Wittgenstein: Language and Society

Activity: Academic conference/seminar/workshopInvited talk (academic)


It is taken for granted that if we wish to communicate with one another, we must be able to speak the same language, and by this we typically mean that we both need to agree to use the same words in the same ways to mean the same things (it would be useless if when I’m talking about evil criminals, you’re understanding me to be talking about exotic holidays!), and yet, it seems that the most important things which we need to talk about, which societies are built upon, are values; things which we all disagree about. This paper proposes that if we consider society as if a Wittgensteinian language-game, we find in Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Language a novel and thought-provoking account for the origin, development and maintenance of society. To demonstrate this, this paper will outline three key comments which Wittgenstein made about the Philosophy of Language, which will then be related to three key areas of society, showing that once done, sociology gains three valuable insights. It will firstly be considered how Wittgenstein's comment that ‘the form a language takes reflects the form of the life of the speaker’, can be read as a comment on the origin of society being rooted at the individual level; secondly, that ‘the limits to my language mean the limits to my world’ can be read as a comment on how social concepts alter our perception of the world; and finally, how ‘if a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand him’ can be read as a comment on the difficulties facing, and originating from, multiculturalism.
Event typeWorkshop


  • wellbeing
  • well-being
  • philosophy of language
  • Wittgenstein