Wittgenstein is aware that he might be mistaken for a behaviorist, as asserting that "pain" means "pain behavior," and that when we talk about our own pain we cannot be referring to private sensations. However, is arguing that it is not a question of whether we can or cannot refer to our private sensations. Instead, Wittgenstein says that this talk of referral to private sensations is itself misguided. Talk of words referring to things belongs with talk about justification and verification since it is coherent only when dealing with objects of public knowledge. Of course, the pain I feel is different from the pain behavior I exhibit, but I cannot then build any coherent statements about this pain as a private entity.

Part of the problem with understanding Wittgenstein is that he does not arrive at any definite position. Though this section is called the "private language argument," Wittgenstein is not establishing a particular philosophical position that we can then debate. Rather, he is leading us through the various ways we are inclined to talk about the nature of private sensations, and show us that we are not licensed to claim any discoveries about the nature of knowledge, the mind, or anything else. He does not leave us with definite conclusions, but rather with a more cautious outlook toward philosophical positions built upon talk about private sensations.

Popular pages: Philosophical Investigations