The Philosophical Society (Friday - Week 7, TT19)

Philosophical Society

Wittgenstein’s rule-following considerations feature several passages in which people are presented with examples of number sequences or other patterns, and “go on” from them in ways that lead us to say that they have grasped a rule. The most famous is at Philosophical Investigations §185, where a pupil who has been continuing the series 0,2,4,6,8… goes on after 1000 by writing “1000, 1004, 1008.” I argue that these passages illustrate Wittgenstein’s commitment to a primitive kind of normativity which is a precondition of, rather than presupposing, grasp of a rule. Consciousness of this kind of normativity is involved in simple prelinguistic behaviours as well as in cases requiring knowledge of language or of simple arithmetic, and we can appeal to it in order to make sense of how grasp of rules, and of the meaning of linguistic expressions, is possible. I suggest that this reading of the passages allows us to see Wittgenstein’s rule-following considerations as more plausible than they might seem on competing interpretations.

After the talks all are invited to socialise and continue discussion over drinks in the Ryle Room. If you would like to join for dinner after the drinks reception, please email