• PuerAzaelis
    49
    Could some kind soul explain it for me in simple terms such that a simpleton would understand what on earth Wittgenstein was trying to say here?
  • alcontali
    1.3k
    Interesting question, really.

    Bertrand Russell considered Ludwig Wittgenstein to be a genius.

    His teacher, Bertrand Russell, described Wittgenstein as "perhaps the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived; passionate, profound, intense, and dominating".[18]Wikipedia on Russell calling Wittgenstein a genius

    I certainly understand why Russell himself was a genius: (1) his paradox, (2) Principia Mathematica, (3) etching the standard notation of mathematics in stone with help from Whitehead, and last but not least, (4) his type theory. That was just off the top of my hat. Russell may have achieved more influential breakthroughs than that.

    However, I have never understood why Wittgenstein would be a genius. I have never seen anything Wittgenstein wrote, reused at all, by anyone, and in any other context. Seriously, I have never seen anybody doing anything even remotely useful with his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus or his posthumously published notes.

    Perhaps Wittgenstein was a genius, but in that case, he was also a genius at expertly concealing it.
  • PuerAzaelis
    49
    Ty. But no takers, huh. Maybe noone understands it.
  • Gregory
    4k


    Wittgenstein's argument is essentially against linguistic relativists. We can't see what someone else means, but we can get a gauge on it to the extent that we can play the game. Those who say there are words in some languages you simply cannot translate into English are confounded by Wittgenstein. Anything and everything can somehow be expressed, but we don't know for sure what in this infinity is actually expressed in conversation. Maybe we are all talking past each other, or maybe opponents in debate are actually saying (trying at least) the same thing
  • PuerAzaelis
    49
    So if I understand correctly, this "relativism" with respect to language means not only that noone can understand my private language but also that I myself cannot really be said to understand it, because there is no meaningful rule to use it properly. That - I think - is the subtle point I am stuck on. Why should we say this? If I have a private language which is meaningful to me, why should it be deemed to be an irrational method of describing my own states to myself?
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    what on earth Wittgenstein was trying to say here?PuerAzaelis
    Say where?
  • PuerAzaelis
    49
    TY Banno yes I read the Stanford entry and unfortunately it did not cure my confusion.

    Unfortunately I seem to have a simplistic and childish brain - unless someone explains something to me in fairly basic terms I get lost easily.
  • PuerAzaelis
    49
    In the section of Philosophical investigations pertaining to the private language argument.
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    Ty, but I was hoping the OP would provide something of his own. All right, private language. Maybe better to start small and work up. What does a word mean, and how does it mean it? - a rhetorical question. The answer must be use and practice.

    A metaphor comes to mind. A strand of spider filament does not a web make; the web is a consequence of something of which the strand is part, and which only finds meaning and significance in the web. I don't want to push this metaphor too far, but it's suggestive of the communality of language as constitutive of what language is.
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    So far your contribution is at the level of a five-year-old. Good job! - if you're five. is there anything you can articulate that any of us can respond to?
  • PuerAzaelis
    49
    I take umbrage at the suggestion that I am as intelligent as a five year old. Five year olds are much smarter than I am.

    If you want my question to be more specific then what i really want to know is how and why a private language is not only unintelligible to others, but also unintelligible to myself. I am fairly convinced at this point that that is what Wittgenstein's argument was heading to, and i do not know how he got there.
  • Banno
    15.9k
    Hey, the put downs are my thing...
  • BitconnectCarlos
    1.5k


    So far your contribution is at the level of a five-year-old. Good job! - if you're five. is there anything you can articulate that any of us can respond to?

    He's confused, and it's a confusing topic - and this is coming from someone who has taken an upper level philosophy course on the topic years ago. If it can confuse people who have studied philosophy for years he's well within his right to be confused here.



    However, I have never understood why Wittgenstein would be a genius. I have never seen anything Wittgenstein wrote, reused at all, by anyone, and in any other context. Seriously, I have never seen anybody doing anything even remotely useful with his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus or his posthumously published notes.

    You can divide wittgenstein into "late wittgenstein" and "early wittgenstein." Early wittgenstein is tractatus, while late wittgenstein is philosophical investigations and I believe his essay "on certainty." philosophical investigations is a total reversal of tractatus (I have read the former but not the latter.) philosophical investigations is basically a critique on a platonic/a correspondence theory of language which, as wittgenstein believes, gives rise to philosophical problems (most notably metaphysical ones.) by shifting how we conceive of language, according to wittgenstein, many of these philosophical problem disappear (but certainly not all of them - for instance obviously ethics is still an issue regardless.)
  • Banno
    15.9k
    OK -

    The Private Language Argument for Five Year Olds: words are only of use if more than one person uses them.
  • PuerAzaelis
    49
    But why should that mean that a private language is also unintelligible to me, its user?
  • Banno
    15.9k
    Think it through. How would you answer your own question?
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    what i really want to know is how and why a private language is not only unintelligible to others, but also unintelligible to myself.PuerAzaelis
    Seems like a good question to me. Banno's reference at the start suggests the difficulty of the topic. But an adult sometimes has to think and make up his, or her, own mind. May I suggest keeping it simple. We need some kind of working definitions for "word" and "meaning" even if tentative and probationary. There is zero point in proceeding at all without these.

    For present purpose I define word as a meaningful noise, representable in symbols. Meaning I define here as that which attaches to any cause that yields more-or-less consistent effects.

    It may be objected that these beg the question. But how to define either word or meaning without recourse to both word and meaning? The Heideggerian answer is the hermeneutical spiral. Perhaps Og the caveman grunts, and Gok the other caveman looks up, and they both notice. Or an association of sounds with gestures. But there's plenty of evidence that these are both pre-human and non-human phenomena as well. That leaves the notion that sound as meaningful is primordial, and the rest details.
  • PuerAzaelis
    49
    As long as I used the term in a coherent manner, I would have to say I am using it "correctly", according to my own rules.

    For example, if I am on a desert island, and write the symbol "s", every time I find something funny, I have established a rule for myself as between "s" and funny things.

    Seems perfectly intelligible to me. Intelligible enough that when I write "s" when I encounter something that isn't funny, I have enough grounds to tell myself that I've made an error.
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    Seems perfectly intelligible to me. Intelligible enough that when I write "s" when I encounter something that isn't funny, I have enough grounds to tell myself that I've made an error.PuerAzaelis
    I find no fault here. And this is in the manner of an existence proof. Someone says you cannot, and you exhibit a case wherein you do. Not always accompanied by trumpet fanfares, but good and substantial in itself.

    Or you can dig deeper and wonder about a quantum mechanical (for example) explanation, but it seems to me that that way madness lies.
  • PuerAzaelis
    49
    Yay the five year old has disproved Wittgenstein.
  • Banno
    15.9k
    As long as I used the term in a coherent manner,PuerAzaelis


    And how would you be able to tell that you are using it coherent? Suppose on Day Fourteen on the island you mis-remember that "S" is for things you found ironic...

    How do you check the meaning of "S"?
  • PuerAzaelis
    49
    That same way I would check the meaning of any public language terms. If i am on a desert island and I write "tree" whenever I see a tree, then I have the same problems with coherence and verification of meaning that I would have with the term "s".
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    Yay the five year old has disproved Wittgenstein.PuerAzaelis
    No. He has thought for himself and built a substantial-seeming argument. If it's W you wish to oppose and upend, then you have your work to do, at the least to understand him so you can refute him directly and explicitly.
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    Suppose on Day Fourteen on the island you mis-remember that "S" is for things you found ironic...Banno
    Then there might be a feedback loop from cognitive dissonance. But we need to know our presuppositions. Is meaning as primordial presupposed? Then it's just a matter of accounting for the details of the how.

    And I think we might benefit from a clearer problem statement. And even as well an anticipation of the kind of answer we expect to get.
  • Hanover
    7.5k
    And how would you be able to tell that you are using it coherent? Suppose on Day Fourteen on the island you mis-remember that "S" is for things you found ironic...

    How do you check the meaning of "S"?
    Banno

    Suppose there are only two people on this island (hopefully just me and you, that'd be bliss) and I misremember that S is for things you found ironic. You then tell me that I misremember and I tell you I don't. We both stubbornly refuse to change our views and so S means different things to each of us until we then one day start using S to mean popcorn, at which time we agree it means popcorn, until I say it means ironic, but you stick with popcorn. And then we keep doing this, and we never realize we're doing this because we're both fucked up, but not as fucked up as the argument that the best way to remember what words mean is to rely upon someone else. Especially when the someone else is you.

    I want off the island.
  • PuerAzaelis
    49
    Isn't that how all language works anyway? Words and meanings change through time, but not just for private objects - for public objects too.
  • Banno
    15.9k
    @PuerAzaelis, so... what do you think?
  • PuerAzaelis
    49
    I've been re-reading those section of PI and trying to further clarify. The argument seems to be like this:

    If I was on a desert island, utilizing "s", whenever I saw something amusing, the reason I would not be able to say whether or not I was utilizing that private language properly is that in order to determine its proper use, I would have to utilize rules which I can only ever learn from a public language.

    This is about as far as i can stretch.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.