Volume 1, 1998
Aesthetics and Philosophy of the Arts
Poetry and Private Language
The paper discusses three theses in relation to poetry: (1) the Inadequacy Thesis: language is inadequate to capture, portray, do justice to, the quality and intensity of the inner life; (2) the Empathy Thesis: descriptions of certain kinds of experiences can only be (adequately) understood by a person who has had similar experiences; (3) the Poetic Thesis, which has two parts: (a) only through poetry can we hope to overcome the problem of the Inadequacy Thesis and (b) the difficulty of (some) poetry is at least partly explained by the Empathy Thesis. The paper argues that there are important truths underlying each thesis but that it would be wrong to connect this kernel of truth with a Lockean view of language, and in particular with a view of language as 'private', in the sense implied by Locke and criticized by Wittgenstein. The romantic conception of poetry, to which the theses are related, neither relies on the Lockean view nor does it succumb to the Wittgensteinian view.