Robinson Crusoe Sails Again: The Interpretative Relevance of Wittgenstein’s Nachlass

Part of the History of Analytic Philosophy book series (History of Analytic Philosophy)


Immediately after the publication of the Investigations there was a lively debate between Rush Rhees and Freddie Ayer over the intelligibility of someone, abandoned in infancy on a desert island, inventing a language for his own use and following the rules of this private language. Ayer thought this to be intelligible, Rhees denied it to be so.1 Such a person, Ayer remonstrated, could surely invent words for the flora and fauna around him, so why should he not also invent words for his own subjective sensations and experiences? Rhees insisted that a person solitary from infancy could not follow a rule and could not invent or use a language — no matter whether it is a language containing names of flora and fauna, or a language containing sensation-words. Over the next decade, it became clear that what Wittgenstein had meant by a ‘private language’ was not simply a language containing sensation-words that one might use to refer to one’s sensations, but rather a language containing sensation-words the meaning of which was severed from behavioural expressions of sensations. The issue of Robinson Crusoes of various shades of solitude dropped out of sight.


Social Practice Sewing Machine Private Language Innate Knowledge Picture Language 
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© P. M. S. Hacker 2010

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