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Niels Helsloot Niels Helsloot


Niels Helsloot, 'Make-up and alteration', in: Daímon 2, 1990, pp. 118-119.
Chapter 3.
© 1990, 2003 (posted with permission of the editorial board of Daímon)


The boundary of sense (Baker and Hacker)

This interpretation of Wittgenstein has met with vehement criticism by Baker and Hacker (1984a). They deny that from Wittgenstein a sceptical problem can arise. Moreover, if a problem is posed with regard to criterion 1 (belief in – conceptual – reality), it is not sceptical, but rather nihilist, or (in terms of Stegmüller 1986: 67-76) hypersceptical. It directly rejects the possibility of penetrating language. For, once posed, the problem can't be solved by appealing to another criterion (not even by criterion 2, the appearance of community agreement). As Baker and Hacker point out, Wittgenstein's solution is that of not asking a question that is obviously nonsensical.
   1.   Wittgenstein's problem is how a rule determines its application – a problem he answers immediately by indicating that the relation between a rule and its application is internal (the application shows the rule, like training does, cf. PI 198). Kripke, say Baker and Hacker, shifts this problem to a problem of interpretation of instuctions given (to oneself) in the past. This leads to a problem of interpreting these instructions, which does not confront Wittgenstein. To him, a rule determines what will be implied in following it; this is part of the way in which we use the concept of rule. Wittgenstein's paradox does not imply that rules can't guide. It shows that understanding a rule is not a matter of interpretation, but something manifest in acting. Since final interpretations or grounds are impossible, criticism from their absence is unreasonable. "Giving grounds [...] comes to an end" (Wittgenstein, OC 204). In short, Baker and Hacker rather suspend doubt than judgment: I know what I mean by '+', since there is no justification for doubting such things. Doubt about norms (about the grammatical or logical [p. 119:] conventions of our language) is senseless. In their view, there is no serious sceptical problem. There is no gap between appearance and reality, since only action is involved (which does not need external conditions in order to show our rules and our reality).
   2.   Following a rule is a practice (PI 202): appearance and reality at the same time. Within this practice, acting in conformity with a rule is a criterion for understanding the rule. That we judge behaviour by applying our criteria, has nothing to do with checking its agreement with other (social or individual) practices. For Wittgenstein, agreement is a precondition of our language game (which is not affirmed in it), it is a framework within which the community game is possible. Following a rule is no more than exercising a technique, a customary action. Adding underlying dispositions – like in the assumption of innate cognitive rules (cogently criticized by Baker and Hacker 1984b), or in that of a statistical community rule like presupposed by Kripke – introduces the idea of objective guarantee. Baker and Hacker especially object to the idea that – instead of rules – such a 'nobody's interpretation' could guide action. Grounding meaning in assertion-conditions is as bizarre as grounding it in truth-conditions. There is no truth behind the rules that makes them 'correct'. "It is not rules that breathe life into signs, but our using the signs in accord with rules, in what we call 'accord'" (Baker and Hacker 1984a: 52). "We make our rules" (1984a: 74). "We fix what is to count as following a given rule, and hence what it is to conform to it" (1984b: 226).


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