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Posted by on Sep 12, 2007 in five private language arguments, wittgenstein | 2 comments

Five Private Language Arguments (International Journal of Philosophical Studies 12, no. 2 (2004))

My paper Five Private Language Arguments is available here.

Comments welcome.

It provides a fairly clear explanation of five different private language arguments that philosophers have supposed Wittgenstein offers in PI 258. I intended it to function as a good introduction to the whole private language argument topic.

If I ever get round to writing a book on the Philosophical Investigations, it will form part of that book.

Incidentally, the clearest intro to the Investigations is still Marie’s McGinn’s (though I don’t agree with McGinn on e.g. the private language argument – see my paper). I have just ordered Block’s How to Read Wittgenstein – will let you know what I think.


  1. Stephen,If you don’t mind the suggestion, I really liked David Stern’s discussion of the private language argument toward the end of his book Wittgenstein on Mind and Language. He draws off texts other than the Philosophical Investigations to elucidate what Wittgenstein was getting at, such as Wittgenstein’s ‘Notes for a Philosophical Lecture’. Stern’s close attention to the rest of Wittgenstein’s corpus of notes definitely strengthens his reading. (Not to suggest, though, that other scholars just drop the ball on doing this…)

  2. I have to differ: I think Wittgenstein is (relatively) clear, he’s correct in general, and wrong in particular.The problem seems relatively simple using the language of science: There’s no such thing as a truly private language, in the sense that—to employ your analogy—the prisoner’s association of the marks on his diary with seeing rats is not in principle unavailable: One could, with sufficiently advanced technology, image the prisoner’s brain and discover the correspondence. The correspondence is ineluctably “written down” in his brain.

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