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Sep Private Language Notes

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Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Private Language

1. Overview: Wittgenstein's Argument and its Interpretations
* 243-315 is not just a critique of private language but also a discussion of privacy, identity, inner/outer relations, sensations as objects, sensations as justification for sensation talk
* but the conclusion of 244-271 is 'that a language in principle unintelligible to anyone but its originating user is impossible' - it would be unintelligible to its user as well

1.1 Recent Developments and Their Consequences
* The attempt to interpret the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations together has led to two groups of interpretation
* the orthodox/substantial/non-Pyrrhonian school see Wittgenstein as critiquing the method of other philosophers, and also presenting a positive model for how philosophy should be done
* the resolute/Pyrrhonian school see Wittgenstein as presenting no positive theories, but rather showing traditional philosophical theorizing to be nonsensical

1.2 Are Claims Affirming the Possibility of a Private Language False or Nonsense?
* One interpretation of the private language argument holds that its form is reductio ad absurdum that it assumes the premises of a private language before showing this assumption to lead to absurdity/contradiction
* on this interpretation the possibility of a private language is false
# but on another interpretation (more likely a resolute reading) W shows the possibility to be nonsensical, even as a consequence of a reductio argument
# the resolute reading rejects the idea that there is something determinate that we cannot do; rather, the idea is simply nonsense

2. The Significance of the Issue
* The argument shows that not only actual language, but the very possibility of language depends on the possibility of agreement in human behaviour
* The argument opposes the idea that there are metaphysical absolutes which are within our reach e.g. numbers
* they are not self-identifying objects that force their use upon us
* there is the same temptation with sensations: we feel a sensation, we call it an 'itch', and then the rules for application of the word 'itch' are governed by the sensation itself
# this implies that the possibility of a shared practice is irrelevant to the concept of itching; the nature of itching would be revealed in a single mental act of naming it
* this is Russell's view, and Wittgenstein is beefing it
* W is also beefing the philosophical orthodoxy that sees language as a matter of translating internal mental vocabulary into social vocabulary every time we speak
* Descartes thought he could talk about his own sensory experiences whilst knowing nothing of the external world
* we feel we can infallibly avoid error when describing 'internal' experiences
# these problems all rely on sharability being irrelevant to meaning

3. The Private Language Argument Expounded

3.1 Preliminaries

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