I think Wittgenstein goes too far when he says, “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.” Wittgenstein’s reasoning here is itself in part an Aristotelian language-game, a tyranny of taxonomy that makes interspecies experience unbridgeable. The line is further drawn with another Wittgenstein claim: “To imagine a language is to imagine a form of life” (P.I.). The idea being that a speaking lion’s speech acts are already intricately woven into—as—a lion’s experience (what it is to be a lion) to which humans have no access, i.e., no access to the form of life that is the speaking lion’s speech acts, to the shared behavior that would constitute “the system of reference by means of which we interpret an unknown language” (P.I.), whether or not a Cartesian lion sufficient for “BAT-itude” and so on (Hofstadter et al.). Yet experientialist demarcation rooted in preconceived taxonomic notions of humans and lions (humans have X traits, lions have Y) collapses if on some level or to some degree (physically, experientially) a human’s scream and a lion’s roar share some pragmatic function or family resemblance. Otherwise it would seem that Wittgenstein contradicts himself, especially given his Beetle in a Box thought experiment that rejects private language and makes inner workings irrelevant. Furthermore, the old taxonomy does not consider the difference between information, meaning, and understanding, a difference that would suggest that the all-or-nothing “only humans have language” falls short as an experientialist category or hard descriptor. If, for example, one agrees that information is passed from lion to human then a human can have understanding with or without meaning made between them. The commonalities and the message, too, are only clearer if the lion talks.
Hofstadter, Douglas, and Daniel Dennett. “Chapter 24: What is it Like to Be a Bat.” The Mind’s I. 2007. Web.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. G.E.M. Anscombe and R. Rhees (eds.), G.E.M. Anscombe (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell, 1953. Print.