What We Can Learn about Phenomenal Concepts from Wittgenstein’s Private Language

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Roberto Sá Pereira


This paper is both systematic and historical in nature. From a historical viewpoint, I aim to show that to establish Wittgenstein’s claim that “an ‘inner process’ stands in need of outward criteria” (PI §580) there is an enthymeme in Wittgenstein’s private language argument (henceforth PLA) overlooked in the literature, namely Wittgenstein’s suggestion that both perceptual and bodily experiences are transparent in the relevant sense that one cannot point to a mental state and wonder “What is that?” From a systematic viewpoint, I aim to show that Wittgenstein’s PLA teaches us that the prevailing picture of the nature of phenomenal concepts (henceforth PCs) is upside down: we can only introspectively know what is going on inside our heads, after we learn of what is going on outside (PI §580). In this regard, I aim to defend two associate claims against the prevailing view of PCs on the basis of PLA. First, by means of transparency, I aim to show that there is no de re awareness of our private sensation that could determine the meaning of sensation-words; for example, I am never aware of the phenomenal blueness of my experience of something blue. The second associated claim is that introspective self-knowledge of our private sensation is always de dicto. We can only know introspectively that phenomenal blueness is the phenomenal character of the experience we are undergoing after we have learned that (de dicto knowledge) blue is the color that usually causes in us that kind of experience. Likewise, we can only introspectively know that pain is the phenomenal character of the experience we are undergoing after we have learned that pain is what usually causes some typical pain behavior.

Author Biography

Roberto Sá Pereira, Federal University from Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ

Roberto Horácio de Sá Pereira received degrees in philosophy from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and Freie Universität Berlin (PhD), and is now Professor of Philosophy at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He is the author of Aussenwelt-Skeptizismus. Eine Sprachanalythische Behandlung (Konstanz: Hartung-Gorre Verlag 1993). His most recent papers are: “Combining the representational and the Relational view” (Philosophical Studies 2016), “A Non-conceptualist Reading of the B-Deduction” (Philosophical Studies 2016), “In Defense of Type-A Materialism” (Diametros 2016), “A Defense of Presentist Externalism” (Grazer Philosophische Studien 2016), “Meaning Representationalism: Between Representationalism and Qualia-Realism” (Grazer Philosophische Studien 2016), “Reflexionism: a new Metaphysical View both of the content and the character of experience” (Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 2016), “The Constitutional View” (Principia 2016).


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