Saul Kripke, 1940–2022

Much will be written, no doubt, about the man (whom I never met), and here I remember only the impact that Kripke had on logic-minded philosophers of my generation and the next. That was immense, from the time of his absurdly precocious first papers on modal logic (the first JSL paper published when he was nineteen), through the 1970 Princeton lectures on Naming and Necessity, and the later 1970s papers — such as the “Outline of a Theory of Truth”. And there was so much more too. Those 1970s papers struck me, still strike me, as a paradigm of philosophy — imaginative but full of good sense and straight talk, with forceful arguments appealingly written with great clarity, and in the background a real depth of technical logical knowledge lightly worn.

Unlike some, I wasn’t such a fan of Kripke’s 1981 long paper on Wittgenstein and rule-following, which indeed perhaps marked the end of his extraordinarily fertile great publishing period. But there is a very large amount of still unpublished work from then and later, with significant pieces to appear in further volumes of his Collected Papers if the first volume, Philosophical Troubles, is anything to go by. I look forward to that. And look back now to so many rich hours spent in Kripke’s intellectual company.

1 thought on “Saul Kripke, 1940–2022”

  1. I think Kripke’s mistake regarding Wittgenstein was getting entangled in the ‘private language argument’ in the first place.

    A curious thing is that, before I’d even heard of Wittgenstein, I did one of the things he seems to think is impossible. When I first developed tinnitus, one of its forms was especially hard to ignore, and I decided to keep track of when it occurred, to see if I could spot any pattern. So on days when it occurred, I would draw a small square on a wall calendar in the calendar square for that day.

    It’s at least reasonable to regard it as a private sensation. There isn’t an external source. Other people can’t tell whether I’m experiencing it or not. Unlike for pain, there isn’t even any characteristic behaviour or ‘natural expression’ that goes with experiencing it.

    And what I did does match one of Wittgenstein’s examples pretty well:

    Let us imagine the following case. I want to keep a diary about the recurrence of a certain sensation. To this end I associate it with the sign “S” and write this sign in a calendar for every day on which I have the sensation.

    I don’t think many people, in ordinary life, doubt that such things as can be done. If a doctor asks “how often” about a sensation they’re reporting, they don’t raise a host of Wittgensteinian objections. They don’t, for instance, say “How can I know? There’s no criterion of correctness.”

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