Thursday, September 29, 2016

Behavior, Private Languages, and Divine Omniscience (More Conversations with Dualists)

Assume we concur that God knows I'm now in pain apart from any external behaviors I might demonstrate like grimacing or shouting "ouch!" Does that automatically make the private language argument of Ludwig Wittgenstein wrong, and dualism true? That's a logically possible scenario; however, the inference from the given premises is not a necessary one. It might also be the case that God knows whether I'm experiencing pain without observing my behavior, and yet the private language argument might still be true. We first have to clarify what is meant by "private language" since the terminology is ambiguous. In this regard, Wittgenstein writes:

"But could we also imagine a language in which a person could write down or give expression to his inner experiences - his feelings, moods, and the rest - for his private use? - Well can't we do so in our ordinary language? - But that is not what I mean. The individual words of this language are to refer to what can only be known to the person speaking; to his immediate private sensations. So another person cannot understand the language."

If the private language argument as stated above is correct, then substance dualism is defeated, even if an omniscient God exists--and I believe he does exist. It's not possible to have one's own denotations for pain (a private way of expressing pain that only the individual understands) or to have a language that is inherently non-public. Language by its very nature is a public venture; even idiolects depend on sociolects.


Sean Killackey said...

Hi Edgar,
Are you saying that God, while knowing what we are thinking or feeling is not able to know them as we feel them or think them, that he can't know them as we know them? Or were you making a different point?

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Sean,

My point was a different one. The private language argument indicates that I do not have privileged access to my "immediate private sensations." Rather, language is a public enterprise by nature. So there cannot be a private language that only I understand, but no one else comprehends.

I'm not necessarily buying into all the implications of the private language argument, but I'm challenging those who argue that God knows I'm in pain because pain is a mental sensation and not a physical act or outward behavior. Some want to reduce pain to a mental sensation/phenomenon, but it seems that we can explain pain by appelaing to physical factors. Furthermore, the private language argument could possibly refute some aspects of dualism.

Edgar Foster said...


Here's the kind of stance I'm trying to address:

"Since a dualist believes that the human mind is non-physical in a similar way as other non-physical minds, this also applies to human minds. A similar line of reasoning can be presented against Wittgenstein's private language argument. To make what I have already written about this (namely that Jehovah knows our minds thus our minds are not private) even worse: if the private language argument succeeds then this argument would also apply to other non-physical minds, such as Jehovah's mind and Jesus' mind. Do we really want to say that these two non-physical beings do not fully understand each other?"

Duncan said...

Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

The Merchant of Venice: Act 3, Scene 1