In Ch. 4 of Sources of Normativity, Korsgaard gives an interpretation of the private language argument that she thinks supports her conclusion that reasons must be public. There are some questions about what the conception of reasons that Korsgaard is using comes to. I don’t want to get into that in this post, although it might be necessary at some point to get clear on how the argument works. The analogy that she relies on is that public/private reasons map onto agent-neutral/agent-relative reasons, in the sense of Smith for example. Her interpretation of Wittgenstein’s argument seems to proceed like this. Meaning is normative, that is X means Y is to say one ought to take Y for X. Normativity is relational; it requires two: a “legislator” and a “citizen”. Normativity is not causal. It must be possible to be wrong. Private language of the sort Wittgenstein had in mind is inconsistent with the causality condition. The meaning of private languages can’t be normative. Private languages can’t have meaning, since meaning is normative. Private languages aren’t languages at all. That’s how the argument seems to run, roughly.

What seems to be doing most of the work in the argument is that normativity requires the possibility of error. But, what is the error relevant for private reasons? Korsgaard would need a premiss about private reasons lining up exactly with whatever actions the agent performs. Additionally, what is the analog of the incommunicability of private language for private reasons? Maybe reasons that are not motivating for anyone else, in principle? Reasons can’t be merely linguistic ascriptions, else they’d inherit the publicity from language in general. But, it isn’t clear that this is the sort of publicity that Korsgaard wants or needs for reasons. What does the relational aspect of normativity do in the argument? Korsgaard sees the relational condition being satisfied by the thinking self and the acting self of a single agent… as they say in Buffy: grr, argh.

I will probably write up a couple more (coherent) posts on this as I want to figure out what’s going on. That and people seem to like discussions of reasons

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