Unamuno’s Private Language Argument

In his Del Sentimiento Tragico de la Vida, published in 1912, Miguel de Unamuno takes aim in passing at a particular picture of “interiority” familiar in modern philosophy at least from Descartes on, and he does so in a way that strikingly anticipates Wittgenstein’s “private language argument.” He writes, for instance, ““Preguntarle a uno por su yo, es como preguntarle por su cuerpo. Y cuenta que al hablar del yo, hablo del yo concreto y personal; no del yo de Fichte, sino de Fichte mismo, del hombre Fichte” (6). The Cartesian — and later Fichtean — exploration of the “I” as a being apart from the embodied person is a mere abstraction; there is no “I” but the person who can say “I.” He defends this position, as Wittgenstein will, by reflecting on language: “Pensar es hablar consigo mismo, y hablamos cada uno consigo mismo gracias a haber tenido que hablar los unos con los otros…El pensamiento es lenguaje interior, y el lenguaje interior brota del exterior” (15). The thought of the naked “I” is the thought of a world apart, in which the self holds court with itself, freed from all commerce with the objective world in which its body immerses it. But this is an illusion: the privileged language in which we express our “mental states” (e.g., “I am pain,” a statement which, if true, must be known incorrigibly and on no basis) is in fact just a special case of the language in which we converse with others, and indeed depends on it. (The word “pain” must have a public meaning, applicable to others, if I am to apply it to myself.)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s