this deep aspect.
I criticise Rhees' position that a private language is unintelligible, as following from an unwarranted definition of "language".
The second private language argument concerns sameness, and ends Up like the memory problem, really being a problem of public checking of correctness.
Wittgenstein holds that the process of public checking comes to an end where justifications run out, but seems to be against private checking doing the same thing. The end of the two processes is the same, "seems right" gives way to "is right".
The need for public checking is seen as the basic root of Wittgenstein's reasons against a private language. Some of my criticisms are these:
1. Ayer's point that any checking must reach a point where something is taken as valid in itself.
2. The problem of public checking should hold for expressions of sensations too.
3. The expressive use model does not seem plausible for public objects, so why should it be so for private objects?
4. Public and private objects would be got rid of by assuming that they are constantly changing, only no-one notices the change. The beetle in the box argument is relevant here. It is hard to see why private objects drop out, and if they do it seems that public objects could do so as well.
The conclusions of Wittgenstein's arguments lead him to the peculiar position that he can say nothing about private objects not even about their existence.
I try and clarify the meaning of § 297 - "water boils in a pot".
By taking the stipulation that a language is necessarily private, then the private language arguments work in a cryptic sort of way - behaviour in the form of writing "S" is ruled out.
I try and say something about sensations and sensation words. To understand someone else's feelings you need not only their behaviour, but feelings of your own. What Wittgenstein has shown is that natural expressions of sensation are required for public language. This is similar to saying that we have to behave towards public objects to have a public language about them.
In the ostensive teaching of sensations words it is unlikely that pupils would pick-up the replacement of natural behaviour rule rather than the naming rule. Teaching the names of private sensations is often just as hard or as easy as teaching the names of public objects. Sensations do not enter our lives in grossly different ways from public objects.
One of the main reasons for Wittgenstein's position is that he treats sensations as if more in the realm of sense data rather than being nearer to public objects.
I then make a distinction between contingently and necessarily private objects. Contingently private objects merely happen to be accessible to only one person, whereas access by others to necessarily private objects is logically impossible. I argue that pain is contingently private, not necessarily private.
Wittgenstein seems to indicate that pain could be exhibited if there were pain patches. I indicate that our pains are already something like pain patches on our skin which are contingently private.
I further argue that for any object anyone can think of it is logically possible that someone else has some apprehension of it, and so there are no necessarily private objects.
I try to show that there is a sense in which we have our own or particular or individual private experience, but that these experiences are not necessarily private in a strong sense, but may be so in a weaker sense. However, this still does not give a person a basis for having a name for his particular private experience and another name for a public or contingently private object corresponding to it.
I then try and clarify for myself J.J. Thomson's comparison of Malcolm's interpretation of the private language argument with the Principle of Verification. She seems to conclude that as the Principle of Verification is of doubtful use so too is Malcolm's interpretation of Wittgenstein's private language argument in ruling out a private language.
I feel that in considering the case where it is supposed to be logically impossible for others to find out whether or not a word applies to someone's private object, rather than the analogy with the Principle of Verification being useless to rule out that the someone has a private language, we should appreciate the difficulty of showing the supposed logical impossibility of others finding out if a word applies to someone's private object, and thus the difficulty of showing that someone has a (necessarily) private language.
I next consider whether all our private items. are contingently private rather than necessarily private. For any private item one can try and find ways in which it could have been public, but it seems to me that any private item could have been public. There are no necessarily private items.
There are different degrees of contingent privacy. There are private items which one can compare with public objects, and those for which there is no public object for comparison. Then there are those private feelings which seem unique - only one individual seems to have them - and those who do not have anything of the same sort are more peculiarly excluded from understanding the other's feelings.
The judgement that we are feeling the same sort of thing, e.g., a pain, is seen as analogous to the judgement that we are seeing the same thing, e.g., a tree.
The lack of analogy between telling that someone has a gold tooth and telling that someone has toothache is seen as harmless in the light of toothache being contingently private. As we do not demand that we have someone's personal experience of a public object, so there is no demand for his personal experience of a contingently private object.
After a short note on behaviour I list some features of pain which mislead us.
My conclusion is that there is no necessarily private language.

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:Stewart, RS
Keywords: Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1889-1951, Private language problem
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1981 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (MA)--University of Tasmania, 1983. Bibliography: l. 151-153

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