Language Is Rule-Governed
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: Philosophy|
|✅ Wordcount: 5438 words||✅ Published: 3rd May 2017|
Wittgenstein stated that his aim in philosophy was to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle that is, to lead us out of the web of misconceptions and confusions that cloud our understanding. He argued that our confusion lay in our misunderstanding of language and the rules that govern its use. This misunderstanding resulted from the assumptions of traditional Western Philosophy which are based on a Cartesian theory of mind, a Platonist conception of reality and an Augustinian view of language. These assumptions led to the belief that the private mental realm was the primary source of language, the essential function of language was to name objects, and the rules of language were set in a fixed pattern of application respectively. As this account of rules relies on their having a fixed content, the only way to follow these rules is to discern their meaning by finding an appropriate mediating interpretation. Once the rules have been interpreted correctly, they would then disclose how they should be applied. Wittgenstein argued that these assumptions cloud the true nature of rule-following and meaning, leaving them vulnerable to scepticism as "we lay down rules, a technique for playing a game, and that then, when we follow the rules, things don't turn out as we had assumed. So that we are, as it were, entangled in our own rules."  The issue that Wittgenstein raises is if we can argue that any action can be interpreted as acting in accordance with a rule, how can we ever know if we are following a rule correctly and therefore, how can we justify that our use of language holds any meaning? This reveals the flaws in the traditional belief that it is the rules themselves that act as the normative standards by which we discern whether or not our use of language is correct. Therefore, we must look for another source of normativity in order to preserve the notion of meaning.
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In light of Wittgenstein's view that "'following a rule' is a practice"  which is "analogous to obeying an order"  , I believe that his account of language establishes it as rule-governed by situating the requisite justification and normativity in the linguistic community. These requisites are met in Wittgenstein's account as when we are taught a rule we are also trained to follow it in a particular way determined by the linguistic community of which we are a member. I will expound this view by firstly looking at the rule-following considerations as found in 185 and 201 to explicate Wittgenstein's view that we cannot establish how to follow a rule correctly by looking at the rule itself, but rather we must examine at how the rule is applied as part of a communal practice. I will then use Meredith William's critique of Saul Kripke's sceptical solution to the paradox and her argument for a communitarian view of Wittgenstein's account of rule-following to discuss what a socially embedded justification and standard of normativity might entail. Following from this I will go on to examine John McDowell's critique of Crispin Wright's anti-realism in order to discuss how a social normative standard can be established through the shared understandings held by a linguistic community.
When describing the purpose of the rule-following considerations, Wittgenstein stated that "what we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stand"  by which he means that through a re-evaluation the nature of language we may dissolve the empty questions that traditional philosophy had been concerned with, including the question of what constitutes meaning. Wittgenstein aimed to achieve this by reminding the reader that rule-following cannot be a mental process by which we discern the meaning of the rule and then establish a set pattern of application. Perhaps the most important issue with the traditional view of rule-following that Wittgenstein's attack brings to light is the regress of interpretation. Wittgenstein highlights this flaw in the belief that interpretation necessarily clarifies the content of a rule and provides a method of application. He does so by stating that there is no reason why an interpretation may not be just as ambiguous as the rule itself and therefore may also be subject to the same interpretative process as the rule. No one interpretation is going to be unambiguous in every situation to every individual. Therefore, the move to symbolic language does not clarify the rule's contents, it simply leads to a regress as "in this chain of reasoning we place one interpretation behind another as if each one contented us at least for a moment, until we thought of yet another lying behind it."  This regress means firstly that there is no ultimate justification to be found through interpretation, and secondly that the countless interpretations that a rule may be subject to renders the rule meaningless. From this Wittgenstein concludes that "there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation"  , meaning that understanding is not always aligned with the act of interpretation and rule-following does not necessarily involve a mediating interpretation between the rule and its application.
A second challenge uses the discrepancy between the infinite applications of a rule and the finite amount of times we can observe this application. This discrepancy shows that we cannot regard our understanding of a rule as the grasping of a set pattern of application that we must replicate in every future circumstance. Wittgenstein explicates this challenge in his "deviant learner" example in paragraph 185, in which a student seems to be following a numerical series "+2" correctly up until he reaches 1,000 where he then changes to the series of "+4". If the teacher had made the student stop following the series before 1,000 he would have never known that the student misunderstood the rule that he had been taught. The "deviant learner" also brings forth the issue that for any rule applied, for example, a 100 times, we can imagine other rules that give the same results but then diverges on its 101st application. This means that we cannot conceive of the meaning of rules as an infinite set of their application and therefore it is implausible to argue that when we explain a rule that we have an infinite set in mind. Just like the teacher in the "deviant learner" example, we may believe that someone has mastered the application of a rule, up until the point where they begin to get it wrong. This may happen at any point through a sequence and thus there is no way of knowing for certain if the person has understood the rule. Therefore, if we represent rules as infinite sets of applications but we only deal with finite numbers of these applications we can never be sure that we have successfully taught the rule, or are following it correctly ourselves. This means that if we wish to examine rules through how we follow them rather than their content, we cannot regard rule-following as being guided by "rails invisibly laid out to infinity"  if we wish to develop any semblance of normativity.
Regarding his own view of the relation between a rule, our understanding of it and our method of application, Wittgenstein uses the analogy of playing chess, stating "where is the connection effected between the sense of the words "let's play a game of chess" and all the rules of the game? - Well, in the list of rules of the game, in the teaching of it, in the everyday practice of playing"  . This means that our understanding of a rule results in how we are taught to understand it and this socially constructed comprehension manifests in the action of following of the rule as part of a custom. For example, when we encounter a signpost pointing right, we react to this by turning right because there is an established custom of doing so which we are initiated into through training. As there is clearly nothing inherent in the arrow that tells us how to react to it, this custom can only have been established by the community of which we are a member. Although Wittgenstein makes it clear that he believes that how we follow a rule is how we participate in a communal custom, he recognises the problem concerning the sustainment of normativity that this view must address. If our understanding is moulded by how we are trained, what happens when two people react to their training differently and how do we know which reaction is the correct one?  As it is the community that establishes how we follow a rule, and we can make no valid reference to the rule itself, it must then be the community that decides whether an individual follows a rule correctly. However, is there any way to prove that the community can provide the normative standard required to know whether or not we are following a rule correctly? I will now address this issue, beginning with an examination of Kripke's sceptical account of rule following.
Saul Kripke's discussion of Wittgenstein's account of language (which he stressed was not an interpretation, but a line of thought inspired by his reading of Wittgenstein) rests on the sceptical belief that there is no mental fact that can provide an ultimate justification for our belief that we are following the same rule in the same way as we have in the past, and therefore no objective notion of meaning. Although Kripke's account has not been popular, its influence is undeniable as it is used as the "point of departure for the standard approach to rule-following"  . Kripke founded his sceptical version of Wittgenstein's account of rules on the first challenge to the classical account that I previously discussed which he named the "sceptical paradox".
"This was our paradox; no course of action could be determined by a rule, because every course of action can be brought into accord with the rule. The answer was: if every course of action can be brought into accord with the rule, then it can be also brought into conflict with it. And so there would be neither accord nor conflict here." 
Kripke saw this issue to be, "the most radical sceptical problem that philosophy has seen to date"  he stated that the problem lies in that we cannot discern a fact about the mental state of an individual that can justify their belief that they are following a particular rule in the correct way. Thus, the notion of rule-following becomes meaningless. In order to explicate the problem Kripke used the "quaddition example" in which he asked the reader to imagine in the method of calculation "quaddition" where,
'x quus y' = x + y if x, y < 57, and = 5 otherwise
This would mean that "quus" would give the same results as "plus" for numerous calculations, up until y < 57 where its results would then diverge. Kripke used this example to emphasise Wittgenstein's attack against the view that grasping a rule allows us to apply it in the same way for every foreseeable application, and also to discern whether we are applying it correctly. As can be seen from the formulation of the "quaddtion rule", there are countless rules which can give the same results as addition and so a difference cannot be distinguished until a certain point that we may not be aware of. This means that we cannot know for certain which rule we, or any other individual we are observing, is following.
In order provide a solution to the sceptical paradox, Kripke argues that Wittgenstein must look for an exterior source for justification and normativity. Kripke's Wittgenstein finds this justification by first accepting the sceptical problem and acknowledging that there can be no ultimate justification therefore the solution must be sceptical itself. From this starting point he then reduces the severity of the problem by arguing that what is required to solve the sceptical problem are not truth conditions (the facts that meanings must obtain to in order to be true), but justification conditions. These justification conditions rest on our answers to the question "what is the role, and the utility in our lives of the practice of asserting (or denying) the form of words under these conditions?"  In other words, we must justify our understanding of a rule by showing how we use it within our everyday lives. Our application of the rule is then evaluated by the community as to whether it conforms to the usual application of the rule and is therefore "correct".
Kripke's sceptical account of rule-following does succeed in providing a comprehensive and plausible account for how we invest meaning into the notion of rule- following through community based justification and evaluation. However, it seems that by accepting the scepticism brought to light by the by the paradox Kripke is guilty of the very misunderstanding that Wittgenstein was trying to correct. Wittgenstein's rejection of the sceptical problem appears to be shown in the second paragraph of 201 in which Wittgenstein states that "we thereby show that there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation, but which, from case to case application is exhibited in what we call "following the rule" and "going against it"  . From this it appears that Wittgenstein believed it was possible to reject the view that understanding is reliant on interpretation without having to accept on a sceptical theory of meaning. Meredith Williams highlights Kripke's misunderstanding, arguing that his belief that the apparent lack of epistemic guidance and justification for the correct application of a rule presents a genuine problem reflects "a continued allegiance to the ideal expressed in the classical view"  . She argues that this allegiance distorts Wittgenstein's view by searching for an epistemic solution, leading Kripke to replace truth conditions with justification conditions and subjective verification with communal verification. Although Williams shares Kripke's community view of rule-following, she holds that this is not simply a sceptical solution but a genuine source of justification, stating that "Wittgenstein's answer to the paradox is not a sceptical throwing up of the hands with "But this is what I or we do", but an appeal to the social embeddedness of rules"  . She also criticizes Kripke for misunderstanding the community view by denying the authority of those who have mastered the language and forms of life that they are involved with, thus making the authority of the community arbitrary. Williams argues that Wittgenstein held an overtly communitarian view of rules, she evens goes as far as to argue that only the communitarian view can provide rules with the power to constrain the behaviour of the individual and space needed for the basic normative distinction between correct and incorrect.
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Williams describes the activity of rule-following as "a matter of establishing a second nature"  . Rules gain their power from appearing natural and inevitable, meaning that we develop an instantaneous and blind obedience to them. Blind obedience is cultivated through the training of a novice by a master wherein the novice is taught "the technique of application that lies in the background and gives content to the formula as rule"  . These techniques then become "bedrock practices" which need no epistemic justification as they are legitimised by their conformity. Williams argues that it is the blind obedience in the application of bedrock judgements and actions that create space for the rule rather than vice versa, which she calls "the primacy of action". Williams argues that both the novice and the master act blindly, they are "alternative blind" as they are unaware of alternative actions and judgements. The Novice is blind as they unquestioningly follow the example and instruction of the master as they are aware of no other alternatives. Masters act blindly as once they have mastered the language they are blind (or no longer subject to) the verification of the community. From this Williams then argues that it is these two kinds of blindness than can give weight to the constraints that rules place upon an individual by providing the necessary foundational level needed to stop the regress of interpretation.
In regards to the issue of normativity, Williams argues that the necessity of following a rule in a particular way is established through a communal regularity which "constitutes the form of life against which error and mistake, truth and falsity can be discerned."  This means that the community does not provide a normative standard through its assent. Rather, it is the structure of the community or in other words, "a certain history and a certain setting"  which sustains the regularity of practices over time therefore acting in accordance with this regularity that constitutes following a rule correctly. This means that when we engage in blind actions and judgements, we comply with rules in a way that has been developed in the community of which we are a member, therefore, "it is only in relation to the structured practice of the community that the individual can engage in normative activity"  .
Williams' theory of blind obedience as the source of the necessity of rules and normativity of rules as socially constructed appears to be a valid interpretation of Wittgenstein's account of rule-following. However, the notion of socially embedded normativity appears to be in need of further examination. Even if Williams account does not rely on the overtly arbitrary assent of the community, how can an individual compare their understanding of the meaning of an expression with the one provided by the "structured practice of the community" and furthermore, how may the community ascertain an individual's understanding of a rule in a comprehensively in order to subject it to verification? In light of these queries, I believe that a more substantial account of social normativity is needed, one that I will explore in John McDowell's critique of Crispin Wright's anti-realist theory of meaning.
Crispin Wright held a community view of Wittgenstein's account of rule-following however, he saw this as necessarily aligned with an anti-realist stance due to the scepticism against investigation-independent truth values that he took to be inherent in Wittgenstein's rule-following considerations. According to Wright, there can be no such thing as an objective or investigation-independent fact and so the only source of normativity available to a language speaker is the verdict of the linguistic community. However, due to the lack of investigation-independence this verdict is arbitrary. Wright challenges the existence of investigation-independence by refuting the "hypothetico-deductive" picture of understanding which he believes to be a foundational aspect. In the case of learning a language, this theory assumes that the trainee is able to form a hypothesis of what they believe their trainer is attempting to convey. Wright argues that this would suggest that we all have some innate grasp of an idiolectic pattern of application. If this is the case, we can then assume that this insight is shared communally.
Wright rejects this view of understanding as "psychologically artificial"  as it rests on the assumption that we have such access to understanding that allows us to make verifiable assertions about the meaning of expressions. He argues along similar lines to Kripke, that there is no way that a trainee may prove that her hypothesis correctly mirrors that of the apparent investigation-independent fact in every case of application. This then means that it is not possible to have a direct and privileged insight regarding the requisites of understanding an expression irrespective of whether this insight is shared. If we wish to claim that investigation-independent facts pertaining to language exist, they must be recognisable; otherwise the correct use of language would have to be regarded as a radical transcendence of human consciousness  . However, Wright's examination of the hypothetico-deductive picture shows that an individual cannot attribute themselves with the ability to recognise whether they are using an expression in accordance with the prescribed pattern of the fact, let alone persuade anyone else that they have this ability. From this Wright concludes that "there is truth in the idea that it is community of assent which supplies the essential background against which alone it makes sense to think of individual's responses as correct or incorrect"  . However, if we suppose that this means that the community has the capability that the individual lacks to recognise whether they are conforming to a determined pattern, we are then faced with the same dilemma as the individual as there is no way of knowing whether consensus aligns with correctness. Wright argues that communal consent can be the only authority regarding the correct employment of language (or in other words the application of the rules of language) but "for the community itself there is no authority, so no standard to meet"  meaning a community does not go "right or wrong in accepting a particular verdict on a particular decidable question, rather, it just goes." 
In accordance with Wright's belief that meaning cannot be constituted by investigation-independent facts he states that, "the only notion of objectivity which the anti-realist can allow himself is the ordinary contrast between areas where disagreement is taken to betoken error or misunderstanding"  . He argues that this is an acceptable view of meaning as our assertions can be given substance through reflecting on our epistemic practices from which they arise. However, this does not seem to be satisfactory, or even in alignment with Wittgenstein's intentions due to such statements such as "the agreement of ratifications is the pre-condition of our language-game, it is not affirmed in it"  . It appears Wittgenstein believed not only that language games and the rules that govern them are not wholly determined by ratification, but they needed a stronger validation than such ratifications can provide. Although it is clear that Wittgenstein would not regard our grasping of meaning as the grasping of a private idiolectic pattern, the way in which Wright approaches this seems to threaten normativity in an unnecessary way by associating the invalidity of the "hypothetico-deductive" picture with an inability of a community to recognise whether or not the individual is able to follow rules correctly.
McDowell takes this view in his article Following a Rule in which he argues that Wright's anti-realist theory of meaning and understanding is not recognizable as such and furthermore cannot be regarded as Wittgenstein's view. He states that Wright's rejection of investigation-independence "yields a picture of the relation between the communal language and the world in which norms are obliterated"  . In light of this it is difficult to see how the susceptibility of the individual to be corrected by the community can be regarded as a form of normativity as there are no norms that may constrain the judgement of the community. McDowell states that this revelation "turns Wright's argument on its head"  as it is then becomes necessary to reject anti-realism in order to discern an applicable notion of meaning.
According to McDowell, the crux of Wright's misunderstanding, shared with Kripke lies in their overlooking of Wittgenstein's intention to refute the convergence of understanding with interpretation which reflects his desire to preserve the sanctity of normativity and meaning. In fact, McDowell sees Wittgenstein's goal as finding a middle path between two horns of a dilemma, one which he takes to be Kripke's view that understanding is necessarily interpretative leading to the sceptical paradox, and Wright's view in which expressions are behavioural reactions cultivated by the community making any notion of normativity an illusion. McDowell argues that the way in which we may follow a rule blindly - avoiding the need for interpretation while retaining normativity - is to situate the questions regarding rules, meaning and understanding within a "framework of communal practices"  and furthermore, to redefine what it means to be a member of a linguistic community. According to McDowell, a linguistic community is "bound together, not by a match of mere externals (facts accessible to just anyone) but by a capacity for meeting of minds"  . It is as a result of the capacity of members within a linguistic community to access aspects of other members understanding of expressions, that they are able to ascertain a shared meaning.
McDowell concedes that Wright is correct to reject the idea that understanding an expression is to formulate a hypothesis concerning something concealed by the speaker's linguistic behaviour. However, the anti-realist conclusion from this rejection is misguided in that it fails to also reject the idea that there is such a thing as surface linguistic behaviour. The linguistic behaviour of a speaker that is apparent to others "must be characterised in terms of the contents of utterances"  . A command of the language spoken by the speaker allows "direct cognitive contact"  with the meaning of this content and thus establishes true "meeting of the minds". By this McDowell is suggesting that what we mean by our utterances is not hidden, it is in fact clearly discernible to those who speak the same language. By taking this view McDowell highlights Wittgenstein's call for us to stop trying to look beneath the "bedrock" for reasons as to why we follow rules in a certain way. It is possible to ask further questions concerning the nature of rule-following and meaning but to do so "blocks off the obvious and surely correct reading: that hearing a word in one sense rather than another is hearing it in one position rather than another in the network of possible patterns of making sense that we learn to find ourselves in when we acquire mastery of a language"  . When we learn a language we also learn the ways in which this language should be used; there need not be a gap between "the expression of a rule given in trainingâ€¦and an action in conformity with it"  . Therefore, when we understand an expression we use it in accordance with the communal use and our meaning is clear to those who share our language and customs. If we do not understand, our incomprehension is also clear and we may then be corrected. This appears to coincide with Wittgenstein's belief that "what is true or false is what human beings say; and it is in their language that human beings agree. This agreement not in opinion, but rather in form of life." 
In this essay I have addressed the question of "does Wittgenstein establish that language is rule-governed" by discussing the issue of whether his account of rule-following can provide the justifications and normative standards that following a rule require. My exposition of the "rule-following paradox" and the "deviant learner" example revealed how Wittgenstein proved that we cannot provide a comprehensive account of rule-following by referring to the content of rules. However, even if this is the case, it does not necessarily mean that we must be sceptics regarding meaning as Kripke suggests. To believe that normativity and justification must be epistemic in nature is to misunderstand what it is to follow a rule. William's account of how training situated within a particular social structure leads individuals to follow rules blindly effectively encapsulates how the only justification we require for the way we follow rules is that we have been trained to do so. I do believe Wright raises a valid point in asking how we may recognise that our understanding of certain rules is shared by others. However, through my examination of McDowell's view that by sharing a language we are able to gain significant insight
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