Language and its Limits?
Journey with Wittgenstein and beyond….
“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein
In what circumstances, does this statement makes sense?
- If I have to give expression to one of my experience, I need a language to express it. My capabilities in the language will be pathways for others to understand my experience correctly.
- When another person (or book) shares an experience with me, the language plays a big role in helping me to get into that experience.
- There are some activists who speak of learning the language of birds or animals or of the earth, which opens an entire world to us. The art of compassion speaks of learning the language of other human beings (or creatures), which helps us in understanding their world.
- When I miss completely the language of science or language of beauty, I do miss a lot of realities.
- Occasionally the people who have sufficient resources (the rich) get linguistically detached from the world of people with insufficient resources (the poor), and groups/divisions are easily created.
- Dialogue between people from left and right in politics, liberals, and conservatives in religion, capitalists, and communists get derailed occasionally because the language of the one doesn’t have the terms/words/ meanings of the other.
Learning a variety of languages (not limited to linguistic languages) can be a great help in getting to know the world from various perspectives and dimensions.
Is it always this one-way relationship between language and our world as Wittgenstein said? I think there are some experiences that go beyond this.
- Some of the mystical experiences (or deep religious experiences) give the person an understanding of the reality which can’t be expressed sufficiently by any form of language. I am speaking of authentic experiences and some of them struggle to give a linguistic form to their experiences.
One day during my last term at school I walked out alone in the evening and heard the birds singing in that full chorus of song, which can only be heard at that time of the year at dawn or at sunset. I remember now the shock of surprise with which the sound broke on my ears. It seemed that I had never heard the birds singing before and I wondered whether they sang like this all the year round and never noticed it. As I walked on I came upon some hawthorn trees in full bloom and again I thought that I had never seen such a sight or experienced such sweetness before. If I had been brought suddenly among the trees of the Garden of Paradise and heard a choir of angels singing I could not have been more surprised I came thus to where the sun was setting over the playing fields. A lark rose suddenly from the ground beside the tree where I was standing and poured out its song above my head, and then sank still singing to rest. Everything then grew still as the sunset faded and the veil of dusk began to cover the earth. I remember now the feeling of awe which came over me. I felt inclined to kneel on the ground, as though I had been standing in the presence of angel… (Bede Griffiths, page 9)
2. When I have a deep experience of love, joy, or sadness, it's difficult to capture it with languages. Some give expressions to those experiences as art or poems.
3. Another example could be the pioneering intuitions of a few great people. They imagine the reality or the world, and the language and concepts catch up with them.
Wittgenstein’s insight is valuable, but we can go beyond him at many special moments.