Can Wittgenstein Explain our Knowledge of Meaning? A Pragmaticist Revision of his Conceptions of Interpretation and Criteria

Dan Nesher


In this inquiry I analyse Wittgenstein´s conceptions of use and criteria for the
meaning of our language. I interpret his conception of explanation of meaning of a
Word in its use in a Language, or teaching someone the use of the words and show that
the knowledge of meaning of words must precede their use in language; otherwise, how
may the members of the linguistic community know how to use them? Hence, we have to
explain how the communal conventions of meanings are established and used. I argue
that Wittgenstein´s conception of ostensive teaching of a language is central to
acquiring the meaning conventions by the infant on her way to mastering the language.
We cannot start our inquiry from the assumption of the already existing communal
meaning conventions since the problem is to explain their acquisition and how humans
develop and operate their communication. Hence we face a paradox of learning in
Wittgenstein´s Investigations since the only possibility of getting word meaning is
inside the verbal language-game; but according to Wittgenstein the ostensive teaching
for the Meaning of the word cannot be a move in any language-game. The next problem
is to understand what the criterion is for learning and using the meaning of the word
in the language-game. We face a Fregean difficulty because if the criterion is a
private-subjective experience, how do we know that persons experience the same
phenomenon and if it is external to the language-game and to our experience, how do
we know that our experience represents it truly? My conclusion is that we have to
revise Wittgenstein´s Grammatico-Phenomenological conceptions of meaning
interpretation and criteria with the Pragmaticist theory of meaning and truth. The
criterion of meanings should be the quasi-proof of the truth of their interpretation
in propositions, which makes them clear by being true representation of reality.


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; paradox of interpretation; criterion; language game; learning; meaning

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