The Tenability of Meaning Irrealism
The Kripke-Wittgenstein (KW) sceptical argument, presented in Chapter 2 of Kripke’s Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (1982), concludes that there are no meaning facts. While realism has been denied for a great many subject matters, the meaning irrealism motivated by KW’s argument has particularly far-reaching consequences. This thesis is an investigation into some of these consequences, in an effort to determine what is at stake in accepting the argument as sound. In Chapter 2, I summarise the argument, assume that it is sound, and consider the consequences for one particular body of talk: discourse about meaning itself. Three models for characterising that discourse are canvassed: error-theory, non-factualism, and mere minimalism. The latter characterisation is made available by adopting the framework for realism debates proposed by Crispin Wright in Truth and Objectivity (1992), of which I give an exposition in Chapter 1. I find in Chapter 2 that the three models of meaning discourse each face serious problems, and that the upshot is a form of meaning eliminativism: there is no value in ascribing meaning. In Chapter 3, I generalise from that discussion and consider the consequences of KW’s sceptical argument for any discourse. I find that we appear forced to adopt what I call global eliminative strong non-factualism, on which no sentence is (1) apt for even minimal truth, (2) correct or incorrect with respect to any norm, and thus (3) such that there would be value lost in abandoning the practice of uttering it. While I find, then, no outright inconsistency in the acceptance of KW’s sceptical argument as sound, it is found to be untenable to do so. If these considerations are correct, then without a straight solution to KW’s argument there is no value in talking at all.
Advisor: Miller, Alexander
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Philosophy
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Philosophy of language; realism; anti-realism; meaning scepticism; rule-following; kripke's wittgenstein; metaphysics
Research Type: Thesis