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Niels Helsloot Niels Helsloot


Niels Helsloot, 'Make-up and alteration', in: Daímon 2, 1990, pp. 116-117.
Chapter 1.
© 1990, 2003 (posted with permission of the editorial board of Daímon)


Wittgenstein's appearance

Wittgenstein's notion of rules as being made up and altered as we go along poses at least two problems that are still worthwile to be philosophically investigated: the 'sceptical paradox' and the relationship between make-up and alteration. The sceptical paradox describes the (non-) effectiveness of rules: "no course of action could be determined by a rule, because every course of action can be made to accord with the rule" (PI 201). No underlying regularity can guarantee that, uttering language, we actually communicate or understand each other, because there are no fixed criteria for regularity. Any interpretation can be seen as following from any sign (Kripke 1982). But the rules of language need not necessarily be seen as a priori justifications – that are to be interpreted in language use. If language is seen as mere practice, one can't even hope to find determinations before or beyond its actual use. Language itself shows its rules. In this case, the sceptical paradox simply doesn't arise; rules don't need last foundations (Baker and Hacker 1984a). In this article, I will summarize and evaluate this controversy.
   I will show that attempts to make sense of Wittgenstein's concept of rule have failed in both ways, until now, because of the second problem, which involves the practical distinction between the make-up ('identification') of a course of action and its alteration ('differentiation'). From Wittgenstein's writing practice, one can conclude that he is looking for foundations only in order to refute them time and again. His work is an endless game (or play) of identification and differentiation. Since one has always stressed the first pole (that of identification – among others: of instances of a rule), it has become urgent to revalue Wittgenstein's attention to difference and alteration (Staten 1985). This step, however, directly leads to a new case of sceptical paradoxy, because rules can't differentiate between identity and difference – at least, not in a way that isn't itself made up / altered as we go along. A distinction between identity and difference can't be made without presupposing a notion of rule that takes the edge off Wittgenstein's argument. Wittgenstein answers his paradox by saying: "if everything can be made out to accord with the rule, then it can also be made out to conflict with it. And so there would be neither accord nor conflict here. [...]. What this shews is that there is a way of grasping a rule [...] which is exhibited in what we call 'obeying the rule' and 'going against it' in actual cases" (PI 201). From this, one can conclude that [p. 117:] Wittgenstein's juxtaposition of make-up and alteration in PI 83 doesn't make a distinction at all. It shows that, in practice, following a rule is exactly as ambiguous as it appears to be – an appearance without underlying reality: both make-up and alteration.


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