wittgenstein: the words of the poets pierce through our lives

§155   A poet’s words can pierce us. And that is of course causally connected with the use that they have in our life. And it is also connected with the way in which, conformably to this use, we let our thoughts roam up and down in the familiar surroundings of the words.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel

“for how can I go so far as to try to use language to get between pain and expression?”

Wittgenstein‘s ‘private language’ argument

§ 244. How do words refer to sensations? — there doesn’t seem to be any problem here; don’t we talk about sensations every day, and give them names? But how is the connection between the name and the sensation set up? This question is the same as: how does a human being learn the names of sensations? — of the word pain, for example. Words are connected with the primitive, the natural, expressions of the sensation and used in their place. A child has hurt himself and he cries; and then adults talk to him and teach him exclamations, and, later, sentences. They teach the child new pain-behaviour. “So you are saying that the word ‘pain’ really means crying?” — On the contrary: the verbal expression of pain replaces crying and does not describe it.

§ 245. For how can I go so far as to try to use language to get between pain and expression?

§ 246. 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 pain. — Yes, but all the same, not with the same certainty with which I know it myself! It can’t 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? Other people cannot be said to learn of my sensations only from my behaviour, for I cannot be said to learn of them. I have them. The truth is, that it makes sense to say of other people that they doubt whether I am in pain; but not to say it about myself.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations


wittgenstein on discerning the other’s humanity, or not

We tend to take the speech of a Chinese for inarticulate gurgling. Someone who understands Chinese will recognise language in what he hears. Similarly I often cannot discern the humanity in a man.


—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 1914