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

Video/Life Stages

Harlem’s over-55s synchronised swimming team thinks ageing is better in the pool

4 minutes

ORIGINAL
Video/Virtual Reality

New realities are imminent: how VR reframes big questions in philosophy

5 minutes

Video/Demography & Migration

The island where 50 million crabs roam free and refugees are trapped in limbo

21 minutes

Idea/Knowledge

The tree of knowledge is not an apple or an oak but a banyan

Jonardon Ganeri

Essay/Cognition & Intelligence

Had a good think lately?

Not busy-work, ticking off to-do lists or keeping-up-with-stuff. Just sitting. And thinking. Is it so hard?

André Spicer

Video/Meaning & the Good Life

Late in life, Fred finds joy – and a ‘rhythm in all things’ – through tap dance

6 minutes

Idea/Ethics

Is it moral to respect the wishes of the dead, above the living?

Barry Lam

Essay/Bioethics

Which lives matter most?

Thinking about children who are not yet born confronts us with the question of our ethical obligations to future people

Dominic Wilkinson & Keyur Doolabh

Video/History of Ideas

How quantum superposition could unravel the ‘grandfather paradox’

3 minutes