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The Uses of Sense provides a novel account of Wittgenstein's view of language as expressed in the Philosophical Investigations. On the account, Wittgenstein's view is a radical break with a still-dominant Fregean tradition. Travis applies this account to show the significance of private language and of other major themes in the Investigations, such as family resemblance and language games. Wittgenstein uses the idea of private language for a thought experiment. What is the experiment meant to test? Travis suggests that it is two pictures of the having of semantic properties, by whatever items might do so, that are at stake. One picture is Fregean. The other is opposed to it in denying a certain fixity in the semantic properties of an item which, for example, might permit simply defining some items as the bearers of such-and-such semantics. On Wittgenstein's picture, the semantics of any item is variable across occasions for viewing it or using it. This variability arises through the dependence of any item's semantics on its users and their uses of it. This dependence requires publicity of a sort excluded by private language.
If items may still have semantics privately, Travis argues, then Wittgenstein's picture may not be compulsory. But if semantics collapses under such unnatural conditions, then, in ways Wittgenstein indicates, that shows something fundamentally mistaken in the Fregean approach.
Charles Travis is Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University, Illinois.