Investigations 293

In §293 Wittgenstein considers what it would be if “pain” were a name for a particular kind of inner experience and goes on to show how this picture cannot make sense via his beetle-box example, discussed shortly.
      Suppose that I know what the word “pain” means only from my own case – that is, I know it as a name for a particular sensation that I have. If this is how I know the word, then this must also be how others know the word – that is, Sam knows the meaning of “pain” from his own case, as a name for a particular experience of his, something inward. In order to ascribe “pain” to others, it seems I have to generalize from my own case, something like “When I say I’m in pain I feel this way, so when others say that they are in pain, they feel that way too.” The justification for this generalization is dubious, for I only know one case of application (my own), and cannot infer that others are using it the same way (since I don’t have access to their inner experience). This cannot be the right picture of how I know the word “pain”. We’ll now elaborate.
     Intuitively, it seems that someone can only know what pain is from their own case. Let’s take this intuition seriously and consider the following example. Suppose everyone has a box with something in it called a “beetle”. No one can ever look into anyone else’s box (it is logically impossible), and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his own beetle. (We can think of the box as a person’s mind, the beetle as the particular sensation that person has – and the person knows what the beetle is in his own case. In this way, there is analogy to the pain case. There is a sensation of pain [particular beetle] in the “mind” [box], and the public word for the sensation: “pain” [beetle].) In this example, the contents of each person’s box may differ – we can even imagine the contents changing—“beetle” simply designates the box-contents regardless of what is or is not in them.
     In this situation, we cannot say that Sam knows what a beetle is only by looking at his own beetle. Why? Suppose Sam has an orange in his box. You ask Sam “what’s beetle?” He can either say (1) an orange, or (2) whatever is in the box. If (1), we can’t say he knows what a beetle is because for all he knows a pear is in someone else’s box—if “beetle” denotes orange then it shouldn’t denote pear. If (2) then he hasn’t said what a beetle is, for he might as well have said “a beetle is a beetle” or “what is in the box is in the box”. Such an answer is not at all informative, and so not at all meaningful. This echoes §298, where Wittgenstein observes that the fact we’re inclined to say “This is the important thing” – while we focus on our particular inward experience – is sufficient to show how we are inclined to say something which is “not informative”. One cannot know the meaning of “beetle” just from looking at his own beetle.
     Now let’s suppose that these people had a use for the word “beetle”. That is, suppose “beetle” is in fact a meaningful expression. If so, “beetle” couldn’t be a name for a kind of inner experience, for the same reasons stated in the previous paragraph. We cannot name the thing in the box; for suppose someone’s box is empty, “beetle” cannot stand as a name for an orange and as a name for emptiness – we cannot refer to the particular (non)object in any one’s box because it’s contents aren’t part of the language game – whatever it is cannot be shared or expressed, for a private sensation cannot even be given a name that others (or even yourself) can understand. The object in the box is not an object of possible reference, there is no public word for one’s private contents, as we saw in §258. If the word has a use, its use is as something other than a name – it can be publicly understood. If “beetle” has a meaning, it cannot be a name. The idea is that if mental predicates like “pain” are names denoting a kind of object, the object “drops out of consideration as irrelevant” – we can’t actually make sense of our referring to that object. If the word only ever has a public use – is publicly understood – then it cannot ever be used a name for a private object. When I say “I am in pain” I express something we all understand – I do not name a particular inner sensation present to me – this is the sense in which the object “drops out of consideration as irrelevant”.
      §291 buttresses this point. Consider that you might think of a description as a kind of name for an object—“a word-picture of the facts”. On this view, there’s a sense in which the description is idle, it simply depicts a state-of-affairs. But now consider how an engineer might use a description. Drawing a machine, a sort of design, is like a description of what he will build. Recording a measurement is a description that he uses to know where put things or how to put them together. These descriptions have particular uses – they are not “idle”. If we think of words as names for objects, they become idle; if we realize that words have uses (over and above naming objects), we see that words are not mere pictures but rather tools for doing things. The engineer’s description gets its meaning from its use or place in some project – not as a name for his inner imaginings. If we want to grasp the meaning of a word, we must look to its use; if words are merely names for objects (especially for inner qualities), we cannot make sense of how we can use them meaningfully.
      The example in §293 does not show that there is or is not any particular sensation that one stands in relation to. Rather, it demonstrates that the grammar of our language doesn’t allow for this kind of private reference or knowledge of meaning (§304). There is no place in the language for a name for a private sensation, for there is no sense in which we could understand what we are referring to. Insofar as words have uses – and, consequently, meaning – they must be used to talk about something other than private mental contents.

Investigations 258

In §256, Wittgenstein characterizes a private language as that language which describes my inner experiences and which only I myself can understand. Words of this language cannot be connected with my natural expressions of sensation – if they were, the language could not be private, but is rather public, for anyone might understand my natural expressions and so come to understand my purportedly private language. That is, if a private language is connected with natural expressions, then the expressions of the language are public/observable – its expressions cannot be understood uniquely by me. So if we are to have a private language, it cannot be connected with natural expression – rather, it must work the following way: we have sensations (which are in some sense private) and come to associate names with the sensations and use these names in descriptions (which, presumably, cannot violate the privacy).
In §258, Wittgenstein asks us to consider the following case. I want to keep a diary about the recurrence of a certain sensation or I have. I associate the sign “S” with the sensation, and write this sign in the diary every day on which I have the sensation. This is the only means by which I “express” my experience of the sensation – there are no natural expressions of the sensation, all the outside observer can see is the “S”-writing behavior. I cannot formulate a definition for “S”. Why? Suppose I say, or think, that “`S’ is defined as such-and-such”. If the “such-and-such” is some combination of familiar, public words (in English, let’s say), then my sensation is publicly expressible and cannot be private, contrary to our hypothesis. Or else if the “such-and-such” is some other private sign like “S”, then those signs must also be given some definition, and so on.
Recall that to give an ostensive definition of a thing is to “attach a nametag” to it by gesturing toward the thing and producing an utterance. You might think that “S” could be defined ostensively. Not so. For in what sense can you gesture toward a sensation? It is not as though I could point to the S-sensation in my head (I’d just be pointing at my head!). But you might think that in some sense you can point to your sensation insofar as you “concentrate [your] attention on the sensation [so as to] `point inwardly’”. But this, too, would be a mistake. For we can ask “what is this `ceremony’ of concentrating your attention for?” What does it mean to “concentrate your attention” on this thing rather than that – and what does it actually accomplish? You might think it accomplishes this: by concentrating your attention on the sensation and committing to memory a connection between the sensation and “S”, you bring about the connection between the sensation and “S”.
Committing the connection to memory just means that this process [concentrating the attention] brings it about that I remember the connection correctly in the future. If concentrating your attention makes it the case that you remember the connection correctly in the future, then there must already be some fact of the matter regarding a correct connection between the sensation and “S”. But in the case we are asked to consider, there is no criterion of correctness. I can’t bring it about that I remember the connection correctly in the future unless I have the resources to say that it was correct to apply “S” to the sensation in the first case. There’s a temptation to say that because this is my private sensation and my private language whatever seems correct to me is correct. And so because applying “S” to the sensation seems correct to me, it in fact is. This, however, is not right. To say “whatever seems correct to me is correct” is just to say that “we cannot talk about `correct’”.
A brief elaboration. My “concentration of attention” doesn’t seem like it should change anything about how “S” may be used, nor does it affect the sensation; there is no tangible connection brought about. It cannot be the case that whatever seems right and wrong is in fact what is right and wrong. For if it were, then understanding how to “go on” would just be a matter of conforming to the thought or formula which seems right in your head. But we saw in §154 that understanding how to go on or continue a series is not a matter of having a formula occur in your head and conforming to that. Likewise, what is right or wrong is not so because of some occurrence in your head – like “seeming right”. Suppose I wake up one morning and what seemed right to me yesterday now suddenly seems wrong – has the status of what is right or wrong suddenly changed? Intuitively, we want to say “no”. Because I cannot mentally set my own standard of correctness, then in this situation there can be no “right” or correct use (of “S”).
We can strengthen this point with considerations from §257. If I invent a name for my sensation in my private language, I cannot make myself understood when I use the word. That is, I could never use “S” in a sentence and have someone understand what I mean by it. If I cannot make myself understood to others when I use the sign, then in what sense do I understand “S” when I use it? It seems like I can just stick “S” to whatever sensation I feel like, whenever I feel like—so in what sense could this sign have any meaning to me? Insofar as it a name? Not so, for there is still no criterion of correct usage. A name is used to refer to an object, and I cannot use this name for anything (as no one understands it) – it has no purpose and cannot be used to refer. Should I use “S” to refer to some other thing, no one can tell me I’ve used the sign wrong – if “S” can refer to whatever I like, then there cannot be a fact of the matter as to the correct use of “S”.
In order to give something a name, there must a role existing in the language for that word to occupy. There must be a post at which the word is stationed – a role the world plays. But there is nothing in the grammar of any public language – no station – which fixes the use of the term “S”. So we cannot under the notion of a private language.

Investigations 201

We should first clarify the meaning of “interpretation”. Suppose I’m traveling from Berkeley to Timbuktu. At some point I no longer know the way, but I see a signpost reading, “Timbuktu → ”. The signpost expresses a rule – that is, the signpost is an expression of a rule, namely a rule regarding how to get to Timbuktu. I see that sign and think, “Ah, I ought to proceed East to Timbuktu.” This thought, which represents what I take the signpost to be expressing, constitutes my “interpretation” of the rule expressed by the signpost. If I had seen the sign and thought “I ought to proceed West to Timbuktu”, that thought would also constitute an interpretation of the expressed rule.
The paradox is: no course of action can be determined by a rule because every course of action can be brought into accord with the rule (87). In what way is every action capable of according with a rule? Consider a teacher expressing a rule (regarding a particular series) to his pupil: “Add two each time.” The pupil proceeds: 2,4,…,998,1000 . We would say that he is following or acting in accord with the rule. But then the pupil proceeds: 1004,1008,… . The teacher sees that the pupil must not understand, though the pupil cannot be made to see that he was not “adding two each time”: he maintains he was following the rule expressed. We might think that the pupil understands the order as “Add 2 up to 1000, 4 up 2000…” and so on; that is, his actions are still governed by his interpretation of the rule expressed. He did not follow the rule (that the teacher expressed) – even for the first 500 terms – but his actions for the first 500 terms were in accord with that rule. And his actions after the 500th term were in accordance with his [the pupil’s] interpretation of the rule “add two each time” (81). In §198, Wittgenstein’s interlocuter says, “…whatever I do can, on some interpretation, be made compatible with the rule.” This is like how the pupil failed to see his own misunderstanding the order – on his interpretation of the sign (expression of a rule) “Add two each time”, his actions were compatible with the rule.
If any action, on some interpretation, is in accord with the rule, then no rule can determine a course of action. For then any course of action is acceptable by some interpretation of the rule, so no particular course of action is determined by the rule. Wittgenstein responds to the paradox, “if every course of action can be [compatible] with the rule, then it can also be [incompatible] with it. And so there would be neither accord nor conflict here.” (87) This is to say that there is no fact of the matter as to whether a course of action is compatible with a rule, because there exist interpretations of the rule which conflict with the action and those which do not.
That is, here is an expression of a rule: “Add two each time”. The pupil’s interpretation may be “ f(x)=x+2 ”. But this, too, is a sign to be interpreted. And based on the pupil’s behavior, we can say that the pupil interprets the expression “ f(x)=x+2 ” as “ ∀ x( x<1000 → f(x)=x+2 ) ∧ ∀ x( x ≥ 1000 → f(x)=x+4 ) ”. But now how are we to say the pupil interprets this sign? Prima facie, it looks like we need a rule which tells us how an expression of any given rule is to be interpreted. But this cannot be possible, for it leads to regress. Why? Because a rule saying how an expression of rule is to be interpreted must itself be expressed and interpreted. We would need a rule which says how to interpret that rule, and so on and so forth, never bottoming out.
Wittgenstein asserts that there is a “way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation” (87). This must be so, lest we end up with the regress problem. Recall §154, where Wittgenstein argues that understanding should not be thought of as a mental process. To say, “Now I understand the series” is not to say “the formula occurs to me” – where the formula occuring is something like the interpretation of the rule expressed by the series. We say “Now I understand” when we can continue the series correctly. So when we say that “the pupil understands the rule,” we are saying that has the ability to apply it correctly. What does it mean to apply a rule correctly? From §201, this way of grasping a rule is “exhibited in what we call `following the rule’ and `going against it’” in each particular case with its particular circumstances (87). This means that the correct application of a rule does not have to do with an occurrence or given interpretation in one’s head. The deviant pupil did not grasp the rule, but not because his interpretation of the rule differs from ours. Rather, his actions did not conform to what we call “following the rule”. His actions deviated from the actions the “add two each time” order is supposed to provoke in this kind of circumstance (given the effects the teacher was trying to produce, what sign was used, etc.).
There is an inclination to say that every action according to a rule is an interpretation (87) – this is why we concocted elaborate formulas in the deviant pupil’s head to account for his misunderstanding. But this isn’t right, for understanding isn’t “in the head”, so to speak. Actions either follow the rule or go against it – this being judged externally, case by case – but actions themselves are not interpretations (though it seems they can be interpreted). Indeed, Wittgenstein says, “one should speak of interpretation only when one expression of a rule is substituted for another.” (87) That is, an interpretation is an expression of a rule; the substitution of one expression for another constitutes an interpretation of the original expression. An interpretation is not to be confused with a rule, nor is it to be confused with a given action.