What’s a thought without the bondage of language? What if we can think without using words?

Philosopher's reply

Dear Crystal,

Can we think without words? Iris argues that we can in ‘Thinking & Language’ (1951). Unreflective skilful behaviour that can be called ‘intelligent’ – like driving a car – is one example. Mental images are another, eg when you picture in your ‘minds eye’ the face of a loved one. Iris argues that even more structured thoughts are independent of language. This explains why we can struggle to find the right words to express a vaguely grasped thought. What is the significance of this for our understanding of ourselves? She doesn’t think this shows that our minds really contain ‘inner stuff’; rather she argues that it is so fundamental to our understanding of ourselves that thoughts are inner events that it doesn’t even make sense to ask if this is true.

Thanks for the great question!

Keith Allen

Philosopher's profile

Keith Allen

University of York, UK

Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting put us into contact with the world and other people. Understanding  what it is to perceive, and why the contact with the world and others it provides is valuable, is a central part of understanding what it is to be human. Murdoch is one of the few philosophers for whom perceiving is, fundamentally, an ethical activity.

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