Please be advised that the journal will be unavailable for 30 minutes on Monday, July 26, 2021, starting at 9:30 AM EST. This downtime is scheduled for necessary upgrades. We apologize for the inconvenience that this may cause.

Davidson’s Answer to Kripke’s Sceptic


  • Olivia Sultanescu York University
  • Claudine Verheggen York University



According to the sceptic Saul Kripke envisages in his celebrated book on Wittgenstein on rules and private language, there are no facts about an individual that determine what she means by any given expression. If there are no such facts, the question then is, what justifies the claim that she does use expressions meaningfully? Kripke’s answer, in a nutshell, is that she by and large uses her expressions in conformity with the linguistic standards of the community she belongs to. While Kripke’s sceptical problem has gripped philosophers for over three decades, few, if any, have been satisfied by his proposed solution, and many have struggled to come up with one of their own. The purpose of this paper is to show that a more satisfactory answer to Kripke’s challenge can be developed on the basis of Donald Davidson’s writings on triangulation, the idea of two individuals interacting simultaneously with each other and the world they share. It follows from the triangulation argument that the facts that can be regarded as determining meaning are irreducible. Yet, contra Kripke, they are not mysterious, for the argument does spell out what is needed for an individual’s expressions to be meaningful.


Adams, Fred and Ken Aizawa, 2017. “Causal Theories of Mental Content.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https:// causal/, accessed 13 February 2019.

Blackburn, Simon, 1984. “The Individual Strikes Back.” Synthese 58: 281–301.

Boghossian, Paul, 1989. “The Rule-Following Considerations.” Mind 98: 507–49.

———, 2005. “Is Meaning Normative?” In Philosophy–Science–Sci- entific Philosophy. Main Lectures and Colloquia of GAP 5, edited by C. Nimtz and A. Beckermann, pp. 205–18. Paderborn: Mentis.

Bridges, Jason, 2014. “Rule-Following Skepticism, Properly So Called.” In Varieties of Skepticism: Essays after Kant, Wittgenstein, and Cavell, edited by J. Conant and A. Kern, pp. 249–88. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Davidson, Donald, 1982. “Rational Animals.” Reprinted in Davidson (2001c), pp. 95–105.

———, 1984. Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

———, 1989. “What is Present to the Mind.” Reprinted in Davidson (2001c), pp. 53–67.

———, 1990. “Meaning, Truth, and Evidence.” Reprinted in Davidson (2005), pp. 47–62.

———, 1991a. “Epistemology Externalized.” Reprinted in Davidson (2001c), pp. 193–204.

———, 1991b. “Three Varieties of Knowledge.” Reprinted in Davidson (2001c), pp. 205–20.

———, 1992. “The Second Person.” Reprinted in Davidson (2001c), pp. 107–21.

———, 1994. “The Social Aspect of Language.” Reprinted in Davidson (2005), pp. 109–25.

———, 1997. “Indeterminism and Antirealism.” Reprinted in Davidson (2001c), pp. 69–84.

———, 1999. “The Emergence of Thought.” Reprinted in Davidson (2001c), pp. 123–34.

———, 2001a. “Comments on Karlovy Vary Papers.” In Kotatko, Pagin and Segal (2001), pp. 285–307.

———, 2001b. “Externalisms.” In Kotatko, Pagin and Segal (2001), pp. 1–16.

———, 2001c. Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

———, 2005. Truth, Language, and History. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Davies, David, 1998. “How Sceptical is Kripke’s ‘Sceptical Solution’ ?” Philosophia 26: 119–40.

Fodor, Jerry A., 1984. “Semantics, Wisconsin Style.” Synthese 59: 231–50.

Ginsborg, Hannah, 2011a. “Inside and Outside Language: Stroud’s Nonreductionism about Meaning.” In The Possibility of Philosophical Understanding: Reflections on the Thought of Barry Stroud, edited by J. Bridges, N. Kolodny and W. Wong, pp. 147–81. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———, 2011b. “Primitive Normativity and Skepticism About Rules.” The Journal of Philosophy 108: 227–54.

Glüer, Kathrin and Åsa Wikforss, 2009. “Against Content Normativity.” Mind 118: 31–70.

Godfrey-Smith, Peter, 1989. “Misinformation.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 19: 533–50.

Hattiangadi, Anandi, 2007. Oughts and Thoughts: Rule-Following and the Normativity of Content. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hossein Khani, Ali, 2017. Review of Donald Davidson’s Triangulation Argument: A Philosophical Inquiry. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 26: 113–17.

Kotatko, Peter, Peter Pagin and Gabriel Segal, eds., 2001. Interpreting Davidson. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

Kripke, Saul A., 1982. Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kusch, Martin, 2006. A Sceptical Guide to Meaning and Rules. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

McDowell, John, 1984. “Wittgenstein on Following a Rule.” Synthese 58: 325–63.

Miller, Alexander, 2017a. Postscript to “Radical Interpretation.” In A Companion to the Philosophy of Language, vol. I, edited by B. Hale, C. Wright and A. Miller, pp. 317–23. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

———, 2017b. “Rule-Following, Meaning and Primitive Normativity.” Mind, online preprint,, accessed 13 February 2019.

Myers, Robert H. and Claudine Verheggen, 2016. Donald Davidson’s Triangulation Argument. A Philosophical Inquiry. New York: Routledge.

Stroud, Barry, 1990. “Meaning, Understanding, and Translation.” Reprinted in Stroud (2002), pp. 113–30.

———, 1996. “Mind, Meaning, and Practice.” Reprinted in Stroud (2002), pp. 170–92.

———, 2002. Meaning, Understanding, and Practice: Philosophical Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sultanescu, Olivia, 2019. Semantic Scepticism and the Possibility of Meaning. Dissertation manuscript, York University.

Verheggen, Claudine, 2003. “Wittgenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox and the Objectivity of Meaning.” Philosophical Investigations 26: 285–310.

———, 2007. “Triangulating with Davidson.” The Philosophical Quarterly 57: 96–103.

———, 2011. “Semantic Normativity and Naturalism.” Logique et Analyse 216: 552–67.

———, 2013. “Triangulation.” In A Companion to Donald Davidson, edited by E. Lepore and K. Ludwig, pp. 456–71. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

———, 2015. “Towards a New Kind of Semantic Normativity.” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 23: 410–24.

———, 2017a. “Davidson’s Semantic Externalism: From Radical Interpretation to Triangulation.” Argumenta 3: 146–61.

———, 2017b. “Davidson’s Treatment of Wittgenstein’s Rule-Following Paradox.” In Wittgenstein and Davidson on Language, Thought and Action, edited by C. Verheggen, pp. 97–121. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Whiting, Daniel, 2013. “What Is the Normativity of Meaning?” Inquiry 59: 219–38.

Wilson, George, 1994. “Kripke on Wittgenstein on Normativity.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 19: 366–90.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1953. Philosophical Investigations, 4th ed., edited by P. Hacker and J. Schulte, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe, P. M. S. Hacker, and J. Schulte. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

———, 1958. The Blue and Brown Books. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Wright, Crispin, 1986. “Does Philosophical Investigations I. 258–60 Suggest a Cogent Argument Against Private Language?” In Subject, Thought, and Context, edited by J. McDowell and P. Pettit, pp. 209–66. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

———, 2001a. “Excerpts from a Critical Study of Colin McGinn’s Wittgenstein on Meaning.” In Wright (2001b), pp. 143–69.

———, 2001b. Rails to Infinity: Essays on Themes from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

———, 2001c. “Wittgenstein’s Rule-Following Considerations and the Central Project of Theoretical Linguistics.” In Wright (2001b), pp. 170–213.