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April 11, 2023 2 min read


Ludwig Wittgenstein's concept of linguistic confusion is an important part of his philosophy of language. This concept is based on the idea that language is not a precise tool that can be used to accurately express all thoughts, but rather a collection of words and phrases that can be used to refer to a variety of different concepts, which can lead to confusion and misinterpretation.

Wittgenstein believed that language can be a source of confusion because of its inherent ambiguity, as well as its tendency to be used in different ways by different people. As a result, Wittgenstein argued that it is important to understand the limits of language and to recognize when a speaker's meaning may be unclear or misinterpreted. 

One example of linguistic confusion from Wittgenstein's work can be found in his book, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In this book, Wittgenstein states that the "meaning of a word is its use in the language", which implies that words have no intrinsic meaning, and instead are only meaningful when they are used in a particular context. This idea has been widely debated in philosophical circles, as it suggests that language is a tool that can be used to communicate different ideas and concepts, but is not necessarily a tool that can be used to accurately convey all possible meanings. 

In addition, Wittgenstein's concept of linguistic confusion can be seen in his concept of the "private language," which states that language can only be meaningful if it is shared by a group of people, and that it cannot be meaningful if it is used by an individual alone. This concept suggests that language is a tool that is only useful when it is used in a social context, and that it can be a source of confusion if it is used in isolation. 

Wittgenstein was quite rigorous with the practical application of his concept and initially believed that with the mere linguistic analysis (= reducing language to a strictly logical level) of philosophical questions, he had exposed them as pseudo-problems of philosophy and thus solved them.

The Tractatus ends with the sentence: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent", which has often, but probably somewhat dramatically, been interpreted as the end of philosophy. Ironically, Wittgenstein himself relativized his ideas from the Tractatus at a later point in time, which is why in the history of philosophy one also speaks of an early and a late Wittgenstein or even refers to them - borrowing a formal-logical designation - as Wittgenstein I and Wittgenstein II.

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