Wittgenstein's 'private language' argument


261. What reason have we for calling "S" the sign for a sensation? For "sensation" is a word of our common language, not of one intelligible to me alone. So the use of this word stands in need of a justification which everybody understands. - And it would not help either to say that it need not be a sensation; that when he writes "S", he has something - and that is all that can be said. "has" and "something" also belong to our common language. - So in the end when one is doing philosophy one gets to the point where one would like just to emit an inarticulate sound. - But such a sound is an expression only as it occurs in a particular language-game, which should now be described.

262. It might be said; if you have given yourself a private definition of a word, then you must inwardly undertake to use the word in such-and-such a way. And how do you undertake that? Is it to be assumed that you invent the technique of using the word; or that you found it ready-made?

263. "But I can (inwardly) undertake to call THIS 'pain' in the future." - "But is it certain that you have undertaken it? Are you sure that it was enough for this purpose to concentrate your attention on your feeling?" - A queer question. -

264. "Once you know what the word stands for, you understand it, you know its whole use."

We are limited in the extent to which we can describe a private language using a public one. If we could fully describe the private language then we should have to be using a private language for the purpose. This does not mean that a private language cannot have some structures in common with our public language. Surely we could have a language which contained the words 'has' and 'something' serving the same functions as those words do in English, but which also had a number of additional words referring to private things. Even if the private language had no such common features with public languages, I cannot see that this would make it illegitimate to make sensible statements in a public language about the private language. If I write about a formal logical language I am bound to use many concepts which have no counterpart in the language I am describing but this does not matter. The situation with the private language is not quite the same as that for the logical language. The problem is not that the public language contains concepts absent from the private one, but that the private language contains concepts which cannot be dealt with in the public.

up home © RBJ written c1975 edited 1996/6/23 last modified 2009/9/2