Recent years have witnessed a great resurgence of interest in the writings of the later Wittgenstein, especially with those passages – roughly, Philosophical Investigations §§138–242 and Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, section VI – that are concerned with the topic of rules. Much of the credit for all this excitement, unparalleled since the heyday of Wittgenstein scholarship in the early 1960s, must go to Saul Kripke's Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. It is easy to explain why.
To begin with, the dialectic Kripke uncovered from Wittgenstein's discussion is enormously exciting on its own terms. On Kripke's reading, the passages on rule-following are concerned with some of the weightiest questions in the theory of meaning, questions – involving the reality, reducibility, and privacy of meaning – that occupy centre-stage in contemporary philosophy. Furthermore, Kripke represented Wittgenstein as defending a set of unified and extremely provocative claims concerning these questions. And, finally, he argued for these claims with power and clarity. The ensuing flood of articles and books on the subject of rule-following was both predictable and warranted.
The present paper is the result of an invitation to survey this literature. It could have been about exegetical matters, on what the recent discussions have had to teach us about the historical Wittgenstein's philosophical views. In the event, however, it is almost entirely concerned with a retrospective assessment of the philosophical contributions.