Abstract and Introduction
The Investigations is one of the most highly influential works published in the 20th century in the field of philosophy. The work was written by Wittgenstein. There are numerous works in the field of philosophy and each of those works often has their own appeal or impact. In the case of The Investigations, the author focused on the philosophy of language use, specifically the different issues that he found the current language system have been using, that at the same time, he though were causing the different problems in the field of philosophy. In a nutshell, his work focused on the philosophical analysis of language, semantics, and other related concepts. His main thesis suggests that most philosophical problems that arise from contradiction and sometimes, simple semantic problems, arise from and can therefore be traced to the different set of assumptions and preconceptions about language, its nature, and the different established notions about its use. He discussed the different essences of language, emphasizing how it is often used in the field of philosophy, in two parts. The objective of this paper is to discuss Wittgenstein’s private language argument; the different things that he rejected and supported in his work about the essence of language; the specific reasons why he either rejected or supported those points; and a brief discussion whether the arguments and concepts that he presented in this particular work of his can make modern philosophers classify him as a behaviorist rather than a philosopher or a linguist.
Wittgenstein started his The Investigations by quoting one of the most popular parts of St. Augustine’s work, Confessions. It is important to note that this part talked about the essence of language as a tool in helping its users name and identify objects. It was written in another language but he quoted it in his work anyway. He then proceeded by summarizing what St. Augustine said. Wittgenstein’s words were “these words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language. It is this: the individual words in language names objects—sentences are combinations of such names. In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea:
Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the objective for which the word stands” . For Wittgenstein, this is a rather limited, if not an entirely misleading and erroneous statement about the real essence of the human language and its use. One of the first reasons he spoke of was the fact that St. Augustine, in that particular part of Confessions at least, did not recognize the fact that there are different kinds of word. What Wittgenstein understood from St. Augustine’s work was that words can only have one meaning because they are used to name objects and so to establish a correct dictionary of names and therefore of objects, words must only have one absolute meaning appended to them.
This is what St. Augustine thought his followers and readers about the essence of the human language. Unfortunately, ever since St. Augustine’s works about the topic, an uncountable number of people followed him and so people, at least during Wittgenstein’s time have already adopted the concept of the essence of human language (that describes that words are and must primarily be used to name objects) that St. Augustine and other proponents of this notion taught. Starting his work by quoting a part of St. Augustine’s work was not really meant to educate the readers and promote the ideas that he prescribed in his work. Rather, it was the opposite.
One of the most popular concepts that Wittgenstein introduced in his work was the concept of private language argument. Basically this concept suggests that every individual has the privilege to access his own inner sensations and talk about it using practically any word and form of word arrangements that he want. This is what Wittgenstein called private language. Each person has his own inner sensation and that inner sensation may change from time to time. The way a person gives meaning to and therefore uses words is largely based on his inner sensation; in turn, there are two variables that affect an individual’s inner sensation and these are his individuality and his moods, emotions, and sensations. These are basically the things that give words their different meanings.
One example that Wittgenstein used in Point 246 of the First Part of his work was his pain sensation. He said “in what sense are my sensations private? Well, only I can know whether I am really in pain: another person can only surmise it. In one way this is wrong, and in another nonsense. If we are using the word “to know” as it is normally used (and how else are we to use it?), then other people very often know when I am in in pain. Yes but all the same not with certainty with which I know myself. It cannot be said of me at all, except perhaps as a joke that I know I am in pain. What is it supposed to mean except perhaps that I am in pain” . In this point, he demonstrated how no other person can give meaning (i.e. pain as it was used in his example) to his inner sensation aside from himself because they are private. The only thing that other people can do, the ones who would hear his expression of pain, mostly through the use of words and language, is to determine whether he is really in pain or not. This was in fact the same topic that he covered in points 257 up to 258, the private-ness of one’s inner sensation as to pain.
Wittgenstein argued that such misconceptions about the nature and essence of human language are too general. For him, language is a complex tool and being a complex tool that it is, one should know how to use it. There is a large variety of things that one can do with language and to define language, its use and essence, in such a narrow way, can lead to a lot of confusions and problems related to semantics, logic, and philosophy, the very field in which he was known.
His thesis revolved on this conception. The remaining parts of his work focused on demonstrating to the readers the limitations of this notion about the nature and essence of the human language. The Investigations can be divided into two parts. Both parts connect to each other in that they were both aimed to demonstrate to the readers the limitations of the notion that Wittgenstein rejected. The first part alone contained 693 points about the limitations of that notion. The second part, on the other hand, was composed of more detailed explanations of such limitations.
The second point that Wittgenstein made in the first part of The Investigations appear to contain the most substance about what this particular work of his was really about, what idea he rejected, and what idea he supported as a replacement to the idea that he initially rejected. In his second point, he said “that philosophical concept (pertaining to the preconceived notion about the essence and nature of language that he rejected) of meaning has its place in a primitive idea of the way language functions. But one can also say that it is the idea of a language more primitive than ours. Let us imagine a language for which the description given by Augustine is right. The language is meant to serve for communication between builder A and an assistant builder B. A is building with building stones: these are blocks, pillars, slabs, and beams. B has to pass the stones, and that in the order in which A needs them. For this purpose, they use a language consisting of the words “block”, “pillar”, “slab”, “beam”. A calls them out; B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such and such a call. Conceive this as a complete primitive language” .
Based on this demonstration on how Wittgenstein refuted one of Augustine’s key concepts, it may be inferred that one of the main reasons why he continuously rejected this rather erroneous conception about language is the fact that it is already outdated, even obsolete if one will. It has been used by primitive people to serve as their main means of communication—words in a language that had absolute and often only one meaning. However, the problem is that that idea of language is too primitive to be used in a time as late as the twentieth century when Wittgenstein first released the first edition of his The Investigations. Primitive humans have surely evolved physically and mentally.
This would most likely lead to the following deduction: Augustine was basically suggesting that people must continue to use primitive ideas when it comes to language as a tool for communication (i.e. nature and essence of language) even though thousands of years have already passed since that model or idea about language use was first introduced and used. Wittgenstein did not think so. For him, language use, together with its nature and essence must have evolved too.
Now, when it comes to the evolution of language, Wittgenstein thought that from the primitive idea about language use that he described in his second point, language use must have evolved into a form that follows the philosophical concept of meaning. The keyword to look out for here would be “meaning”. This is because throughout his work he was pushing for the use of the philosophical concept of meaning when it comes to describing the nature and essence of the human language.
There are two opposing sides in this case. The first side would be St. Augustine’s side which states that language is something that is composed of words that must have just a single and absolute meaning as in the case of the quoted part of his work that explained how words are used to name objects. The second side would be Wittgenstein’s side which states that language is something that is composed of words that do not have just a single meaning but multiple ones; and that those meanings must be based on how the person using or combining the words want to use those words. Because Wittgenstein was the author of the book, it only makes sense that his side of the philosophical argument was the one that was given more justice. Basically, he just trampled on Augustine’s arguments as if they were entirely wrong.
Another important part of his thesis was the way how he described the term “meaning”. Note that meaning was the keyword in his main thesis, the one that suggests that the philosophical concept of meaning must be the one that is used to describe and use words and language on a larger scale. Meaning, based on how Wittgenstein, described it in his work, is the variable that dictates the type of relationship that would exist between things and words. Although this is indeed the case based on Wittgenstein’s explanations, it is important to note that meanings must never be fixed or static regardless of the relationship between the words and the things that they describe; rather, they must be dynamic and based solely on the way how the sender of the message (the one who uses the words) use them; because otherwise, he would just end up supporting the thesis of St. Augustine which was the very one he rejected in the first place, in the very first paragraph of his work, The Investigations. Now, does this make him a behaviorist? The most accurate question would be no because as far as his field is concerned, he still used philosophical concepts and the philosophical way of thinking to solve a problem that he spotted. It just so happened that that problem had something to do with the way how people behave and use words and language.
Talking solely about the meaning of a word often leads people to believe that word usage are bound by fixed definitions and strict boundaries. If however, the exact usage of any particular set of words, at least in modern society, is used; it would surely appear that this is not the case. The terms “meaning” and “definition” have different meanings. Meaning is what was used by Wittgenstein to support his thesis about the real essence and nature of the human language. The term “definition” on the other hand, may be described as the set of words that is used to describe another word.
Meaning is more contextual and or operational because it largely bases on the way how the sender of the message uses a set of words to communicate. The role of definitions, on the other hand, is more confined. It may be safe to say that they function in helping a person learn new words, to improve his vocabulary, and stabilize one’s grammar. However, when it comes to the real form of communication, “meaning” takes over. In that case, the boundaries and restrictions that have been put in place by the words’ definitions are removed because based on how Wittgenstein would put it, words can take different meanings and they can be used based on how the sender of the message wanted to.
Wittgenstein, L. "Philosophical Investigations." Basil Blackwell (1958).