People could object to our arguments on this issue, saying, yes, you do have an audience in the West, but these people don’t understand anything because their aren’t speaking the same language as you. My answer to that is this: no one speak’s anyone’s language! Even when your wife speaks to you, she isn’t speaking your language! When you talk to your wife you adapt. You adapt to your friend. In each situation you attempt to create a special jargon. Why do jargons exist? Why are there all kinds of professional terminologies? Because people know that they are all different animals, but they try to shield themselves from this rather terrifying fact by creating a certain common idiom that can be a code language for “your own kind.” This is how you create the illusion that you are among your own kind, that in this certain group they understand you.
Joseph Brodsky, in conversation with Solomon Volkov
After Wittgenstein philosophers have tended to become impatient with arguments that allow for any kind of solipsism – the idea that we are each an independent consciousness, one which in principle could be thought of as radically singular – even utterly alone in the universe – cut off from others. The implication of Wittgenstein’s thought (although he is less dogmatic than his followers) seems to be that as language is a shared and public ‘game’ – and one that cannot be conceived otherwise – so we cannot conceive of ourselves as radically really cut off from each other or from the world of things about which we talk.
Consciousness requires language, language requires other people.
However Brodsky’s point seems to slightly relax the rigour of this position. The flip-side of our shared public language is the inevitably uncertain status of our shared understanding. We are talking, communicating even, and we are certainly talking about something real. But do we really understand each other?
I live in a world where I can see red things, I know what I mean by red and I can talk to other about my experience. But I can still be uncertain that what you mean by red is quite the same as what I mean by red. I still cannot see the world through your eyes.
Brodsky implies that we fear solipsism and that we fight against this fear with jargon. It is, on this analysis, not that language guarantees the reality of a shared public world – rather language is the means by which we battle (often without resolution) to assure ourselves that we are not alone, that we are at one with others. However this ability to construct a new code, a code just for us, is also an admission of the weakness of that shared code. It does not guarantee understanding – and if it did why we would we have to build a fresh and keep building.
We construct language in the hope that we will be understood; but this is a hope, not a fact.
Jargon is a special version of this language; jargon sacrifices intelligibility for shared social warmth.