Recognizing the Ground that Lies before us as Ground: McDowell on How to Read Philosophical Investigations

Marie McGinn


John McDowell presents a reading of Wittgenstein’s remarks on rule-following, which explicitly sets out to absolve Wittgenstein from the charge that he puts forward what McDowell sees as an untenable view, namely, that, when it comes to applying a rule to a new case, what counts as correct is somehow determined by the responses that the members of the relevant speech community are inclined to make. I share all McDowell’s dissatisfactions with the communitarian reading, and I am generally sympathetic with his concern to find a reading of Wittgenstein’s remarks which avoids committing him to a communitarian account of what constitutes the correct result of applying a rule in a new case. However, I have also been impressed by the objection to McDowell’s reading that it simply reinstates a version of the platonism which Wittgenstein’s reflections show to be problematic. My main concern in this paper is to identify where I think McDowell’s reading goes wrong. I argue that his reading, despite its attractions, misrepresents the nature of Wittgenstein’s reflections on rule-following, but that this does not leave the communitarian reading as the only available alternative.


20th century philosophy; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; common sense; communitarian; meaning; McDowell John; reading of Wittgenstein; rule; rule following

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