Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement


Thought without Language: Thought without Awareness?

L. Weiskrantz

Some philosophers have laid down rather severe strictures on whether there can be thought without language. Wittgenstein asserted that ‘the limits of language…mean the limits of my world’ (1922, §5.62). Davidson (1984, p. 157) has argued that ‘a creature cannot have thoughts unless it is an interpreter of the speech of another’. Dummett (1978, p. 458) has interpreted some pronouncements as meaning that ‘the study of thought is to be sharply distinguished from the study of the psychological processes of thinking and…the only proper method of analysing thought consists in the analysis of language’. And there is also the position that thought has its own language that might exist even prior to or in the absence of natural language. But here I am going to concentrate on what might be possible in the absence of natural language. I do not know what it would mean to consider thinking in the absence of its own intrinsic language, a language of thought, if the two always co-exist.

L. Weiskrantz is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Oxford