Wittgenstein said that "If a lion could speak, we cannot understand it". He also said that a private language is not possible. In my view, structuralism and post-structuralism also talk about these ideas in the sense that it is not possible to understand the author's intention because the meaning of the language is determined by the cultural context. There seems to be a lot of similarity between these ideas for me. However, I do not see anyone attributing the credits for the ideas in structuralism and post-structuralism to Wittgenstein.

My question is, did Wittgenstein's ideas on language contribute something to structuralism and post-structuralism?

  • Just a minor point of clarification that the example of the post-structuralist position RE: "cultural context" is actually a "structuralist" one (i.e. it pertains to the issue of production of meaning via signs), which was taken up (among many other things) by authors like Jakobson, Levi-Strauss, Lacan, Foucault in structuralist works that you can say have a common derivation from the innovations of Ferdinand de Saussure. Aug 11, 2018 at 2:37
  • As for the question, you have a wide number of authors considered "structuralist" tackling similar problematics as each other, deriving arguments from the same sources, learning from, debating with and arguing against each other, but none of them have any meaningful Wittgenstein citation in any of their works that I can think of. I would find it extremely difficult to attribute any influence to those discussions. Between all of them comparatively with Wittgenstein you'll see certain statements that bare similarities, but I can't think of any whose similarities go beyond a superficial level Aug 11, 2018 at 2:42

1 Answer 1


In a very broad sense both Wittgenstein and post-structuralists might agree that 'the meaning of the language is determined by the cultural context'. But Wittgenstein's point (which I am not sure I accept) is that it is impossible to have a logically private language in the sense of a language which no-one else can understand because it refers solely to one's own sensations, which are private to oneself.

This is quite a difference stance from saying, with post-structuralism (if this is post-structuralism), that it is impossible to tell what an author means in a public language because the author cannot determine the meaning of the language s/he uses. S/he cannot do this since linguistic meanings are culturally (or socially) determined in ways over which, not 'owning' the language, the author has no control.

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