“The words of this language are to refer to what only the speaker can know — to his immediate private sensations. So another person cannot understand the language.”... Immediately after introducing the idea, Wittgenstein goes on to argue that there cannot be such a language.


Do you know what I mean by "me", beyond my body? The Other is unknowable to me, at least in some sense as a very basic condition of Levinas' ethics as first philosophy: so why not vice versa?

Which would suggest that "good for me" can only mean good for my body/physiology (which is not private, any more than the mountains are): any other such phrase cannot exist.

And it seems an especially vain glory to only be concerned with what's good for your body, disease etc..

  • Could you unfold this for us? Strictly private language is impossible, so ??????? ego reduces to physiology, so ?????? reductio of egoism. Why would the mental, either physically based or immaterial, need strictly private language? Self-interest may well be socially formed and expressed through public language, even if privately. And "X supervenes on Y so good for X is good for Y" does not work. Smoothness may be "good" for the shape of a statue, but the clay it is made of hardly benefits.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 13 at 7:54
  • i don't understand what there isn't to get @Conifold what do you mean by 'me' when you, an egoist, say "good for me"?
    – andrós
    Commented Apr 13 at 7:56
  • Why should an egoist mean anything special when using a common pronoun from public language? And no, "me" does not refer exclusively to bodily physiology, as dictionaries can attest, especially when interests are discussed.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 13 at 8:08
  • 1
    So why should an egoist? The pronoun has an established public use and that is enough in practice. It is your job to "define" it, argue that your description agrees with common use, connect it to private language, and then get from that to body physiology, if you want to make an argument. All I can follow is that you make several implausible leaps and then ask to fill them in for you. I'd try, but private language is so far irrelevant, and how you get from what Kant calls "empirical self" (to use some proxy for colloquial "me") to physiology is a mystery.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 13 at 8:54
  • 1
    "Do you really expect 100 words of loose, impressionistic ideas about a quote that has been taken completely out of context to express a determinate philosophical idea/problem?" do you really think that leaving a quickly worded comment can help someone who is confused by 2000 years of philosophy and culture into believing anything so elaborate at philoosphical "truth" haha
    – andrós
    Commented Apr 13 at 19:44

2 Answers 2


This is about qualia, experiences which cannot be known or communicated beyond an individual subjectivity.

"good for me" is a good example of a language game, because there are massive amounts of contextual cues involved here to make sense of it. A whole nested cosmology interprets identity, valuing & evaluating, wellbeing, & so on. A baby with no language has instincts, and they get feedback, about how to regulate themselves directly from sensations and experiences. But the abstractions in the sentence happen at a higher level, where they have been organised intersubjectively towards sharing strategies through engagement with shared-modes-of-life. Good, preferences, depend on your entire conceptual cosmology applied to your personal evaluation of your needs and aims. That can just be the body if you want, or whatever else - it implies what moves you to act, to enact that you have a given preferences, to which preference we add you have labelled it 'good'.

You can know your personal qualia, and wellbeing may be fundamentally built on that knowing, you just can't communicate what it really feels like subjectively (the 'wellbeingness of wellbeing' like 'the redness of red'), only the tags we append to it to talk about what we can communicate, which is founded on what we can observe and share. The Private Language Argument doesn't deny subjectivity, it just says communication requires intersubjectivity.

Yes this is a powerful argument against egoism, because it says the conceptual structures involved like self-vs-other are not at the level of qualia, but are part of the shared-intelligence embodied in language. A pre-linguistic baby simply cannot reflect on the issue. Reflecting on the validity of Egoism already implicitly requires the existence of the language and concepts involved, and so the existence of the intersubjective community which developed these and is necessary to make sense of them.


Computer programming has examples of "private languages." There are languages that are used to communicate only between components of a particular program, which the program does not use to communicate with other programs. The language is thus private to the particular program it was designed for. The program uses the language only to "talk to itself."

But such languages are certainly meaningful, and quite useful. Arguably any internal interface within a computer program - any interface not publicly exposed to any other programs - is such a private language, and computer programs depend essentially on such interfaces. Computer programs rely on them for internal calculations.

A private language a person uses to describe their own experiences and states of mind would be quite analogous to one of these internal interfaces. Such a language can help the person themselves to put their thoughts in order, even if no other person understands the language. Cognitive scientists such as Fodor have proposed the name "mentalese" for such internal languages.

  • A language between components is not private to one component, interface implies multiple interacting things. Private to the programme - that's like, within one language, not within one subjectivity. I am deeply sceptical that any current computer is truly generating any novel language, rather than just algorithmically applying the code it was programmed with. By all means cite something to the contrary.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Apr 13 at 22:44
  • @CriglCragl (1) It's not private to one component, but it is private to one program. Any program has multiple interacting things, as does any mind. (2) I didn't say anything about the language being novel. The programmer designed the program to use a language, which the programmer also designed, for internal communication within the program. An internal record format, for example. There are also ML programs that have discovered their own novel languages for internal communication, but that's not what I'm talking about.
    – causative
    Commented Apr 13 at 23:59
  • Perhaps it is our interacting consituents like the brains hemisheres, which allow qualia.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Apr 14 at 0:11

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