Wittgenstein on the Arbitrariness of Grammar

Wittgenstein on the Arbitrariness of Grammar

Wittgenstein on the Arbitrariness of Grammar

Wittgenstein on the Arbitrariness of Grammar

Synopsis

What is the nature of a conceptual scheme? Are there alternative conceptual schemes? If so, are some more justifiable or correct than others? The later Wittgenstein already addresses these fundamental philosophical questions under the general rubric of "grammar" and the question of its "arbitrariness"--and does so with great subtlety. This book explores Wittgenstein's views on these questions. Part I interprets his conception of grammar as a generalized (and otherwise modified) version of Kant's transcendental idealist solution to a puzzle about necessity. It also seeks to reconcile Wittgenstein's seemingly inconsistent answers to the question of whether or not grammar is arbitrary by showing that he believed grammar to be arbitrary in one sense and non-arbitrary in another. Part II focuses on an especially central and contested feature of Wittgenstein's account: a thesis of the diversity of grammars. The author discusses this thesis in connection with the nature of formal logic, the limits of language, and the conditions of semantic understanding or access. Strongly argued and cleary written, this book will appeal not only to philosophers but also to students of the human sciences, for whom Wittgenstein's work holds great relevance.

Excerpt

Recent philosophers Donald Davidson, for example—have been much concerned with the topic of “conceptual schemes” and the question of whether or not there are radically different and incommensurable “conceptual schemes.” Roughly the same themes already appear in the later Wittgenstein’s work under the rubric of “grammar” and the question of the “arbitrariness of grammar.”

Wittgenstein’s views on these matters indeed occupy a central place in his later philosophy. One could, I think, make a good case that they are at least as important for the understanding of his later thought, and at least as philosophically interesting, as his views on such other central topics as the nature of rule-following, the impossibility of a private language, and the character of psychological states and processes. and yet, in comparison with such topics, they have been relatively neglected by the secondary literature.

The reasons for this neglect are doubtless multiple, but neither severally nor collectively do they constitute anything like a justification of it: Wittgenstein’s views on grammar and the question of its arbitrariness are not set out in any detail in the only late work polished for publication by Wittgenstein himself, the Philosophical Investigations. Their fullest statement is instead found in such works as The Big Typescript, the Philosophical Grammar, the Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, Zettel, and On Certainty, which are commonly thought to have a less official status and are less often read. Also, Wittgenstein’s views on the question of the arbitrariness of grammar entail, or at least seem to entail, positions which contemporary philosophers are often prone to regard as anathema (though usually due more to questionable philosophical instincts than to good reasons): in particular, deep mental plu-

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