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Niels Helsloot Niels Helsloot


Niels Helsloot, 'Make-up and alteration', in: Daímon 2, 1990, pp. 115-116.
© 1990, 2003 (posted with permission of the editorial board of Daímon)


Abstract [and introduction]


Wittgenstein denies that language games can be determined by fixed rules. In section 83 of his Philosophical Investigations, he asks us to imagine the case where we play and make up/alter the rules as we go along. The relationship between make-up and alteration thus introduced has been interpreted in quite different ways. Kripke raises the sceptical 'paradox' that one cannot know how to follow a rule – a private problem he solves sceptically by appealing to community agreement. But also the community does not offer a fixed ground of regularity. Baker and Hacker therefore consider Kripke's problem unsolvable. Wittgenstein would escape its consequences by not posing such meaningless questions in the first place. In practice, a sceptical problem does not rise, for we use to know what to do – even without last grounds. This refusal to go into unsolvable problems, however, presupposes an undisputed 'we'. Through an orientation towards Derrida, Staten abandons such presupposed grounds more thoroughly. Feeling under the spell of a rule does not exclude deviant ways of going along. New 'appearances' can always be identified to earlier instances or be distinguished from them as we go along. Making such difference is part of the game of rule following.

Departing from an attempt to come to terms with rulescepticism, this essay develops a reading of Wittgenstein that does not presuppose any certainty beyond appearance. A rule is just what actual practice shows it to be. A judgement of identity can't fix it, since it is itself an intervention in practice. It alters and is altered by other, different, [p. 116:] even antagonistic, claims to identity. Wittgenstein, in his treatment of rules, recognizes this impact of difference. His juxtaposition of make-up and alteration (PI 83) indicates that practice constitutes both identity and difference (communication and misunderstanding, rule following and deviation, etc.). But if practice is that ambiguous, doubt about how to follow a rule can't be easily excluded. All ground of communicative or social identity is taken away. From a practical point of view, being regular is a dead-end worry.


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