Crítica, Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Volume 18, number 53, agosto 1986
Seguir una regla: tres interpretaciones
[Following a Rule: Three Construals]
Álvaro Rodríguez Tirado
Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México


It is my contention that the profundity of Wittgenstein’s discussion of the problem of following a rule has not yet been fully appreciated in our philosophical environment. This is, to say the least, rather surprising, given its multitudinous connections with many other philosophical problems of the first order, especially, in the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind and philosophical logic. Saul Kripke’s latest contribution to philosophy has been a book whose title, Wittgenstein: On Rules and Private Language, deals precisely with these issues. Kripke’s discussion, brilliant and lucid as it was to be expected from the author of Naming and Necessity, has exerted an amazing influence on analytical philosophers dealing with problems as diverse as realism in semantics, the notion of ‘proof’ in mathematics, the possibility of a private language, the theory of meaning for a natural language, behaviourism in the philosophy of mind, the notion of objectivity, and many others.

Notwithstanding the immense amount of resources which Kripke brought to hear in his discussion, I believe that if we follow him all the way, we end up with a feeling that the point we have reached is very different from the one Wittgenstein wanted and, indeed, argued for. If, then, my reading of Wittgenstein’s texts is on anything like the right lines, one should be a bit skeptical about Kripke’s exegesis.

Two years after the publication of Kripke’s book, John McDowell wrote a splendid essay entitled ‘Wittgenstein on Following a Rule’ in which he challenges Kripke’s interpretation and, to my mind, some of McDowell’s arguments prove to be devastating of the position endorsed by Kripke. But McDowell considers it to be absolutely essential, for his own arguments to go through, to assume what I call ‘the community view’ on the practice of following a rule and this, I think, is a mistake. In a recent book, Colin McGinn has endorsed this conclusion, and I’ve tried to make it more appealing by exploring the possibility of bringing into play a causal theory of understanding.


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