“Wittgenstein’s “Private Language Argument” and the Limits of Language” by Richard McDonough

Wittgenstein’s “Private Language Argument” and the Limits of Language

After explaining the “private language argument” (PLA) centered in para. 258 of the Philosophical Investigations, the paper first clarifies Wittgenstein’s notion of criteria. The paper then discusses the irony in Wittgenstein’s apparent objection to putative private languages that they have no criteria for the private use of words. It is then argued that PLA, viewed from a logical perspective, is fallacious. The paper then shows how there could be scientific standards (not criteria in Wittgenstein’s technical sense) for the existence of private mental states and argues that Wittgenstein did not argue that this is impossible. The paper then argues that the conclusion of PLA is a tautology. The paper then argues that since the conclusion of PLA is a tautology, Wittgenstein would be correctly unmoved by any of the aforementioned objections to PLA. Finally, the paper refutes the objection that there is an inconsistency in the present interpretation and shows how resolving this objection shows that Wittgenstein’s PLA is to be understood in the context of his longstanding interest in setting the limits of language.

Date: 4 April 2019
Time: 2pm to 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Meeting Room (AS3-05-23)

About the Speaker:

Richard McDonough received his BA in philosophy, with minors in mathematics and chemistry, summa cum laude, from the University of Pittsburgh in 1971, his MA in philosophy from Cornell University in 1974, and his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1975. He was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow 1971-71 and a National Science Foundation Fellow 1971-74. He is the author of two books, over 80 articles in internationally referred journals, 5 encyclopedia and dictionary entries, and 11 book reviews. He has acted as a guest editor of an issue of Idealistic Studies titled Wittgenstein and Cognitive Science. He has taught at Bates College, the National University of Singapore, the University of Tulsa, the University Putra Malaysia, the Overseas Family College, the PSB Academy, the University of Maryland, the Arium Academy, and James Cook University. In 2015, he received a European award for his papers in the philosophy of religion awarded at Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. In addition to philosophy, he has taught psychology, physics, general humanities and writing courses. He is currently working on a book on Plato and a book on the development of Wittgenstein’s philosophy from the early Tractatus to his “later philosophy”.

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