The question of the essence of language: an inferentialist reading of Rhees' critique of Wittgenstein
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The paper discusses Rush Rhees’ critique of Wittgenstein, concerning the question of the essence of language. While Wittgenstein, in Philosophical Investigations, keeps on insisting that there is no such thing as the essence of language (PI, § 65), Rhees, in “Wittgenstein’s Builders”, argues for the opposite: that there has to be something in language to be called its essence, and sees this crucial element in “discourse”, “dialogue” or “conversation”. The present analysis reveals these aspects of Rhees’ reflections to be parallel to Robert B. Brandom’s more recent inferentialist project. Accordingly, such semantic stances as essentialism, propositionalism, holism and inferentialism – characteristic of Brandom’s conception – are also ascribed to that of Rhees’, along with the claim that the core of language constitutes the inferentialist “game of giving and asking for reasons”.