Philosophy presupposes that language is understood in the same way by everyone.

If it is true, there would be thus a problem with the very essence of philosophy.

What do you think ? Is it logic ?

  • Philosophy presupposes that humans communicate. Sep 29 at 14:22
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA In which sens ?
    – Esmond
    Sep 29 at 14:29
  • This is not specific to philosophy. Any communication requires the locutor and the receiver to agree somewhat on the meaning of words. In everyday life it's often trivial and we don't notice it, but in fields that require precision like law or science a lot of emphasis is put on the use of precise term with agreed upon definitions.
    – armand
    Sep 29 at 14:31
  • In the usual "common sense" of the term: humans communicate usually (but not only) with language with different degree of mutual understanding. Sep 29 at 14:37
  • What makes you say that "philosophy" presupposes this? I don't agree that's a core supposition of "philosophy." Maybe of some philosophers. Sep 29 at 15:24

2 Answers 2


It's not a "problem with the very essence of philosophy" any more than it's a problem with the very essence of science, or accounting, or construction.

Any communication requires some common understanding. "Presuppose", however? I'm not so sure about that. Every time someone says something, that would provide some evidence for whether there is or is not a common understanding. If I get a response that seems to have nothing to do with what I said, or that just looks like complete gibberish, that would bring into question whether there's common understanding. If the response makes sense as a response, as I understand it, that serves as support for there being a common understanding. Of course it also helps to clarify definitions where you suspect there may be a lack of understanding.

It's theoretically possible that we each understand every word differently and that somehow lines up to coherent responses on each side, despite having entirely different definitions of words. This is implausible, but we can't be entirely sure that this isn't the case. That said, we can't be entirely sure that other minds or external reality even exists, so whether those other minds understand things in the same way is a somewhat later worry.

In any case, this has presumably been addressed in philosophy (possibly in philosophy of language), although I'm not familiar with what specific philosophers have said on the topic.


Philosophy does not presuppose language or even that each person understands a language in a particular way. In fact, one can consider philosophical thoughts entirely on his own without another human even present.

When we wish to share or debate philosophical ideas, we only require that we can communicate our ideas correctly. Words and definitions are often used to that end because they might have some generally agreed upon meaning, but it is also common in philosophical discussions for people to make up words or terms for concepts which have no previous words associated with them or there is desired to be some specific further refinement than what has been made clear. In this case, it can become a challenge to express oneself well, but that is not unique to philosophy.

It is unfortunately common, at least in some less formal debates and discussions, for two opposing parties to presuppose different definitions of the same word, or worse, to debate the usage of a word as if somehow that word and its usage would be definitive of a philosophical position. This would be a debate on semantics, but would itself not be a philosophical discussion, though it can be mistaken for one.

Where words do enter into philosophy is that words do on some level hint at things that we feel or believe intuitively. For instance, we have a word "know" different from just "belief" because intuitively we suspect that there are some beliefs which are significantly more reliable than others, and that this is somehow tied to justification. So, we debate what and how we know things, but even though we argue about definition, this is still ultimately attempting to get at the essence of what our intuition tells us about belief, and not really something that involves language directly.

  • We never wish to debate, but we have to, precisely because we don't understand what others are saying.
    – Esmond
    Sep 30 at 13:53
  • @Esmond Then, that is not a debate, particularly not a philosophical debate, but a discussion of defining terms. We don't debate because we don't understand, but because we disagree about what we understand. I will grant that much of what we sometimes call a debate comes from misunderstood terms or dissonance in understanding, but technically, that is not part of the philosophical debate. (It may be a debate on semantics, though).
    – DKing
    Oct 5 at 17:31

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