Explaining the Seemingly Self-Interpreting Character of a Formula

Kai-Yuan Cheng


In his Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein convincingly argues against the
proposal that rule-following consists in a person’s having a verbalized formula in
mind, by pointing out the interpretation regress problem. However, a verbalized
formula, such as f (x) = 2x + 2, is seemingly
self-interpreting. Phenomenologically, it specifies for a person a certain procedure
of deriving the number f (x) for any value of x. However, Wittgenstein points out
that the formula fails to fix the rule being followed. In this paper, I offer a
dispositional account of rule-following which can explain why a formula seems
self-interpreting, when in fact it isn’t. I argue that rule-following consists in a
person’s having a disposition to behave in a certain way, rather than having a
verbalized formula in mind. Supplemented with a Dennettian functionalist account of
introspection, I explain why phenomenologically there seems to be no gap between the
verbalization of a formula and its interpretation.


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; rule-following; disposition; interpretation; meaning; introspection

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