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Wittgenstein’s beetle in the box analogy

2 minutes

Does the meaning of words rest in our private minds or in our shared experience?

We can never fully access another person’s perspective, but to what extent do our individual private experiences matter when it comes to language and shared understanding? According to the early 20th-century Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the answer is ‘not at all’. A distilled rendering of Wittgenstein’s so-called ‘private language argument’, Wittgenstein’s Beetle in the Box Analogy explains why he believed that the meaning behind language inevitably lay in our shared understanding, and not in our private minds, because we simply can’t access each other’s experiences or sensations.

Video by BBC Radio 4

Script: Nigel Warburton

Animator: Andrew Park

Support Aeon

Ideas can change the world

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.

But we can’t do it without you.

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

Become a Friend for $5 a month or Make a one-off donation

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