On rules and the metaphysics of meaning
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In this work I develop an argument which shows that rule-following is impossible, and investigate its impact on the philosophy of language. By way of orientation, I start with a critical evaluation of existing ‘rule-following considerations’, arguments derived from Wittgenstein which purportedly put rule-following under pressure. Having shown that its predecessors are unsound, and with the explicit aim of avoiding their flaws, I then formulate the new ‘indexical’ argument. The conclusion that rule-following is impossible is difficult to accept because we think that the ability to folldiw rules is constitutive of language-mastery. If this is correct, then to show that rule-following is impossible is to show that language is impossible. Such ‘meaning nihilism’ is not a tenable position, and some way of avoiding this conclusion has to be found. Various proposals in the literature have the potential to do this: principally (a) the irrealism suggested by Kripke; and (b) subjective on-gong determination advocated by Wright. I argue that neither strategy is successful. The correct response to the indexical argument is to accept that rule-following is not constitutive of language-mastery. In this case, clearly, the impossibility of rule-following does not entail the impossibility meaning, and the conclusion that rule-following is impossible becomes unproblematic. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how language could survive without rules. The remainder of this work shows that rule-elimination does permit a respectable notion of linguistic content. The result is distinctively Wittgensteinian: a communitarian, ‘use’-based account of language.