Particular and general: Wittgenstein, linguistic rules, and context

In The later Wittgenstein on language. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan (2009)
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Wittgenstein famously remarks that ‘the meaning of a word is its use’ (PI §43). Whether or not one views this as gesturing at a ‘theory’ of meaning, or instead as aiming primarily at dissuading us from certain misconceptions of language that are a source of puzzlement, it is clear that Wittgenstein held that for certain purposes the meaning of an expression could profitably be characterised as its use. Throughout his later writings, however, Wittgenstein’s appeal to the notion of use pulls in two directions. In several places, Wittgenstein seems to connect the notion of an expression’s meaning with that of use in the sense of usage or practice. More specifically, he suggests that for an expression to possess meaning is for there to be a practice of employing it according to certain rules. ‘That’, he tells us, ‘is why there exists a correspondence between the concepts “rule” and “meaning”’ (OC §62; cf. PG 68; PO 51; RFM VI §28; VW 103). Indeed, Wittgenstein goes so far as to say, ‘The rule-governed nature of our languages permeates our life’ (RC §303). Call the view that the meaning of an expression is determined by a general principle governing its use, rulism.



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Daniel Whiting
University of Southampton

Citations of this work

What is the Normativity of Meaning?Daniel Whiting - 2016 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 59 (3):219-238.
Languages, language-games, and forms of life.Daniel Whiting - 2017 - In Hans-Johann Glock & John Hyman (eds.), A Companion to Wittgenstein. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 420–432.
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