Private Language Argument II : Gloss

Private Language Argument II

For Wittgenstein, truly private definitions of words or symbols preclude intelligible meaning. Language is a kind of (public) theater. For instance, in Philosophical Investigations 1.257 he claims that “a great deal of stage-setting in the language is presupposed if the mere act of naming is to make sense. And when we speak of someone’s having given a name to pain, what is presupposed is the existence of the grammar of the word ‘pain’; it shews the post where the new word is stationed.” Later, at 1.272, he states: “The essential thing about private experience is really not that each person possesses his own exemplar, but that nobody knows whether people also have this or something else. The assumption would thus be possible—though unverifiable—that one section of mankind had one sensation of red and another section another.”



Beetle Haiku


A word like “beetle”

can’t refer to a critter

that only I know.


So a word like “pain”

must refer to something else

than my sensation.


What I alone feel

is, then, quite irrelevant

to the word’s meaning!


Theatre as black box:

actors perform how pain feels.

Perhaps they’re lying.

About the Author

Andrew Sofer is Professor of English at Boston College. His books include The Stage Life of Props (Michigan, 2003); Wave (Main Street Rag, 2011); and Dark Matter: Invisibility in Drama, Theater, and Performance (Michigan, 2013). His essays have appeared in Theatre Journal, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Modern Drama, Comparative Drama, English Literary Renaissance, The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre, The Blackwell Companion to Twentieth-Century American Drama, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA in Directing and is a widely published poet.