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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: January 2010

7 - Rule skepticism: Searle's criticism of Kripke's Wittgenstein



For almost fifty years now, Ludwig Wittgenstein's reflections on rule-following (Wittgenstein 1953: §§138–242) have been one of the most controversial topics in analytic philosophy. Saul Kripke's book Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (Kripke 1982, subsequently WRPL) is the best-known and most provocative interpretation of this difficult material. Almost all leading analytic philosophers working in philosophy of mind and language have commented on Kripke's interpretation (cf. Kusch 2006). In this chapter I shall assess John Searle's contribution to this ongoing discussion. The key text is Searle's “Skepticism about Rules and Intentionality” (Searle 2002: ch. 14, subsequently SRI), an essay in which Searle attacks Kripke's book head on. Although SRI was written in the early 1980s, it was not published until 2002. The time of writing explains why SRI makes no reference to any other contribution in the extensive “Kripkenstein debate.” Searle charges Kripke with misunderstanding Wittgenstein's ideas and he maintains that Kripke's interpretation leaves Wittgenstein with a weak and unconvincing position. I shall seek to defend Kripke on both scores.


The basic problem of WRPL can be summarized as follows, and independently of conflicting interpretations. Suppose you are calculating an instance of the scheme x + y = z where x and y are larger than in any instance of the scheme that you have calculated so far. Assume for the sake of simplicity that such x and y are 57 and 68 respectively.

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