Would it be reasonable to take Wittgenstein's case against private language as his case in favor of public language? Or is that too simple? As I was listening to episode 56, a quote from William James from Pragmatismcame to mind:
All human thinking gets discursified; we exchange ideas; we lend and borrow verifications, get them from one another by means of social intercourse. All truth thus gets verbally built out, stored up, and made available for everyone.
Hence, we must talk consistently just as we must think consistently: for both in talk and thought we deal with kinds. Names are arbitrary, but once understood they must be kept to. We mustn't now call Abel 'Cain' or Cain 'Abel.' If we do, we ungear ourselves from the whole book of Genesis, and from all its connexions with the universe of speech and fact down to the present time. We throw ourselves out of whatever truth that entire system of speech and fact may embody.
The demand for consistency in our uses of language is, according to James, almost a matter of remaining within the bounds of sanity. If we constantly confuse the murderers with their victims, we "ungear ourselves" from the whole universe of speech - and to have a private language, supposing it were possible, is to be isolated in the corner of dunces. Are James and Wittgenstein saying the same thing on this point?
(Image by Conrad Botes.)
I think that James was making a kind of conservative point, not unlike Heidegger despite his idea of epochs, that imagines deep/collective roots in language, whereas for Wittgenstein private-language is an oxymoron.
David Buchanan says
William James in “Pragmatism and Common Sense”: Here’s why we couldn’t understand lions (or lobsters and bees) even if they could talk.
“My thesis now is this, that OUR FUNDAMENTAL WAYS OF THINKING ABOUT THINGS ARE DISCOVERIES OF EXCEEDINGLY REMOTE ANCESTORS, WHICH HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PRESERVE THEMSELVES THROUGHOUT THE EXPERIENCE OF ALL SUBSEQUENT TIME. They form one great stage of equilibrium in the human mind’s development, the stage of common sense. …In practical talk, a man’s common sense means his good judgment, his freedom from excentricity, his GUMPTION, to use the vernacular word. In philosophy it means something entirely different, it means his use of certain intellectual forms or categories of thought. Were we lobsters, or bees, it might be that our organization would have led to our using quite different modes from these of apprehending our experiences. It MIGHT be too (we cannot dogmatically deny this) that such categories, unimaginable by us to-day, would have proved on the whole as serviceable for handling our experiences mentally as those which we actually use.”
yes I think that our comments here are in agreement James had this quasi-genetic/Peircian sense of language but where in Wittgenstein do you see something like an entire “system” of speech, or “connexions with the universe of speech and fact down to the present time” ?
ps, not quizzing you here just trying to get a sense of where you (and more specifically your written words here as that’s what I have access to) are coming from and heading to, without working definitions this kind of context-less exchange is tough going at best.
David Buchanan says
Sorry, dmf, but I was not replying to your comments. I don’t mean to ignore them but I honestly don’t know what you’re saying and/or asking. If you’d care to unpack it, I’m listening.
Richard A. says
I am leaning towards saying that they are not saying the same thing. Wittgenstein is putting forth a really strong argument. He is saying that there can be no such thing as a private language. It cannot be done. His views about the ‘normal’ language game, setting aside the language game of S&M clubs for example, is very messy. James does not seem to be able to do this, and this is most likely due to his pragmatist position. If I remember right James held the view that science is what provides truth, and in that light having to be specific and exact in our use of language makes sense. His position is much closer to the early W in my opinion in seeing language as a tool of science and having to be exact in its usage.