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Phenomenal concepts and the Private Language Argument

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis makes the case for a Wittgensteinian account of phenomenal concepts, both in exegetical and justificatory terms. In terms of exegesis, I respond to critics who argue that Wittgenstein’s so-called Private Language Argument (hereafter ‘PLA’) is incompatible with the existence of phenomenal concepts. In terms of justification, I offer a proposal for how to positively characterise phenomenal concepts in a way in which Wittgenstein might have endorsed. My proposal contrasts with other recent attempts to do so.

My argument is in four parts:

Part I introduces phenomenal concepts by way of their development out of materialist responses to Jackson’s (1982) version of the Knowledge Argument. I provide my own attempted definition for how to understand the term ‘phenomenal concept’.

Part II discusses Balog’s (2009) and Papineau’s (2002, 2011) criticism that the PLA is incompatible with phenomenal concepts. I reject this criticism on four grounds, arguing that it fails both as a criticism in itself, and as truly representing a proto-Wittgensteinian account of phenomenal concepts.

Part III discusses externalist interpretations of the PLA (Child, 2011, forthcoming, Hacker, 1993a, 1993b, Pears, 2008). I reject externalism on three grounds, where the uniting theme is the idea that we can make sense of phenomenal concepts in detachment from external circumstance without all loss of meaning.

Part IV is more positive. I make the case for a Wittgensteinian reading of phenomenal concepts where the crucial feature is ‘the feeling/sensation itself’. It is not its relation to external counterparts. This makes room for an alternative reading of the point of the PLA. Under my reading, the ‘logically private’ sensation is not one that lacks an external counterpart, but one which lacks any connection to any other concepts. This investigation puts a different spin on just who and what Wittgenstein’s target is in the PLA.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2016


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