• Alkis Piskas
    1k
    I have recently been presented with Wittgenstein's statement-quote, "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world". I found it quite shallow. The immediate thing I thought was that one's reality (world) consists of much more than words (language). It also contains images, sounds, feelings, experiences, ... In fact, one's world gets limited only when one tries to put it in words. This is what we mean when we say "I can't explain it in words ...". Which is something that I think Wittgenstein says it should remain in silence. OK, but it doesn't mean that it is not part of the "world" of the one who experiences it!

    So, because I was surprised that such a statement-quote by a prominent philosopher has been preserved and, more than that, used by people as argument or for explaining things in general, I wanted to be certain that my initial surprise was indeed justified, and I have looked at it from various angles:

    1) Does it mean that a baby, for whom language does not even exist at all, has no world, i.e. nothing exists for him/her? No pleasure in sucking milk? No sense of the warmth of his/her mother hug? No intimate connection with her? No recognition of objects? And so on ...
    2) If I see an object for the first time and I don't know how is it called, does this mean that I have no reality at all about that object, i.e., the object doesn't exist for me?
    3) Most people use a computer in their everyday work but have a minimal knowledge of computer terminology. They only know all that is needed to know to perform their work efficiently. And, in fact, the computer plays a big role in their life. For a lot of them their life may depend on it. Likewise, for people who drive everyday to their work and back, the car is big part of their life. Yet, they may not know very little about car terminology and its mechanism.

    And so on ... (I think I passed my point)

    Now, looking the statement the other way around: If I am a linguist or philologist or a writer, knowing my language as only few do, how does that make or can expand my world to a proportionally large extent? That is, how much it pushes or can push back the frontiers of my world?

    "My world" is small or large depending on what I do in the actual world, how many things I know about life, the actual world and the universe, how many things I have experienced and I am experiencing in my life. And then I can also add the following to "my world": my sufferings, my losses, my feelings in general, my consciousness, my ideas, my intelligence, my skills and abilities, ... All those are part of my world and are dependent only in part on my language.

    Now, you may ask why I gave such an importance and started a discussion on that statement-quote, namely "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world". Well, it's not the only one! There are a lot of statements-quotes by prominent philosophers that have been disputed over time. I leave them for some other discussion! :)

    For the moment I would really like to hear your opinion on all this ... Thank you.

    ***

    Postscript, Aug 6, 2021

    Thank you all for your responses!

    I am happy that this topic helped to clarify the meaning of this statement-quote by Wittgenstein. More specifically, I suggest that you read @Antony Nickles's response, which I deem not only very inspiring, but also an exemplary demonstration of how to handle such a kind of topic.
  • Jack Cummins
    4.1k

    I think that if Wittgenstein's statement is taken too concretely it goes too far, because there is so much more to life experiences than simply words. There is the whole dimension of images and the non verbal in communication. Nevertheless, the use of language is so important for thinking and probably is the critical factor which makes human beings different from other species and has shaped culture.

    While we do think in images and other sensory ways, especially in relation to practical tasks, I think that most of our understanding of life and our meanings are bound up with language. I remember a friend telling me that she had difficulty in thinking about her experiences because she could not put them into words. I would not say that her language ability is particularly poor, but her comment did make me think about how language does affect the ability to process experiences. I know that art therapy offers scope for people to construct their experiences visually, but in most cases, words still play an important role in reflection upon the art.
  • T Clark
    9.4k
    OK, but it doesn't mean that it is not part of the "world" of the one who experiences it!Alkis Piskas

    I don't know Wittgenstein, but that's never kept me from throwing in my <$0.02 worth. There is a sense in which the world does not exist until it is named. This is examined in the Tao Te Ching. The unnamed world is identified as "non-being," while the named world is called "being." I think this is a useful way of seeing things, but it certainly isn't the only way. I'm not sure if that has anything to do with what Wittgenstein was talking about.
  • Shawn
    12.1k
    Just what is or what does it mean to be at the limits of one's language?
  • Jack Cummins
    4.1k

    It is a good question what 'the limits of language' are and would it be if someone's mental state deteriorated so much as, for example, in dementia. Or, we could be talking about a heightened state of consciousness, where a person in unable to describe the ineffable, as in mystical states.
  • Shawn
    12.1k


    I'm just asking similarly to the Philosophical Investigations, where Wittgenstein actually explains and even negates this proposition from the Tractatus.
  • Jack Cummins
    4.1k

    Okay, I don't have a copy. But, even then my interpretation of your comment was based on how you worded what you wrote, and how it resounded within the linguistic structure of my inner world.
  • javi2541997
    1.5k
    Just what is or what does it mean to be at the limits of one's language?Shawn

    Check this out, I guess you would like it because is so related to your question. Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything
  • Shawn
    12.1k
    But, even then my interpretation of your comment was based on how you worded what you wrote, and how it resounded within the my linguistic structure of my inner world.Jack Cummins

    What is the "linguistic structure of your inner world"?
  • TheMadFool
    13.9k
    "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world"Alkis Piskas

    I found it quite shallowAlkis Piskas

    Would a professional writer have done better - vocabulary, style, etc. - if you'd asked faer to write your post for you?
  • dimosthenis9
    728
    "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world". I found it quite shallowAlkis Piskas

    I don't think that Wittgenstein meant that there is no world outside of language. I see it more as an attempt to show that human "reality" is limited (even by senses). And language is also following that limited reality that people can understand and also express through it.
    Maybe Wittgenstein meant that we need to understand language's limitations as to be able to "see", feel more of our world. Like breaking the borders of language as to get as much more "reality" as we can.
    I can't otherwise explain that such a great mind as Wittgenstein would make such a "shallow" statement(mistake) as you say.
  • Jack Cummins
    4.1k

    I suppose that each one of us has a slightly different one, with a mixture of private and shared meanings. How we think probably involves different terms which we have come across in the various academic studies which we have followed. I would even say that I see the world a bit differently than a year ago as a result of discussion about certain words. I had never had thought so much about the idea of consciousness as much, and this has probably changed my own consciousness.

    But, aside from philosophy I think that my own linguistic experience is affected by song lyrics. Also, certain authors, such as William Blake and Cormac McCarthy, have impacted my own linguistic universe. Also, generalizing about our linguistic universes, I do wonder if the words embedded in our most important experiences have a profound effect here too.
  • Shawn
    12.1k


    There isn't much to say about ones private language or a "pain" that one might feel. I think @Banno would disagree about your notion of a private language.

    Could you give an example of a private meaning other than a pain or qualia?
  • Jack Cummins
    4.1k

    Actually, I am sure that @Banno will have plenty to say on this thread because he is extremely interested in language. I suppose my own take on private language is the way in which specific words take us to very unique memories, which may involve pain and qualia, but are more of entire narratives or stories. I am sure that is probably a bit outside of Wittgenstein's discussion and is about mythic structure rather than simply linguistic structure.
  • Shawn
    12.1k


    So, your basically saying that one's psychology is in part a private language? Am I reading you right on this?
  • Jack Cummins
    4.1k

    I guess that I probably am, or that we all have individual journeys, with individual meanings, and this is probably based on reading psychotherapy, I think that this does crossover into philosophy because apart from stories being important rational explanations, using language, come into play. We live in mythic dramas and use language to think about life and why things happen.
  • Fooloso4
    3.2k
    The statement cannot be understood without understanding how he draws the limits of "my world". Language represents of pictures the world. Ethics and aesthetics are outside the bounds of the world and thus outside of what can be said. See the following from this thread; https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/246700

    5.6
    The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
    — T

    What is the significance of his shift from language and the world to “my language” and “my world”? The self cannot be found in the world. It can play no part in logical relationships, and propositions about it are nonsense. My world and my language do not connote a relationship between facts or objects.

    My language means not simply English or German but the way in which I represent reality.


    5.61
    Logic pervades the world: the limits of the world are also its limits.
    So we cannot say in logic, ‘The world has this in it, and this, but not that.’
    For that would appear to presuppose that we were excluding certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case, since it would require that logic should go beyond the limits of the world; for only in that way could it view those limits from the other side as well.
    We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either.
    — T

    The logical relationships within the world are not the only relationships. There is also a relationship between the “I” and the world.

    5.62
    This remark provides the key to the problem, how much truth there is in solipsism.
    For what the solipsist means is quite correct; only it cannot be said, but makes itself manifest.
    The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language (of that language which alone I understand) mean the limits of my world.
    — T

    In what way does the limits of language show that the world is my world? Suppose someone were to reject W.’s claim saying: “There must be more to my world”, to which the response would be: “What more is there”? And of course no answer could be given. If an answer could be given, whatever is said would be within that limit. I take this to be a form of skepticism. He is not denying that there may be more than I can say or think but that it is nonsense to say this because it does not point to anything. It does not mark a limit to the world or to language but to my world and the language I understand. But the same is true for all of us.

    Solipsism - solus "alone" and ipse "self”. That language which alone I understand, is that language which solus ipse is understood. If there is a language I do not understand then even though the propositions are in proper logical order to picture reality, they are for me without sense (sinnlos) because I do not know what state of affairs they represent. They cannot represent if they cannot be understood.

    5.621
    The world and life are one.
    5.63
    I am my world. (The microcosm.)
    — T

    The world is all that is the case (1). The facts that make up the world are not independent of the subject who perceives and represents those facts. This is the point of the cube having two facts. Facts are not independent of their representation. A picture is a fact. (2.141)The facts of the world include the representation of facts.




    5.631
    There is no such thing as the subject that thinks or entertains ideas.
    If I wrote a book called The World as I found it, I should have to include a report on my body, and should have to say which parts were subordinate to my will, and which were not, etc., this being a method of isolating the subject, or rather of showing that in an important sense there is no subject; for it alone could not be mentioned in that book.—

    5.632
    The subject does not belong to the world: rather, it is a limit of the world.
    — T

    “It alone could not be mentioned”, solus ipse. The I (ipse) alone (solus) that writes the book is not something that is found in the book.



    5.633
    Where in the world is a metaphysical subject to be found?
    You will say that this is exactly like the case of the eye and the visual field. But really you do not see the eye.
    And nothing in the visual field allows you to infer that it is seen by an eye.
    — T

    The subject is metaphysical because it is not a part of the physical world. Propositions about it are nonsense, for it does not represent anything in the world.

    That which sees is not something seen. Just as the eye is not in visual space, the subject is not in logical space. The subject that represents is not something represented.

    5.634
    This is connected with the fact that no part of our experience is also a priori.
    Everything we see could also be otherwise.
    Everything we describe at all could also be otherwise.
    There is no order of things a priori.
    — T

    What is the connection between the metaphysical subject and the contingency of facts?

    5.64
    Here we see that solipsism strictly carried out coincides with pure realism. The I in solipsism shrinks to an extensionless point and there remains the reality co-ordinated with it.
    — T

    The I alone which sees the world, that experiences, that describes, has no logical connection to the world. We can only say how things are, not how they must be or will be.

    5.641
    There is therefore really a sense in which the philosophy we can talk of a non-psychological I.
    The I occurs in philosophy through the fact that the “world is my world”.
    The philosophical I is not the man, not the human body or the human soul of which psychology treats, but the metaphysical subject,
    the limit—not a part of the world.
    — T
    My world is the world I see, the world I experience, the life I lead. My limits are its limits.
  • Shawn
    12.1k


    It's very peculiar that Wittgenstein ends the discussion in a decade or so with the private language argument, no... Where the limits are drawn, distinctions are made and what's left to say is where semantics and meaning starts and possibly ends.
  • Fooloso4
    3.2k


    Isn't the idea of a private language already precluded in the Tractatus?
  • Shawn
    12.1k


    If what you are saying is true, then psychology of the self is what it means...?

    How do you reconcile this with everyday deeds and ethics?
  • Banno
    17.5k
    I found it quite shallow.Alkis Piskas

    Did you read it in context?

    It seems not.

    So try this: what is the first line of the Tractatus?

    I won't quote it, because it is important that you engage with the text yourself.

    Read this together with the line in question, and reconsider.

    You might even consider reading some of the stuff in between, or a summation.
  • Banno
    17.5k
    I suppose my own take on private language is the way in which specific words take us to very unique memories...Jack Cummins

    You are using the phrase somewhat differently to Wittgenstein.
  • Banno
    17.5k
    Kudos for contextualising.
  • Shawn
    12.1k


    What is the notion of psychology to a Tractarian solipsist, Banno? It seems somewhat difficult for me to say that it's all behavior...
  • Tom Storm
    4.4k
    I have recently been presented with Wittgenstein's statement-quote, "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world". I found it quite shallow.Alkis Piskas

    Approaching a philosopher through a single context free quote like it's a bumper sticker is probably not ideal.

    In the context of the Tractatus the quote represents the tip of the iceberg. Its repercussions are still being felt.

    Moving things along, it seems that for Witty philosophy can't speak of ethics and aesthetics - he refers to as these 'transcendental' - they are essentially outside the factual world philosophers can describe using language. The work of philosophy then rests on demonstrating the limits of thought by demonstrating the tautologies of propositions. Is that correct? Do you think that Witty's approach is still sound 100 years on? I know there is early and later Witty and this can confuse things.
  • Jack Cummins
    4.1k

    I am aware that I am using the idea of private language very different to Wittgenstein. I have not read that much by him apart from excerpts, and probably should at some point. I know that he is seen as so important, and I recently discovered a bookshop with rows of shelves focusing upon him.
  • Antony Nickles
    528


    I have recently been presented with Wittgenstein's statement-quote, "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world".Alkis Piskas

    Well, first, we cannot take one line out of context and imagine that we can understand it without projecting our own concerns. As Wittgenstein says, "We find certain things about seeing puzzling, because we do not find the whole business of seeing puzzling enough." (PI, p. 212; 3rd 1958)

    From the Ogden translation, starting on p. 229 of the PDF from the link:

    5.556
    There cannot be a hierarchy of the forms of the elementary propositions. Only that which we ourselves construct can we foresee.
    5.5561
    Empirical reality is limited by the totality of objects. The boundary appears again in the totality of elementary propositions. The hierarchies are and must be independent of reality.
    * * *
    5.6
    The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
    5.61
    Logic fills the world: the limits of the world are also its limits. We cannot therefore say in logic: This and this there is in the world, that there is not. For that would apparently presuppose that we exclude certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case since otherwise logic must get outside the limits of the world: that is, if it could consider these limits from the other side also. What we cannot think, that we cannot think: we cannot therefore say what we cannot think.
    5.62
    This remark provides a key to the question, to what extent solipsism is a truth. In fact what solipsism means, is quite correct, only it cannot be said, but it shows itself. That the world is my world, shows itself in the fact that the limits of the language (the language which I understand) mean the limits of my world.
    5.621
    The world and life are one.
    5.63
    I am my world. (The microcosm.)
    6.43
    If good or bad willing changes the world, it can only change the limits of the world, not the facts; not the things that can be expressed in language. In brief, the world must thereby become quite another, it must so to speak wax or wane as a whole. The world of the happy is quite another than that of the unhappy.
    — Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus

    one's reality (world) consists of much more than words (language). It also contains images, sounds, feelings, experiencesAlkis Piskas

    I'm guessing when you say "much more than words", you would agree that Wittgenstein is not saying that there are ONLY words, but just that the limits are what can be EXPRESSED in language ("logic" here). I think we can also agree that the sense of the word "world" that you are using includes your claim that even what cannot be expressed in words is part of the "world" (more "exists"); some people call this non-verbal, or pre-linguistic, or even objective.

    In the TLP, I don't take Witt as making statements, but that this is all a speculation, a thought-experiment, an imagining of a world if we set certain threshold criteria. So your sense is not the sense of "world" (or "existence") that Witt is using. I take Witt to be postulating that, if something cannot be expressed (further, in logic), it is not part of the "world" (does not "exist") for us. So "world" is a term for him--defined by this requirement, limitation. As with "exist"; something like: that you are not aware of, that does not/can not matter to you. If you do not have a way of expressing something in words, it can not be thought of by you. If you have a terrible vocabulary, then the delicacy and intricateness of the "diaphanous" nature of something is lost on you, to you.

    1) Does it mean that a baby, for whom language does not even exist at all, has no world, i.e. nothing exists for him/her? No pleasure in sucking milk? No sense of the warmth of his/her mother hug? No intimate connection with her? No recognition of objects? And so on ...Alkis Piskas

    Yes, that is what Witt is working from; the world does not exist for them as yet. Witt is not discussing feelings or experiences, but facts "1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things." This is to also to close off "thoughts" as an internal state of affairs. He is requiring a criteria of logic--everything else is off the table, e.g. ethics, aesthetics, poetry, etc.

    2) If I see an object for the first time and I don't know how it is called, does this mean that I have no reality at all about that object, i.e., the object doesn't exist for me?Alkis Piskas

    Sort of, yes--you would be able to express something about it, yes? This is not a claim about objects or making a claim to a fact about everything ("the world" as you are taking it)--that the object does not "exist" in the sense that it is nothing. So, yes, the inner workings of a computer or car also do not exist for that person. This is not to say that the world is dependent on the subject, but that he is pushing a different idea of the "world" and its "existence". Now, why? and do we disagree with that cause? are deeper questions than to fight with a philosopher from your own terms and understanding (beliefs/opinions).

    I would argue, as I take Witt to turnabout in the PI, that the criteria he sets in the TLP of only what is logical, strips our language of its ordinary criteria (different for each thing), which is more precise and limber than his requirement here--thus, we are able to see more, deeper, with greater distinction and, in a sense, reason, particularly in the vast areas that Witt is ruling out in the TLP. He investigates the desire for that criteria, along with the desire for an internal "meaning" or mental states, in the PI.
  • Banno
    17.5k
    I've no idea what you are asking.
  • Banno
    17.5k


    See .

    The thing about ethics, and it's something that pisses philosophers off, is that it is not what you say, but what you do, that is of relevance.
  • Shawn
    12.1k


    I'm asking if Wittgenstein's solipsist from the Tractatus even had a psychology? If he or she did, then what was it based on?
  • Banno
    17.5k
    Wittgenstein's solipsistShawn

    Who's that, then?

    Tell me about him.
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