Wittgenstein claimed that many philosophers misuse language and write nonsense. He later claimed that a private language, one that cannot in principle be understood, is impossible. Does that suggest that the language of philosophy is meaningful and understandable, because if it wasn't it wouldn't be language?

I'm guessing that it is not meaningless.

But that not all language is intrinsically meaningful. Because I don't think that any incoherence, due to e.g. a mistaken use of some term, makes that thing un-understandable. I very much doubt it does, because I often say things wrong and still get my point across.

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    That you say things wrong and still get your point across does not mean that the language used is meaningful, it only means that context provides enough clues to your interlocutors to change it into something meaningful (and they may well change it into something other than your point). That would be the difference between semantics and pragmatics, and not the sort of nonsense Wittgenstein talked about, where there is no point to get across, and it only seems there is, superficially.
    – Conifold
    Jun 19, 2019 at 15:24
  • can't it be both? if i keep calling the cat a chien, then my misuse of the term (rather than an incomprehsensible grunt say) seems to me to be meaningful, in context @Conifold
    – user38026
    Jun 19, 2019 at 17:18
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    Context is not part of language, which the title question is about. Even non-linguistic grunts and gestures can provide information, so can motions of inanimate objects. That's just a different use of "meaningful" than the one in semantics, it is a rather promiscuous word.
    – Conifold
    Jun 19, 2019 at 19:16
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    "Meaningfulness" of correct language is something more or less context-invariant and intersubjective, which is what semantics focuses on, "understandable" is in the eye of the beholder on a good day in a fortuitous situation. "Private language", as Wittgenstein showed, is a non-sensical expression with no coherent concept attached to it. So it makes as much sense asking whether it is or is not something as asking that about the round square. There is nothing there to understand.
    – Conifold
    Jun 20, 2019 at 17:18

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I think we have to keep in mind that language (for Wittgenstein) is based in use-value. Go back to Language Game #2, where you have builders calling out for building materials like rocks, beams, slabs, etc. Those words are only 'meaningful' as intermediaries or tokens expended within a system of interactive behavior. They have no intrinsic meaning, only extrinsic or intersubjective meaning.

This is why Wittgenstein says private languages are impossible. There is no 'other' in a purely private context, and thus no interactive behavior, so one cannot develop a use for words. Why would I use a word for (say) water if I am the only person who ever drinks or provides drink for myself?

Wittgenstien's problem with philosophy is not that it uses private language or fails to convey meaning. The problem of philosophy that W complains about is more at an incoherence in the language game being played. It's as though you sat down to play a game of chess and your opponent started playing checkers; as though builder A kept calling for the materials to build a well but builder B kept bringing the materials to build a house. The only way to fix that incoherence is to step back and find the place where we made the mistake in language — where one or everyone adopted the wrong set of rules to apply — and resolve that. After that, the philosophical problem goes away, and we're just left with playing out the game we finally agreed on.

If you say something wrong but still get your point across, it's because the other intuited (somehow) the language game you were trying to play, and accomodated to it. People have a knack for that, if they choose. But by the same token, you can say something perfectly sound and right and still fail to convey your meaning if the person you're communicating with does not care to adopt that language game and its rule-set.

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