Pain-reactions - A Child is Crying (§§–) Wittgenstein...

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Unformatted text preview: A Child is Crying (§§–) Wittgenstein begins his response to the very idea of a private language by imagining a question that might be prompted by its initial articulation. How do words refer to sensations?—There doesn’t seem to be any problem here; don’t we talk about sensations every day, and give them names? But how is the connexion between the name and the thing named set up? This question is the same as: how does a human being learn the meaning of the names of sensations?—of the word ‘‘pain’’ for example. Here is one possibility: words are connected with the primitive, the natural, expressions of the sensation and used in their place. A child has hurt himself and he cries; and then adults talk to him and teach him exclamations and, later, sentences. They teach the child new pain-behaviour. ‘‘So you are saying that the word ‘pain’ really means crying?’’—On the contrary: the verbal expression of pain replaces crying and does not describe it. For how can I go so far as to try to use language to get between pain and its expression? (PI §§–) In §, the idea of a private language is characterized as one whose individual words refer to the speaker’s immediate private sensations; so § begins by forcing us explicitly to contemplate this apparently self-evident notion of ‘reference’. More specifically, it speaks on behalf of someone suddenly struck by a sense of difficulty or puzzlement with the very idea of reference in this context. Wittgenstein immediately emphasizes (in apparently resolute vein) that naming and otherwise talking about our sensations is an everyday phenomenon—as much a commonplace of our life with words as is giving expression to our feelings or moods for our private use. If we look at that aspect of ordinary life, we will see—it will be manifest—how words refer to sensations, how sensationwords fit into (that is, how they resemble and differ from, and how they are interwoven with) our life with other kinds of words, and hence with language and with reality. How, then, might we come to be gripped by a sense that the very intelligibility of this humdrum actuality is questionable? The interlocutor attempts to clarify his sense of difficulty: it concerns how, in this context, we can set up the connection between name and thing named at all—how the connections manifest in our everyday talk about sensations might be effected in the first place. Wittgenstein’s second response to his interlocutor offers (more accurately, it imposes) a reinterpretation of his reformulated question: he flatly asserts that it is equivalent to asking how human beings learn the meaning of sensation-words. Is this interpretative imposition justified? Is the interlocutor’s initial sense of bewilderment about the sheer existence of a naming or reference relation between words and sensations really being given adequate expression when reformulated as an apparently empirical question about how someone might learn the meaning of such words; or does this forced equation rather conceal the initial difficulty? After all, if his bewilderment is not eased by a reminder of the self-evident fact that people do talk about sensations, why should it be eased by a reminder of the equally self-evident fact that people do learn how to engage in such talk (let alone by any more specific claims about how they learn to do so)? His question is: how is any of this so much as possible? But if the interlocutor’s difficulty really is well captured by his own reformulation of it, which articulates the issue as one of how the relevant connection is ‘set up’ (say, established or effected, ∼ A Child is Crying brought about), then the most natural (a substantial reader might say, the only established) way of taking his question is as one about how that connection is made by or for any given speaker—that is, as a question about language acquisition, about teaching and learning. And if (as a resolute reader might be willing to consider) it is not to be so taken, then the interlocutor owes us an account of how it can and should be taken otherwise. On this latter reading, then, Wittgenstein’s response to that reformulation is designed to reveal that, unless the notion of ‘setting up’ is given a concrete context of application, it remains entirely lacking in content. By so flatly denying any other way of taking the notion, Wittgenstein resists, and so invites us to reconsider, our sense that there really is an issue (one that the interlocutor is striving to articulate) concerning the sheer possibility of the connectedness of sensation-words and sensations as such—an issue that is somehow more fundamental than, essentially prior to, and so not to be identified with, any concrete question about how those specific kinds of word–world connection are in fact established. In short, Wittgenstein is, from the outset, concerned to emphasize the naturalness, and the uncannily rapid unfolding, of our desire to sublime the notions of reference and naming—our compulsion to mean them, but in no particular way. This process of sublimation is further contested by Wittgenstein’s apparently casual introduction of ‘pain’ as the particular sensationword with respect to which a possible answer to the interlocutor’s reinterpreted question will be sought. For it is part of his purpose to imply that, just as the interlocutor is tempted to invoke the notion of ‘setting up connections’ between sensation-words and sensations without committing himself to any particular way of employing it, so his invocation of the notion of ‘sensation-words’ (and hence of sensations) threatens to floats free of concrete reality in so far as he refrains from specifying which particular sensationword is under discussion. For there may be no single, uniform, or homogeneous story to be told about how all sensation-words A Child is Crying ∼ are learnt; different sensation-words might be acquired in different (although related or overlapping) ways. Accordingly, to focus on one particular example further forces the interlocutor to confront the realities to which his account must ultimately be responsive. By the same token, however, in so far as the choice of ‘pain’ is his, rather than his interlocutor’s, Wittgenstein must take responsibility for the concreteness of the particular example upon which so much of the rest of his famous discussion famously focuses. He must, in particular, take care to distinguish between conclusions that hold about that particular example, and conclusions that might generalize beyond it, and between the varying extents to which any given conclusion does in fact generalize—immediately within the realm of sensations, but more broadly across the terrain of psychological phenomena (for example, to the feelings and moods mentioned in §). It is not possible to determine in advance how, and how far, one’s choice of example might inflect one’s investigation here; but that it will do so, and with potentially fateful consequences, is surely beyond contestation. On the face of it, of course, ‘pain’ seems an eminently suitable example for present purposes—by which I mean both Wittgenstein’s purposes and those of his interlocutor(s). It is, to begin with, surely the most insistently self-evident of sensations, and one with strong links to human physiology on the one hand and to expressive behaviour on the other. The pertinence of these features will become clear as we go along, but it is noteworthy that proponents of otherwise radically different positions in the philosophy of mind have tended (perhaps rather too readily) to agree on the suitability of pain as an example of the phenomena in which they all have an interest. Without denying any of this, however, we might wonder whether Wittgenstein’s choice of this example is more specifically motivated. For example, ‘pain’ is etymologically linked (via the Latin root poena, penalty or punishment) to the various reflexive uses of language that initially motivate the anxiety about private language ∼ A Child is Crying in §—certainly to those of blaming and punishing; plausibly to those of issuing and obeying orders, and encouraging oneself (understood as seeking courage in the face of threatened suffering, perhaps by threatening to inflict suffering on oneself); possibly to that of interrogating oneself (understood as putting oneself on trial, even perhaps as part of a form of self-torture). Would this justify us in seeing a connection between Wittgenstein’s investigations into the ways in which we do, and can, found meaning on sensations of pain, and Nietzsche’s investigations into the meanings we have given our pain—in particular, what he sees as our Christian interpretation of human pain as punishment (not just for wrongdoing but for the sheer fact of our existence), and his interpretation of us as preferring the self-punishment of such interpretations to suffering the realization that pain has no meaning, that it neither embodies nor founds any structure of significance? Perhaps we should rather restrict ourselves to considering the possibility that Wittgenstein sees connections between the construction of a fantasy of private expression and the suffering and infliction of pain—whether because the experience of suffering pain engenders a vision of insuperable isolation, or because such fantasies amount to a form of self-punishment (for example, a denial of access to others), or because constructing a philosophical inquiry in which to give expression to such self-understandings demands that he risk obedience to a form of self-interrogation that threatens to exact penalties of extreme psychological and disciplinary isolation. But perhaps the last of these possibilities brings us once again into rather too close a proximity to Nietzsche. Suppose, then, we return to Witttgenstein’s proposed answer to the question of how human beings learn the meaning of ‘pain’. The heart of it lies in what amounts to a reorientation or displacement of the notion of a connection invoked by his interlocutor. For the connection Wittgenstein emphasizes is not between sensation-words and sensations, but between wordless cries, exclamations, and sentences involving sensation-words; and A Child is Crying ∼ the kind of connection in play is not that of attaching a linguistic label to a non-linguistic thing, but that of linguistic expressions replacing or displacing—anyway, being used in the place of—natural, nonlinguistic, behavioural expressions or manifestations of sensations. In short, the key connection is not between inner and outer, but within the realm of the outer, between public phenomena. But Wittgenstein’s point is not that sensation-words do not really refer to sensations; it is rather that to say that sensation-words are names just is to say that they function as learnt replacements for unlearnt expressive behaviour. One might say: in this dimension of our life with language, naming or reference is a function of expression. More specifically, the connection between ‘pain’ and pain is set up in a manner which exploits the natural human repertoire of expressive behaviour, the fact that pain naturally finds expression in certain forms of behaviour—so that, for example, when ‘A child has hurt himself, he cries’. The language of pain is grafted on to a more primitive exclamatory language, which is itself grafted on to wordless manifestations of pain; the establishment of a referential relation between ‘pain’ and pain therefore depends upon the naturally established relation between pain and its expression. And this precisely undercuts the assumption engendering the interlocutor’s reformulated question, which presupposes that the everyday role of verbal and written expressions of pain must itself be accounted for in terms of the establishment of a naming relation between ‘pain’ and pain. Little wonder, then, that Wittgenstein invites us to speculate (in §) about how we come to feel compelled to invoke such linguistic connections in order to mediate, or otherwise ground, a connection (between pain and the forms of behaviour expressive of it) that requires no such intermediary—in short, to try to do something that cannot be done because there is no gap to bridge, no connection to forge, in the first place. It is quite as if we want to repress or deny the natural expressiveness of our behaviour altogether. ∼ A Child is Crying The idea of a graft here is also meant to indicate a combination of dependence and independence, a hybrid of the old and the new. On the one hand, to make a graft presupposes the existence of something on to which a graft can be made (no wordless cries, no language of pain); on the other hand, what results from a graft is not identical with what existed prior to its being made (sentences are not exclamations, which in turn are not cries or shrieks). This is why Wittgenstein never says that the language of pain is a species of expressive pain behaviour, for it is never simply or merely or just that; in this context, naming is a function of expression, not a synonym for it. In other words, even though it would not be the language of pain if it did not take the place of expressive pain behaviour, in taking on or taking over that place in our lives it transforms it by introducing indefinitely ramifying ranges of new possibilities into it—new ways of articulating one’s inner experiences, ways which introduce the evaluative dimension of truth and falsehood (and so a role in the space of reasons) without expelling the expressive dimension.¹ And of course, on to each such graft further new ways can be grafted in their turn. It is also important to see that what Wittgenstein presents here as the key connection (between natural and verbal expressions of sensations) is not itself seen and acted upon by the person whose expressions these are, but rather by those around him. The child, who hurts himself, cries; it is not he, but the adults around him, who make the connection between his cries and the domain of exclamations and sentences in the language of pain. There is no moment of recognition on his part that mediates between his pain and his crying, certainly none that involves an act of identifying or naming what he is feeling as pain (another way of trying to use language to mediate a non-existent gap between pain and its ¹ This confluence or simultaneity of expression and self-ascription in first-person psychological utterances is the central concern of David Finkelstein’s excellent Expression and the Inner (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; ). A Child is Crying ∼ expression). It is the adults who recognize his cries as cries of pain, and hence are in a position to replace them with primitive linguistic forms of pain behaviour, and so induct him into (this dimension of) life with language. In other words, the relevant linguistic connection between ‘pain’ and pain is set up for the individual learner by the society of which he is a part. His mastery of that connection (and so his capacity to articulate his feeling even in the most primitive linguistic forms) is an effect or function of his presence in a human social world in which that connection is always already effected, or in effect. For the child can come to employ the word ‘pain’ with respect to himself and to others only in so far as others have already employed that term with respect to him; his first-person (as well as any subsequent third-person) uses of the term are grounded in his natural capacity to satisfy the criteria for third-person uses of the term by others. But it is not just that those others must be able to see his behaviour as expressive of pain; they must also be willing to do so. One might say: his cries must be seen as, acknowledged as, cries of pain by those who make up his social world if he is to receive the gift or graft of the language of pain. And if this holds of pain behaviour, it must also hold of the full range of his natural expressive repertoire, and so of his human status, in so far as that status involves the possession of an inner life that one is capable of articulating for oneself. This idea of children acquiring language, understood as in the gift of one’s elders (the German term translated as ‘adults’ in § is the same as that used to translate Augustine’s majores homines into German—Erwachsenen), inevitably brings to mind the quotation with which the Philosophical Investigations opens: When they (my elders) named some object, and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and I grasped that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out. Their intention was shewn by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples: the expression of the face, the play of the eyes, the movement ∼ A Child is Crying of other parts of the body, and the tone of voice which expresses our state of mind in seeking, having, rejecting, or avoiding something. Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learnt to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires. (PI §; Augustine, Confessions, I. viii) One might understand Wittgenstein’s tale of the hurt child as a continuation of his contestation of Augustine’s vision of language acquisition, a contestation begun with his counter-tale of the shopping trip in §, and renewed pretty much whenever the figure of a child being taught recurs in the Investigations (which means, pretty much throughout the text). Of course, this point in Wittgenstein’s investigation can be seen as one at which he acknowledges a deep insight in Augustine’s account, to which his own is indebted; for his tale of pain also invokes the idea of a natural language of all peoples—a non-linguistic repertoire for the expression of inner moods, feelings, and the rest. But one could as easily see this as the point at which Wittgenstein acknowledges this debt by criticizing Augustine’s way of invoking his insight; for Augustine places that insight in a context of assumptions that effectively work to undermine it. To begin with, despite the fact that Augustine’s child is presented as learning how to give expression to his desires, and to that extent to his inner experiences, what the world of his elders teaches him is essentially a set of public names for the objects upon which his desires are already directed. The clear implication is that the child is already capable of identifying what the objects of those desires, and hence the desires themselves, are; language is simply that which mediates between that internal moment of recognition and the public expression of the desires. Further, there is Augustine’s uncanny suggestion that, in attaining such public expression, the child trains his mouth to form the relevant signs. This turn of phrase not only conjures up a vision of the child as the manipulative inhabitant of his own body, the master of a machine A Child is Crying ∼ for speaking—as if at once puppet and puppeteer; it simultaneously underlines that the child is his own teacher (his elders pay him no heed), and that he effects the transition to linguistic expression not by anything like a process of substituting linguistic for non-linguistic expressive behaviour, but rather by setting up a naming relation between inner world and outer objects. The natural language of all peoples simply helps the child to establish that relation by and for himself, by functioning as a substitute for his elders’ paying him any attention; their self-absorption is subverted or betrayed by the natural expressiveness of their bodies, rather than the natural expressiveness of the child’s body being the means whereby they establish the relation for him, by establishing him within the human community of sufferers of pain. If we press this comparison of Wittgenstein’s child and Augustine’s child a little further, two more points of contrast emerge. First, a partial explanation for Augustine’s sense of the child as a tenant of its own body, as already possessed of a sophisticated inner world and hence as needing only a language with which to demand its public acknowledgement, lies in his evaluation of what one might call the spiritual status of the child. And Wittgenstein’s way of emphasizing his contrary sense of the immediacy of his child’s relation to his pain in § at once brings out and contests Augustine’s spiritual agenda: Are we perhaps over-hasty in our assumption that the smile of an unweaned infant is not a pretence?—And on what experience is our assumption based? (Lying is a language-game that needs to be learned like any other one.) (PI, §) We shall return to the issue of pretence later in this discussion. But now, it is worth asking: why has Wittgenstein’s child (ein Kind) become an unweaned infant (eine Saugling)? In part, without doubt, because he wishes to invoke a stage of human life so early that it has no room for the existence of certain relatively complex and necessarily intersubjective projects—no more room than exists in the ∼ A Child is Crying life of the dog invoked in §; the playing of such language-games must await the grafting of linguistic expressions upon a natural expressive repertoire that is inherently capable of accepting them, within the context of a complex social life. But his emphasis on the infant as unweaned, hence still at the breast, reminds us of a number of remarks that provide an immediate context in the Confessions for Augustine’s self-taught, self-manipulating child²: I have personally watched and studied a jealous baby. He could not yet speak and, pale with jealousy and bitterness, glared at his brother sharing his mother’s milk. (C, I. vii) When I did not get my way, either because I was not understood or lest it be harmful to me, I used to be indignant with my elders for their disobedience, and with free people who were not slaves to my interests; and I would revenge myself upon them by weeping. (C, I. vi) By groans and various sounds and various movements of parts of my body I would endeavour to express the intentions of my heart to persuade people to bow to my will. (C, I. viii) Augustine’s child desires to find a means for the public expression of his desires so that he might bend others, and thereby the world, to his will; and that will—like the will of his elders, manifest in their apparently exclusive concern for having what they want and rejecting what is not in their interests—is itself fundamentally jealous, envious, and selfish. In short, for Augustine, the natural language of all peoples is that of original sin. And Wittgenstein means to invite us to ask: on what experience is Augustine’s ‘assumption’ that his unweaned infant is consumed with bitter jealousy actually based? The point here is not to suggest that the behaviour of unweaned infants cannot be seen in such a way. After all, the mother–child relation, as mediated through the breast, is a primary domain of psychoanalytic interpretation, and would certainly be seen as host ² I am using Henry Chadwick’s translation of Augustine’s Confessions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ); hereafter C. A Child is Crying ∼ to (necessarily primitive versions of) jealousy, envy, and hatred. But the tales of infant life engendered by psychoanalysis are grounded in the world of adult experience—in how the expressive life of adults has been found to be subject to neurotic, psychotic, and other forms of suffering, and how attempts properly to acknowledge and redirect such patterns of thought, word, and deed have been found to call for a certain interpretation of the life of the unweaned infant. In this respect, Augustine’s interpretation of the child as originally sinful is on all fours with Freud’s interpretation of the child as working to establish boundaries around and within the self by at once rejecting and internalizing aspects of its mother and father. We understand children in the terms made available by our understanding of adults, or elders—call them grown-ups (Erwachsenen), those we think of as having put away childish things without ever leaving them entirely behind, because we can find no better way of understanding their adult ways. And this suggests a further sense in which the child’s acquisition of language, and hence accession to human maturity, might be thought of as constituted by an intervention from the very social world that he can and must come to inhabit. For if that acquisition depends upon his elders’ ability and willingness to see his behaviour as expressive (as the natural, primitive manifestation) of human moods, feelings, sensations, and the rest, it will be pervasively determined by their (which means their and his society’s) conception of what genuinely human moods, feelings, sensations, and the rest are and should be—a conception that is always already manifest in what those elders say and do (for example, in the fact that lying is one of the things they habitually do with their words). One might think of this as a point at which Wittgenstein’s thought makes contact with Girard’s idea of human identity as mimetic.³ According to Girard, human beings become individuals ³ For more on this theme, see sect. of the ‘Concluding Dogmatic Postscript’ to my Inheritance and Originality. ∼ A Child is Crying by incorporating gestures, language, modes of consciousness, and activity from those around them; this mimicry or incorporation of the other is not something selves do, but rather what makes the human animal a bearer of selfhood in the first place. Consequently, human desire is not linear (a matter of subjects fixing directly upon objects) or reflexive (a matter of desiring another’s desire, wanting the other to find oneself desirable), but rather triangular, or mediated (we desire what another desires, according to the desire of the other). And for Girard, this mimetic structure of selfhood secretes rivalry, conflict, and lethal violence in so far as it engenders individuals who each desire what the other desires in a domain of finite resources. One might even think that the interpretations of childhood offered by Augustine and Freud are interpretations of whatever it is about the human animal that is the subject of Girard’s interpretation. Whatever the merits of this suggestion, however, it is plain that Wittgenstein’s child will take in a certain (that is, not one particular, but rather some, more or less particular) understanding of what it is to have an inner life, and of what such lives contain, along with his mother’s milk. The graft of language and the graft of a particular understanding of what it is to be human are jointly effected in these exchanges between the crying child and its elders. In this sense, the child not only suffers pain; even when that pain is self-inflicted, and thus not the result of another’s actions (perhaps actions of blame and punishment), in coming to understand that this is what it is suffering, it suffers the implantation or introjection of language and society. But I mentioned a second detail that is made salient if we compare Wittgenstein’s suffering child and Augustine’s learner. We have already noted that, whereas Augustine’s elders make no attempt to teach the child in their midst, and thereby place their child in the position of one who has to help himself to their words (even steal them), Wittgenstein’s elders do respond to the crying child; they take on the responsibility of teachers, and he A Child is Crying ∼ learns something from them. However, against the background of a point Wittgenstein makes much later, the mode or limits of that response can seem almost as bizarre as that of Augustine’s elders. What sort of issue is: Is it the body that feels pain?—How is it to be decided? What makes it plausible to say that it is not the body?—Well, something like this: if someone has a pain in his hand, then the hand does not say so (unless it writes it) and one does not comfort the hand, but the sufferer: one looks into his face. How am I filled with pity for this man? How does it come out what the object of my pity is? (Pity, one may say, is a form of conviction that someone else is in pain.) (PI, §§–) When Wittgenstein’s child hurts himself and cries, his elders talk to him and teach him exclamations and words; they do not do what any ordinary grown-up would surely do in such a situation, and that, Wittgenstein implies, is just as significant in constituting our sense of the nature of pain (by helping to constitute our sense that pain is not just a fact about another to be noted, but a condition to be acknowledged)—namely, comfort the child, offer him some form of sympathetic response (perhaps pity, perhaps encouragement) to the fact that he is in pain. If the problem with Augustine’s elders is that they refuse the role of teachers, the problem with Wittgenstein’s elders is that they refuse to transcend that role: they seem to look upon their child’s suffering solely as an opportunity for education, as if their concern for him extended exclusively to his prospects as a fellow-speaker. But perhaps this apparent limitation in their response should be understood otherwise. For we could interpret their provision of exclamations and then sentences not as an alternative to offering comfort, but as their way of offering comfort. In other words, we might think of the provision of a language for pain to someone immersed in inarticulate suffering as a means of giving him some perspective on his own condition—at least enough distance from it to articulate that condition, and thereby to place him in the position of acknowledging the state he is in, which must include ∼ A Child is Crying acknowledging that it may end, that he may be comforted, that he might transcend that state, if only in his imagination. One might in fact think that, precisely in so far as the acquisition of a language for pain (and indeed for any of our moods, feelings, and the rest) places us in the realm of common discourse and the intersubjective relations with which it is interwoven, it displaces us from a position in which, in so far as what one is feeling is as nothing to others, it is nothing less than everything to us—a way in which our identity is overwhelmed by the particular state we happen to be in.⁴ Here, then, is a sense in which we might coherently seek, and see point in seeking, to use language to get between pain and its (immediate, all-encompassing) expression. We might go one step further. For if it is the introjection of language and society that makes it possible for the child to avoid being lost in, and hence to, his experience, if without that internalization he would lack the capacity to articulate and hence acknowledge the state he is in, then it becomes tempting to say that the child’s achievement of self-awareness and selfhood here appears as a matter of achieving a certain kind of internal self-differentiation. In internalizing his elders’ gift of language, he internalizes (its and their) otherness: he gains the capacity to distance himself from himself, to achieve a perspective on his own condition—which means acknowledging that his present condition is never all that there is to him, that there is in addition the relation in which he necessarily stands to that condition, the specific mode of his acknowledgement or denial of it. Sartre would say that we are here touching on the self’s necessary failure to coincide with itself, its not being what it is and its being what it is not; Heidegger would call it the self’s uncanniness, its necessary transcendence of, or projection beyond, its present situation. In the terms provided by Wittgenstein’s tale, we might say that what the child acquires from ⁴ This thought is central to Elaine Scarry’s fascinating account of pain in relation to torture, war, politics, and religion in The Body in Pain (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, ). A Child is Crying ∼ his elders is not just the meaning of ‘pain’ (and so the significance of pain), but the meaning or significance of language and society as such—its gift of otherness to oneself. Is this why Wittgenstein’s child is said to have hurt himself (rather than being hurt by others)? For that small detail in this primal scene suggests a solipsistic self-relation that seems, as it were, too immediate to make room for genuine selfhood, the experience eliciting a cry that no one—not even the one crying—can really hear or respond to, say acknowledge. However, once the circle widens sufficiently for acknowledgement by others and by the child himself to be possible, the fact that this is achieved by the introduction of new pain behaviour in the place of that original cry further implies that what is thereby brought to acknowledgement is not just this child’s pain but the inherently painful nature of the individual’s entry into the human form of life with language. It is quite as if the necessary internalization of otherness is not merely to be suffered—something given to the infant, with respect to which it is passive—but is also itself painful or traumatic, as if the attainment of selfhood in a society of words is a kind of self-harm (or at least, that it is always imagined or fantasized after the event in such terms—as a loss of paradisal self-sufficiency, of an immediacy to oneself that is in reality incompatible with genuine selfhood). In exploring all these complexities, however, we have omitted to account for one puzzling feature of Wittgenstein’s tale of the crying child, and of the moral he means us to draw from it: the fact that the whole they constitute (all three sentences of it) is introduced as ‘one possibility’. Given the importance Wittgenstein attaches to the connection between non-linguistic and linguistic expressive behaviour, how can he allow himself to present it simply as one possibility (presumably, one amongst others)? Does this mean that he thinks that natural expressive behaviour and verbal expressions might conceivably be otherwise connected—even that they might not be so connected in actual, everyday human life? If so, how can the possible connection he envisages deliver the essence of the ∼ A Child is Crying matter, with respect to sensations or to any other psychological phenomenon? If not, why not simply assert that what he claims is in fact the case? Here, we need to note that Wittgenstein’s tale, with its moral, is a response to his interlocutor; and we have already noted that this interlocutor’s question is one about the sheer possibility of talk about sensations. He does not question the fact that we do have a life with sensation-words; what he questions is how we do—how we could so much as make a connection of any kind between sensations and the names we undeniably have for them. Hence, the assertion of facts as facts can do nothing to assuage such an anxiety; but by the same token, all that is necessary to overcome it altogether is the interlocutor’s acknowledgement that it is at least a possibility that things might be thus-and-so. It is also worth pointing out that the interlocutor’s question is being responded to in its reformulated and reinterpreted form—that is, as a question about how a human being learns the meaning of the names of sensations. Hence, the form in which Wittgenstein states his position is that of an answer to that question—that is, as a claim about how sensation-words are acquired. And the moral he wishes us to draw from this answer is one concerning the way in which sensation-words function—the way in which they are used and interwoven with our broader life with language. Hence, the interest of his claim about how they are acquired is meant to reside primarily in the light this claim casts on the mode in which the acquired words are used. Hence, he could happily allow that the words are in fact mastered in other ways, as long as we accept that they could have been so mastered, and hence that what is mastered is necessarily consonant with that possibility. In fact, as we shall see, it is not long before Wittgenstein explicitly allows that sensation-words might be acquired in other ways. For in §, he responds with apparent impatience to the thought that we can dismiss the very idea of a private language by pointing out that A Child is Crying ∼ it would be impossible to teach a child who showed no outwards signs of pain the use of the word ‘tooth-ache’: ‘Well, let’s assume the child is a genius and itself invents a name for the sensation!’ Of course, he quickly goes on to test the putative significance of pretty much every word in that characterization; but the philosophical dialectic that he thereby induces would be utterly pointless if he is not prepared at least to contemplate the thought that things might be otherwise than they are, and in ways that cannot be settled a priori. Hence, he cannot place decisive weight at this point on the claim that things in fact are as he says they might be with respect to acquiring sensation-words; but then, neither does he need to put any such weight upon them. So he doesn’t. ∼ A Child is Crying ...
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This note was uploaded on 03/21/2012 for the course MCOM 101 taught by Professor Greenberg during the Spring '09 term at Mass Colleges.

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