The Uses of Sense: Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Language

The Uses of Sense: Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Language

The Uses of Sense: Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Language

The Uses of Sense: Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Language

Synopsis

The Uses of Sense provides a novel account of Wittgenstein's view of language as expressed in the Philosophical Investigations. On the account, Wittgenstein's view is a radical break with a still-dominant Fregean tradition. Travis applies this account to show the significance of privatelanguage and of other major themes in the Investigations, such as family resemblance and language games. Wittgenstein uses the idea of private language for a thought experiment. What is the experiment meant to test? Travis suggests that it is two pictures of the having of semantic properties, by whatever items might do so, that are at stake. One picture is Fregean. The other is opposed to it indenying a certain fixity in the semantic properties of an item which, for example, might permit simply defining some items as the bearers of such-and-such semantics. On Wittgenstein's picture, the semantics of any item is variable across occasions for viewing it or using it. This variability arisesthrough the dependence of any item's semantics on its users and their uses of it. This dependence requires publicity of a sort excluded by private language. If items may still have semantics privately, Travis argues, then Wittgenstein's picture may not be compulsory. But if semantics collapses undersuch unnatural conditions, then, in ways Wittgenstein indicates, that shows something fundamentally mistaken in the Fregean approach.

Excerpt

One fine spring afternoon in 1982, I was sitting in John McDowell$s living room at 17 Merton Street in Oxford, explaining to him why I had never found 'the private language argument' very convincing. A few patient and searching questions later, it suddenly occurred to me first, that perhaps there was a good argument there after all; second, that it would be an important fact if there were, since the argument points in the right direction on some central topics in philosophy where the temptation to make bad starts has proved powerful in recent times—and not only among philosophers; and third, that I should write a book about this. I believe that the first two of these hunches have proved to be correct.

Part of the importance of an argument against private language is in pointing away from a certain conception of our psychologies, and particularly of our attitudes—those usually referred to as 'propositional' and others. On the conception, we fix the facts about, say, our beliefs, intentions and expectations—and particularly their content or semantics—by ourselves, and independent of the perspectives others might have on us; as it were, simply in virtue of the way we are constituted on the inside, or (perhaps even literally) intradermally—together, if you like, with the internal history of that constitution. On some versions of this conception, the emphasis is placed on the point that if, for example, Odile believes that Montreal is east of Cincinnati, then for her to do so is for her to be in some particular intradermal state, specifiable (individuable) in other terms—neurologically, perhaps, or by a machine table, or something of the sort. As it is sometimes put, her believing what she does must consist in her standing in some specified relation to a syntactically specified object, thus one which is a fit subject for computations—as beliefs surely are—and moreover to formally specified ones. Whether Odile's belief has one semantics or another would then be derivable (modulo causal histories) from the nature of the otherwise-specified state involved. On other versions, the point of emphasis is that the content of Odile's belief (at least where true exact determination of that content is at stake) is determined by some domain of 'inner facts' which are open to

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