Wittgenstein on language and thought

3 min read



According to Wittgenstein's philosophy of language, language significantly shapes the way we think and understand the world around us. He believed that language is not just a tool for expressing pre-existing thoughts, but rather, it actively influences and constructs our thoughts themselves.

One illustrative example of this can be found in Wittgenstein's concept of language games. He argued that language is not a fixed and universal set of rules, but rather a collection of "language games" specific to different contexts and social interactions. Each language game has its own rules, meanings, and uses.

For instance, consider the language game of "shopping." When we engage in this language game, our use of language is shaped by the rules specific to that context. We learn to associate certain words and phrases with the act of shopping, such as "sale," "discount," or "shopping cart." These linguistic conventions not only allow us to communicate effectively but also influence our thoughts and behaviors in the context of shopping. Our understanding of value, desire for certain products, and even our sense of self-worth may be influenced, in part, by the language game of shopping.

Therefore, Wittgenstein's philosophy suggests that our thoughts and perceptions are not independent of language, but deeply intertwined with it. Language acts as a framework through which we interpret and make sense of the world, shaping our understanding and shaping our thoughts.

Wittgenstein argued, in one of his most famous quotes, that the limits of our language are the limits of our world. He believed that language constructs the boundaries and possibilities of our thoughts and experiences. Different languages and linguistic structures offer unique conceptual frameworks and shape how we conceptualize and interpret our experiences.

For example, consider the concept of color. In some cultures, the language may have distinct terms for specific shades of blue, while in other cultures, they may have a single term for multiple shades of blue. This linguistic difference can influence how people perceive and think about colors. Studies have shown that individuals who have different color categories in their language tend to perceive and remember colors differently, highlighting the influence of language on perception. A well-known example - which is actually just a widespread misunderstanding - are the Eskimos, who have around 50 different words for snow. Of course, not all snow is the same for them. The linguistic differentiation is necessary because they refer to dominant features of their habitat.

Moreover, Wittgenstein argued that language not only reflects our thoughts but actively constructs them. He believed that language is not simply a neutral tool but carries inherent biases, assumptions, and cultural values. Through language, we inherit and perpetuate certain ways of thinking, shaping our perspectives and understanding of the world.

Therefore, Wittgenstein's philosophy emphasizes that language is not just a means of communication but a fundamental aspect of human cognition. It molds how we think, perceive, and interpret our experiences, ultimately shaping our understanding of reality.

We now come to the big "but", because these claims are not uncontroversial. On the contrary: what has gone down in the history of science as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is now largely empirically invalidated or relativized by linguists. Language does influence our thinking, but we are not deterministically dependent on this effect.

So, you've just finished reading the funniest and most enlightening blog article ever written (we simply like exaggerations). Your mind is blown, your sides ache from laughing, and you would like to enjoy this experience regularly. Here's the kicker: you can simply subscribe to our free memesletter to get just such memes and their explanation delivered to your inbox on a weekly basis. Simply sign up at the bottom of this page!

Additionally you realize that you absolutely need some merch to commemorate this momentous occasion. Well, lucky for you, we've got the perfect selection of witty t-shirts, hilarious mugs, and sassy stickers that will forever remind you of that time you read that incredible blog post. And here's the cherry on top - use the promo code "BLOGREADER" at checkout to get a whopping 15% off your entire order! It's like getting a discount on instant joy and everlasting awesomeness. So go ahead and snag some swag, my friend. You deserve it.


You liked this blog post and don't want to miss any new articles? Receive a weekly update with the best philosophy memes on the internet for free and directly by email.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.