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Philosophical Investigations


Part II, xi–xiv

Summary Part II, xi–xiv


How we intend a word might be significant to its meaning, but how we experience the word is not. This is not to say that there are not characteristic experiences associated with certain words, but these experiences do not fix the meanings of these words. We can often speak without any notable experience. Meaning and intention lack "experience-content": though we may have certain experiences while meaning or intending something, these experiences are not themselves the meaning or intending. The experiences accord with how we choose and value words, but how we use them to mean something is not determined by these accompanying experiences. Choosing words is not a mental experience. If "the word is on the tip of my tongue" were never followed by finding the w ord, we would not think to say this. The characteristic behavior that surrounds such expressions, and not a mental experience, give them their sense.

We do not "know" our inner experiences like pain or speaking to ourselves any more than we believe, suspect, or do not know them. "Knowledge" is not the correct term here because the general criteria for talking about knowledge are missing. This point is illustrated by comparing the assertions "a goose has no teeth" and "a rose has no teeth." We can verify that a goose has no teeth by looking in its mouth, but how do we determine whether a rose has no teeth? One place is as good to look as another, so we could say that "a rose has teeth in the mouth of a beast": the cow's teeth chew the grass that passes through its digestive tract and comes out as dung that feeds the rose. We are misusing language, not discovering a special kind of first-person kno wledge, when we talk about "knowing" our inner life.

When I confess what I was thinking, my truthfulness is not checked against inner criteria: truthfulness is not determined by whether or not I am correctly describing an inner process. The skeptical conclusion that other people's feelings are hidden from u s is usually irrelevant. We can still reach conclusions about people's inner states that are not necessarily incomplete: when someone is writhing in pain, I do not reflect that this person's inner feelings are hidden. We can know, even be certain, what so meone else is feeling, and our not feeling it ourselves is no detriment to this certainty.

We do not, as a rule, come to blows over the result of an equation, because we can agree on methods of determining these results. The difference between mathematical certainty and certainty regarding other people's feelings is not a matter of degree, but a matter of different language-games: there are not established and sure-fire ways I can make other people share my certainty regarding someone's feelings. And regarding other people's feelings, there are people who are better and worse at judging, a nd such judgment can be taught; the difference is that there are not fixed and clearly defined methods.

The final three sections are brief, and deal with the nature of our concepts as determined by our forms of life, with remembering and its lack of experiential content, and with psychology's conceptual confusions inhibiting the possibility of any scien tific progress.


Skepticism about other minds is made up of the many doubts we can raise about other people's inner experience. There is no outward difference between someone who is unhappy, and a good actor who is simply pretending. We can even raise the question of whet her other people are in fact automata. A masterfully programmed robot could conceivably simulate all our outward behavior, but without any kind of inner experience.

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