Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

A Quick Look at Wittgenstein and Derrida (Notes & Quotes)

mkoole, · Categories: Identity, PhD Studies, Research · Tags: , , , ,

I’m in a bit of a hurry today to catch a flight, so this is simply a compilation of quotes to think about with regard to language and the nature of reality.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889- 1951)

Realist: “A statement can only have meaning if that statement refers in an obvious way to things actually in the world” (p. 156).  (Related to Frege’s reference.)

“Wittgenstein saw the world as a totality of facts, not of things. Facts are logical entities; they can only be asserted or denied. They are not hard, red, round, etc. Things exist in space and time: they have shape, colour, consistency, etc.” (p. 158).

“We cannot demonstrate the limits of language or of the world” (p. 159).

“He decided that what a sentence meant (what language means) is not what the words refer to in the world outside, but the way in which words relate to each other. The way language works is not because it acts like an ideal logic, but because it follows its own working, which is the way people agree language works. This is not something that happens formally, but something the people in a language community grasp automatically” (p. 159).

“We can never get outside language to the reality ‘outside’ language. We can only use language in order to talk about language. All language is shared by at least two people. There is no such thing as a ‘private’ language” (p. 160).

“We cannot think unless we possess language” (p. 161).


Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)

“His greatest insights include the notion that whenever language expresses an idea it changes it” (p. 184).

Structuralism: “Its main teaching is that reality is composed of relationships rather than things” (p. 187).

“Structuralism tends to divide our perceptions of the world into binary categories, minimal pairs: good/bad . . . etc. It analyses the structures that lie behind or beneath things. It tends to distrust history and concentrates instead on the web of patterns holding at any given time. Derrida reacted against this outlook” (p. 188).

“Speaking is a sign of presence. When we speak to somebody they are with us. Writing is a sign of absence. We write to somebody because they are at a remove. The more words are shut away in writing, logocentrism maintains maintains, the more they are copies than the real thing” (p. 189). –>

“. . . we only have access to what is beyond language through this new notion of text. This is the meaning of his dictum: ‘There is nothing outside the text’ (p. 193).

Derrida’s “différance” (not “différence”): “. . . meaning is never immediate; it is always deferred” (p. 189). –> “This new word does not stand for a new concept; rather, it plays around the notion of undecidability. Language, thought and meaning are now all in an uncomfortable position; they are unstable. They force us to ask ourselves if language can be relied upon” (p. 192).

“Comfort is restored with the reinstatement of binary order. But what if this binary order cannot be recalled; what if undecidability is the norm?” (p. 190).

“Once language enters the public domain, the speaker or writer loses control over it” (p. 191).


Johnston, D. (2006). A brief history of philosophy: From Socrates to Derrida (p. 211). London, UK: Continuum Books.

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