Wittgenstein on Solipsism in the 1930s: Private Pains, Private Languages, and Two Uses of ‘I’
Button (Tim)
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 205-229
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. In the early-to-mid 1930s, Wittgenstein investigated solipsism via the philosophy of language. In this paper, I want to reopen Wittgenstein’s ‘grammatical’ examination of solipsism.
  2. Wittgenstein begins by considering the thesis that only I can feel my pains. Whilst this thesis may tempt us towards solipsism, Wittgenstein points out that this temptation rests on a grammatical confusion concerning the phrase ‘my pains’. In §1, I unpack and vindicate his thinking.
  3. After discussing ‘my pains’, Wittgenstein makes his now famous suggestion that the word ‘I’ has two distinct uses: a subject-use and an object-use. The purpose of Wittgenstein’s suggestion has, however, been widely misunderstood. I unpack it in §2, explaining how the subject-use connects with a phenomenological language, and so again tempts us into solipsism.
  4. In §§3–4, I consider various stages of Wittgenstein’s engagement with this kind of solipsism, culminating in a rejection of solipsism (and of subject-uses of ‘I’) via reflections on private languages.

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