Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann (1889–1951)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD072-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved March 01, 2021, from

14. Philosophy of mind

The Tractatus picture of the relation of language to its subject matter is especially attractive in the case of some psychological notions. A sensation such as pain is easily conceived as a phenomenon which impresses its nature and identity conditions on one who has it, independent of external circumstances or bodily behaviour. The private language argument (§§243–71) examines this idea in the light of the earlier discussion of meaning. One aim is to show that our actual use of terms for sensations does not and could not conform to the pattern suggested.

The rule-following considerations suggest that no standard for what is to count as ‘the same’ can be fixed merely by uttering a word to oneself while being vividly aware of what one experiences. For one kind of item rather than another to come into focus out of the indefinite variety potentially presented in an experience, that experience must be embedded in one kind of life rather than another. Relatedly, for a word to have meaning there must be some extended practice in which its use has a point. This is as true of sensation words as of any others. We teach and use them in a complex setting of physical circumstances and expressive bodily behaviour. This setting, says Wittgenstein, is not externally and contingently linked to sensation but is an integral part of the sort of life in which the general category ‘sensation’ makes sense and in which particular sensations can be individuated.

Wittgenstein considers many other topics in philosophical psychology, among them intention, expectation, calculating in the head, belief, dreaming and aspect perception. A constant theme is the need to counter the attraction of the model of name and object, which (together with such things as the special authority which each person has to pronounce on their own psychological states) leads us to conceive of the ‘inner’ as a special mysterious realm, distinct from the ‘outer’ or physical. He offers such general remarks as ‘An “inner process” stands in need of outward criteria’ (1953: §580). He also returns repeatedly to the idea that authoritative first-person psychological claims should be seen as expressions or avowals of those states which we are inclined to insist that they describe. These sorts of moves have led to the idea that he denies the existence of the ‘inner’ and is really a behaviourist.

He was aware of the risk of this reading:

‘But you will surely admit that there is a difference between pain-behaviour accompanied by pain and pain-behaviour without any pain?’ - Admit it? What greater difference could there be? - ‘And yet you again and again reach the conclusion that the sensation itself is a nothing.’ Not at all. It is not a something, but not a nothing either!

(1953: §304)

Thoughts and experiences are, on his view, necessarily linked to expressive behaviour. ‘Only of a living human being and what resembles (behaves like) a living human being can one say: it has sensations; it sees; is blind; hears; is deaf; is conscious or unconscious’ (1953: §281). But this does not mean either that any reduction of the mental to the behavioural is possible or that the psychological is not real. To see Wittgenstein’s view sympathetically it is important to keep in mind the upshot of §§1–242. There is no a priori guarantee of some privileged set of classifications (for instance, those of natural science) in terms of which all others must be explained. To understand any phenomenon we must get a clear view of the language games in which terms for it are used; and the logical shapes of these may be very different from those which are initially suggested by the pictures which grip us (see Private language argument §§1–3).

Citing this article:
Heal, Jane. Philosophy of mind. Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann (1889–1951), 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD072-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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