Something Animal? Wittgenstein, Language, and Instinct

  • Paul Standish


Thinking about the world necessarily involves notions of causation. Norman Malcolm has argued that such notions are embedded in instinctive reactions and that it is from such natural behaviour that language emerges. This insight is a powerful and important antidote to mentalistic pictures of human life and action. Malcolm’s account is, however, open to criticism in terms of its over-emphasis on such natural reactions as the basis for understanding human beings and the development of language. Attention to the profound differences between the signs that animals use and human language reveals the need to understand human being not from the bottom up but from the top down. The human relation to language emerges as more troubled than Malcolm seems to imply. Yet this disturbance in the human condition is shown to be the very basis for culture and education . The idea of the world itself, as ordinarily understood, depends upon this more complex picture. The paper concludes by taking these ideas forward in relation to recent work by Danièle Moyal-Sharrock and, more briefly, to jointly authored research by Cameron Boult and Duncan Pritchard.


Animal Cause Instinct Language Scepticism 



The writing of this paper was aided by participation in a discussion of Malcolm’s paper and Rhees’s response at the Welsh Philosophy Society meeting held at Gregynog in April 2016. On that occasion these papers were introduced by Danièle Moyal-Sharrock and Hugh Knott. Moyal-Sharrock’s comments were based in part on the paper discussed here, and Knott’s on his “Before Language and After” (Knott 1998). I am grateful to both for the introduction they provided and to other participants in the discussion. Suzy Harris and Jeff Stickney are also thanked for their comments on drafts.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UCL Institute of EducationLondonUK

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