Wittgenstein argued, roughly, that a language has to be learned, and to be learned it has to be used first. Therefore, no private language. But if language has to be learned what then are the a priori categories of understanding, concepts, and forms of pure intuition? Kant tells us in Critique of Pure Reason:

"Whereas all intuitions, as sensible, rest on affections, concepts rest on functions. By function I mean the unity of the act of ordering various representations under one common representation... But a concept is always, as regard its form, something universal which serves as a rule".

This sounds very Wittgensteinian, but Kant's concepts are also very private. In all three Critiques the action takes place entirely in the private mind of a private individual confronting her private manifold of sensation. It is interesting that the conventional relativization of Kant makes it worse. If the a priori are concepts and are acquired (on a longer time scale), then how are they acquired (and communicated)? Kant did not offer a working account of new concept formation, Pippin analyzes his attempts in Kant on Empirical Concepts, perhaps this was one reason why he made his a priori so absolute.

If concepts are functions, rules, and "unities of the acts of ordering" then can we have private "language of thought" made of them? Or is Wittgenstein right, and we can not? Can we reconcile Kant and Wittgenstein?

  • Is there any indication what Wittgenstein himself thought of Kant? Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 23:32
  • @Mozibur Ullah I think it is more likely that he was aiming at logical positivists, whose "linguistic frameworks" were the successors of Kant's pure reason inherited through Marburg neo-Kantians.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 1:03

1 Answer 1


Following Kant's own system:

As the schematisms of the categories and for corporal (i.e. physical) objects are the same, the concepts (whatever their language-specific label may be) are the same for any human being. The schematism or necessary construction of concepts has the task to ensure that this argument cannot be held against Kant.

That is the whole point of the Metaphisical Foundations of Natural Science and why this book is so important for completing Kant's transcendental theoretical philosophy of the CPR, which lacks a schematism of space and therefore all external being (world, things).

Again, this is described by Förster in The 25 Years of Philosophy.

If we look at Neo-Kantian attempts from Dilthey ongoing, we must state that while the universality (and ahistoricity) has been omitted, people like Sellars manage to maintain most of the framework. The main difference is that the hard-wired part is more basic on the pattern-recognition ability scale, ie. the schemata and concepts begin to be malleable over time.

This does not mean that there is a private language possible, though: As there can be no concepts without intuition, there can be no language without the input of language practice. Thought becomes internalised language in Sellarsian Kantianism. The concepts amd languages become part of holistic, culturally and socially shared frameworks that may undergo some individualistic alteration but need to remain compatible with the whole framework to make sense - even to the individual itself.

  • Yes, because Kant's a priori schemes are hard wired, but that is of course untenable for multiple other reasons. The question is if it works against relativized Kant, which is the only sense we can make of his model today, and on what account of formation of new concepts.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 0:59
  • @Conifold: To be honest, trying to relativise Kant in the very core is like killing someone only a little bit when I blow up a hydrogen bomb next to him. Of course this opens the framework for problems like this, because the framework has been designed to avoid them exactly like it is. At the borderlines like religion it is different, but this is what makes the theory stand or fall.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 10:58
  • I am not so much interested in looking at Kant's framework from the inside as in keeping him alive for today, because I find many of his insights, into the mind in particular, deeper than in more recent philosophers, and therefore providing a better starting point. Some things simply must go, neo-Kantians eliminated sensibility in light of new developments but kept the spirit. Formation of new a priori is not such a hydrogen bomb either, the whole German idealism detour into "construction of reality" grew out of internal instability of Kant's system on interaction with the sensible I think.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 20:29
  • @Conifold do you have access to my original physics stack exchange notes where I mentioned probability life and cardinality ..... I believe the question was closed when asked here Commented Mar 20 at 20:00
  • @MoreAnonymous I might be able to see closed questions, but I do not remember which question that was, this was a while ago. You should be able to see your own posts even after they are closed.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 20 at 20:18

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