Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Philosophy And Fiction II

See Philosophy And Fiction: Wittgenstein, Lewis And Anderson.

Wittgenstein said:

"If a lion could speak, we could not understand him." (here)

Why not? I think that this is a philosophical way of saying that lions do not speak. Wittgenstein's point is that language makes sense only in a social context. Thus, the statement, "I am going to work," is comprehensible because it is usually accompanied or followed by some appropriate action like walking out of a house and getting into a car. Utterances divorced from behavior would be incomprehensible. If a lion not only spoke English but also behaved in every other way exactly like an English language user, then he would be not a lion but a human being in leonine form whereas a language that exactly fitted a lion's existence could not possibly be English or any other human language even if it sounded like one. But a lion's existence is not one that includes any kind of language so that the proposition becomes contradictory.

It sounds like Wittgenstein's Private Language Argument. A solitary individual cannot invent a language for his private use because language necessarily involves a distinction between correct and incorrect usage and that is a social matter. Each time the solitary individual sees an object and utters a sound, it may or may not be the same sound as on the previous occasion but there is no practical difference either way. The solitary individual has no one to tell him that "I rode my house" is incorrect whereas "I rode my horse" is correct. Therefore, he has no way of conceiving of a language in the first place.

Therefore, a language can be neither leonine nor private. There are limits to the applicability of a concept and it is good to know what they are.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I cannot entirely agree with your first paragraph. My view is that if non human intelligent races exist they too will necessarily have languages of various kinds. Therefore I can see individuals of those races doing things like "going to work" or many activities similar to what human beings do. But that would not make them HUMANS.