Facial Expressions as Conditions of Communication

CFS lecture by Sara Heinämaa, Professor, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.


Part II of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations introduces the case of a talking lion, and states: “If a lion could talk or speak, we could not understand him.” Similar examples can be found in other sections of the Investigations and in other writings by Wittgenstein: pictures of linguistic and mental animals – dogs, parrots, orangutans and crocodiles – none of whom we can understand, according to Wittgenstein. 

In order to make sense of this analysis I will do two things. First, I will explicate and elaborate on Wittgenstein’s statements about incomprehensible animals on the basis of his own central analytical concepts, most importantly those of (i) primitive language game, (ii) form of life, and (iii) speech behavior. Second, but at the same time, I will draw analytical resources and points of comparison from the phenomenological tradition, from the works of Merleau-Ponty who discusses the sexual behaviors of dogs and from those of Husserl who discusses our relations with speaking horses (à la Jonathan Swift).  

My argument is that all central contributors in this fictional discussion – Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty and Husserl – agree about the role of bodily behavior in determining the limits of human understanding. There are, however, crucial differences between their accounts of what “bodily behavior” entails and where its foci lie. I will conclude my presentation by illuminating some of these differences.