The epistemology of self-knowledge and the presuppositions of rule-following

The Monist 78 (4):496-514 (1995)
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Abstract

Phenomena such as our “understanding in a flash” and our immediate knowledge of the meaning of our own utterances seem to point to problems that call for philosophical explanation. Even though the meaning of an utterance appears to depend on where and when we use it, on what we use it for and on what we expect in response, we do not examine such circumstances when asked what we mean. Instead we simply say what we mean. Similarly, our having grasped a rule is something shown by how we perform certain tasks and respond to certain requests. But we frequently declare that we have indeed grasped a rule without paying any attention to those overt performances and, despite this, we are normally correct. These facts seem puzzling and impel us towards a certain philosophical picture of meaning and understanding. This picture identifies the meaning of a subject’s utterances, and his understanding of the rules that he follows, with some kind of structure of which he has immediate knowledge. By virtue of their connection with these private, meaning-constituting phenomena, the public manifestations of meaning and understanding are invaluable as clues to the meaning of an utterance or a subject’s understanding of a rule. But the latter are, nevertheless, ultimately fixed by the inner structures to which only the subject in question has immediate access and upon which he or she therefore has authority. This picture prompts a host of perplexing questions. “What are these immediately-knowable structures?” “What does it mean to say that we have immediate acquaintance with them?” “How are these private structures connected with those public performances?” These questions are notoriously difficult to answer.

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Denis McManus
University of Southampton

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References found in this work

Wittgenstein on rules and private language.Saul A. Kripke - 1982 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 173 (4):496-499.
Radical interpretation.Donald Davidson - 1973 - Dialectica 27 (1):314-328.
Spreading the Word. [REVIEW]Kent Bach - 1987 - Philosophical Review 96 (1):120.

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