Judging the Judges: Wittgenstein’s Sceptical Paradox for Debates in the Philosophy of Neuroscience

Will Robbins


In their work, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, Maxwell Bennett and Peter Hacker argue that modern neuroscientists are labouring under a conceptual confusion— that of wrongly ascribing psychological predicates such as “thinks” or “infers” to parts of the brain, instead of to the whole person. They contend that such use of these folk psychology concepts violates the rules of their use. This argument has met with stiff rebuttals from philosophers such as Daniel Dennett and Paul Churchland, who counter that Bennett and Hacker have overstepped the bounds of their ordinary-language analysis in the case of neuroscientific research. These defenders of the current neuroscience project argue that there are no explicit rules available to point out this supposed violation, and until such rules are made available (and shown to be valid), critics such as Bennett and Hacker have no available justification for such claims against the coherence of neuroscientist’s language use. Within the context of this debate, an examination of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s arguments on the subject of language use and rule following will be undertaken, specifically from the perspective of Saul Kripke’s reading of the Philosophical Investigations as the formulation of a unique Wittgensteinian sceptical paradox. Kripke’s reading of Wittgenstein regards numerical privacy and justification is used to provide a possible rebuttal for Bennett and Hacker to their critics in this debate.


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