Wittgenstein & the Democratic Debate

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Ludwig Wittgenstein was an Austrian-British philosopher of language. He once said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” That is, your world and your knowledge are only as large as your language. Our language points to the thought world behind our outward façade. I wonder how the limits of each Democratic candidate’s language points to the limits of their world. In other words, what are they thinking?

Each candidate’s thoughts behind their outward appearance will be how they govern. Until someone assumes office, no one truly knows how that person will govern. For example, during the 2000 U.S. Presidential election Bush and Gore represented different approaches for the future. No one could truly imagine what the newly-elected president would face on 9/11.

What will the future hold for the next President? In his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein writes, “What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence” (7).

Passing over in silence is impossible for politicians. In fact, it is impossible for most people. James 1.19b affirms Wittgenstein’s sentiment, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Ecclesiastes 3.7 points to appropriate times to speak and times to listen, “a time to keep silent and a time to speak.”

The words people use are powerful. They point to who we are. If we speak with words of love, creativity, and affirmation, then we point to something positive inside of us. Did the candidates speak positively? Or, were the candidates urgent? Did they sound anxious about some imagined political establishment? Were they more focused on winning a specific demographic than presenting solutions and ideas? What about the President? In speeches this week, did he speak of what he knows and pass over the rest in silence? Was he trying to unify a fractured country? Or, did he disparage rivals and blame others for some problems?

Moving from the national stage to the self, we can each ask about our own words. Do we keep silent? Are we slow to speak and quick to listen? Do we refrain from spouting our thoughts when we know nothing of the subject? Reading Wittgenstein alongside a recap of the week’s news is convicting for me.

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