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Yet Another Skeptical Solution

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Abstract

The paper puts forward a new skeptical solution to Kripke’s Wittgenstein’s rule-following paradox, a solution which revolves around the idea that human communication does not require meaning facts - at least as defined by Kripke. After a brief discussion of the paradox, I explain why I think that Kripkenstein’s solution needs revision and argue that the main goal of a skeptical solution to the rule-following paradox should be that of showing that communication does not require meaning. After that, I offer two arguments for the thesis that communication does not require meaning. The first argument instantiates a rather direct strategy and focuses on the description of a concrete case of communication without meaning. The second one is more indirect in that I start by describing a world in which, although there are meaning facts, communication does not depend on them. The paper’s last section deals with the issue of meaning talk.

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Notes

  1. As far as I can see, there are two different lines of reasoning that may be developed to support such a view. According to the first one the point is, on the one hand, that a sign having a meaning depends on the fact that people happen to mean something by it and, on the other, that the mental state of meaning something by a sign must be analyzed in terms of rule-following. According to the second line of reasoning the point is that a sign has a meaning only if there are rules for its use and to say that a linguistic rule exists is to say that there is someone who follows it.

  2. Which, among the applications of “green”, are its paradigmatic applications? For the sake of simplicity, let us say that an application is paradigmatic if and only if (1) it is one of those by means of which the meaning of the word was originally determined or (2) it is an application to something whose color seems exactly like the colors the objects of the applications in (1) seemed to have during the relevant application.

  3. Instead of a Goodman-like rule, we could use a Kripke-like rule such as the one that follows: an application of “green” is correct if and only if (1) it is an application to something outside the Eiffel Tower and whose color is similar enough to the colors the objects of certain paradigmatic applications seemed to have during the relevant paradigmatic application or (2) it is an application to something inside the Eiffel Tower and whose color is completely unlike the colors the objects of these paradigmatic applications seemed to have during the relevant paradigmatic application (see Kripke 1981, p. 19). We could then claim that at W, a world where I have never applied “green” to something that was inside the Eiffel Tower, there is no fact of the matter as to whether the rule I have been following in my use of “green” is the one we all would regard as “the real one” or the Kripke-like rule, and so on as before – actually, all Kripke assumes in the passage cited before is that our would-be rule-follower has never entered the Eiffel Tower; however, this assumption is clearly unable to play the role Kripke assigns it in the argument, since I can apply a word to something that is inside the Eiffel Tower even if I have never entered it. Now, Kripke-like rules and Goodman-like rules are built following the very same recipe. We start with the “real” rule governing the use of the word in question: p if and only if q. We then identify a condition that, so far, all the applications of the word have satisfied: let “r” be the name of the proposition that says that the application at issue satisfies the condition. Finally, we modify the “real” rule as follows: p if and only if (1) r and q or (2) not-r and not-q – well, actually, both Kripke and Goodman modify the “real” rule as follows: p if and only if (1) r and q or (2) not-r and s, where s entails not-q. Since the resulting rules always sound very strange, in my 2012a I employed a different recipe. However, I now think that the cons of the strategy I embraced in that paper outweigh its pros. This is why in this article I came back to the classic recipe. This is also the place to note that there is reason to prefer Goodman-like rules to Kripke-like rules, since the former immediately make clear that Kripkenstein’s Paradox applies also to the cases the speaker has already dealt with (see Kripke 1981, note 34).

  4. I.e. X⊕ Y = X + Y if X and Y < 57, X ⊕ Y = 5 if X or Y ≥ 57.

  5. As far as I can see, the main arguments against semantic dispositionalism are (1) Kripke’s Argument from Finitude and Mistake, (2) the Ought Argument (i.e. Kripke’s Normativity Argument as rendered in, e.g., Glüer and Wikforss 2009), (3) the Non-Inferential Knowledge Argument (i.e. Kripke’s Normativity Argument as rendered in, e.g., Zalabardo 1997 and my 2014), and – finally – (4) the Privileging Problem (for which see, e.g., Bird and Handfield 2008 and my 2012b, pp. 206–207).

    As for “the way of universals”, I take it to be clear that the version sketched in the text (which, e.g., Wright 2012 attributes to Lewis 1983) cannot work. If Kripkenstein’s point were, say, that there is no fact of the matter as to whether my next application of “green” is correct because there is no fact of the matter as to whether the color of the object of the application in question is similar enough to those of the objects of the paradigmatic applications, well, the proposal in question would have some merit: the color of the object of the application in question is similar enough to those of the objects of the paradigmatic applications if and only if it instantiates the universal green – which, unlike the universal corresponding to our Goodman-like rule, actually exists. But Kripkenstein’s point is that there is no fact of the matter as to whether my next application of “green” is correct because there is no fact of the matter as to whether the color of the object of the application in question should be similar enough to those of the objects of the paradigmatic applications: there is a fact as to whether there is enough similarity, but there is no fact as to whether enough similarity means that the application in question is correct. The version of the way of universals sketched in the text, therefore, will not do (for a somewhat analogous argument see Wright 2012, pp. 609–612). This is not yet to say, however, that no version of the way of universals can help us with Kripkenstein’s argument – for, of course, one can try to develop a less simple version of this strategy (see, e.g., McDowell 1989).

  6. Note that even if Kripke’s Wittgenstein does not seem that interested in this problem, Kripke himself (see, e.g., 1981, pp. 11–12) clearly regards it as a rather serious one. Lewis uses an argument quite similar to the one sketched in the text in his 1980, § 2.

  7. The non-factualist reading of Kripkenstein’s skeptical solution sketched in this section is, of course, not uncontroversial. For a recent and useful discussion of the issue see Boyd 2017.

  8. Here I am assuming that there is no analogue of Kripkenstein’s Paradox in the case of desire. In fact, I believe that some dispositional account of (the content of) desire is correct.

  9. At least in the sense that he has what Sosa (e.g. 2007, pp. 22–24) calls “animal knowledge” of what α wants. Any other, sufficiently weak, reliabilist notion of knowledge would, of course, do the job.

  10. For a somewhat similar view see Gauker 1995, p. 123.

  11. As I stressed in note 8, I believe that there is no analogue of Kripkenstein’s Paradox in the case of desire. That being said, readers uncomfortable with my use of phrases like “α gets what he wants” can substitute them with something like “α gets the kind of stone he would have picked had he been working on his own” (for some analogous remarks, see Skyrms 2010, p. 9).

  12. See, e.g., the definition of the notion of a signaling system in Lewis 1969, pp. 130–133.

  13. For some somewhat analogous remarks see Lewis 1969, pp. 37–38. For a more recent development of Lewis’ game-theoretic approach to metasemantics see Skyrms 1996, chapter 5, 2004, part 2, and 2010. Skyrms (1996, pp. 81–82 and 2004, pp. 49–50) maintains that the game-theoretic approach can be used to answer semantic skeptics, though he does not explicitly discuss Kripkenstein’s Paradox. For a discussion of the relation between the game-theoretic approach and Kripkenstein’s Paradox see Sillari 2013. I agree with most of what Sillari says; not, however, with his sympathy for straight solutions. My own, somewhat tentative, view on the topic is that (1) the game-theoretic approach cannot provide a suitable supervenience basis for rule-following, (2) if we are willing to break the link between meaning and rule-following, it is very likely that the game-theoretic approach can provide a suitable supervenience basis for meaning and (3) breaking the link between meaning and rule-following is a revisionist but in no sense illicit move. I cannot go into this here, but I hope to be able to come back to the issue in the near future.

  14. For some analogous remarks see Lewis 1969, pp. 148–149.

  15. The notion of such an arational, and yet foundational, level is – of course – Wittgensteinian in character (see esp. Wittgenstein 1969); however, it dates back to, at the very least, Reid 1785.

  16. For the notion of a normative reason see, e.g., Enoch 2011, pp. 221–222.

  17. Note that when I say that we are blind to the alternatives, what I mean is not just that we do not think about the alternatives. What I mean is that even if we were presented with an alternative, we would not see it as an alternative.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank for their comments on previous versions Alan Sidelle, John Mackay, an extremely helpful referee for this journal, and my audience at the I Perception, Memory and Imagination – where Keith Allen gave a very valuable response.

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Guardo, A. Yet Another Skeptical Solution. Philosophia 47, 117–129 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-018-9954-0

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