Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.



Private states and language

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-U023-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Something is ’private’ if it can be known to one person only. Many have held that perceptions and bodily sensations are in this sense private, being knowable only by the person who experiences them. (You may know, it is often said, that we both call the same things ’green’; but whether they really look the same to me as they do to you, you have no means of telling.) Regarding the relation between private states and language two main questions have arisen:

  1. Could there be a ’private language’, that is, a language in which a person communicates to themselves, or records for their own use, information about their own private states – this language being in principle incomprehensible to others, who do not know the nature of the events it is used to record. This question is primarily associated with Ludwig Wittgenstein.

  2. Can the nature of our private states affect the meaning of expressions in the public language, that is, the language we use for communicating with each other? Or must everything that affects the meaning of expressions in the public language be something which is itself public, and knowable in principle by anyone? Michael Dummett has argued that we must accept the second of these alternatives, and that this has far-reaching consequences in logic and metaphysics.

Citing this article:
Craig, Edward. Private states and language, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-U023-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.