Jess
Wittgenstein on my cat—not literally! What did he have to say about her thoughts?


What does my cat, Jess (pictured), think? Assuming Jess can form conscious ideas of things, can I come to understand what they are?

Let’s assume Jess uses a language—something cat-like and not English. Perhaps it comprises attitudes that can be represented as such: ‘Those pigeons are antagonising me’ or ‘No, not that one; I want my favourite food’.

But, according to Ludwig Wittgenstein, deciphering her is fundamentally difficult. The world is a ‘totality of facts, not of things’, that we attempt to capture in thought and language. But, even at the best of times. language fails to guide the correct meaning in the flow of information, ambiguating thoughts and ensuring feelings remain elusive and ineffable.

So even if Jess wasn’t totally illogical—which, to be honest, she is most of the time—her world, as perceived by her senses, is full of entirely different meanings to mine that may not convey her intentions properly. How frustrating, then, must life be for her! Indeed, much of my time is spent trying and failing to understand her intentions as I search for a shared world—of similarly perceived shapes, colours, depths, textures, tastes, smells, and sounds—wherein we can truthfully communicate.

For example, Jess sometimes yells at a door, which I usually take as, ‘Throw me a treat’ (obviously): whereof one cannot speak logically, thereof one is destined to yell! But, actually, I think she means, ‘Clean my cat litter; I’m not pissing in there,’ and gets mad at my misinterpretation. Sadly, then, there is probably no shared world for us to coexist in. Definitely there is no shared world wherein she attempts to understand me [sad face]. But [consoled face] this might not be her doing; rather, it’s a fundamental problem with language!

As Wittgenstein put it: even ‘if [Jess] could speak, we could not understand [her]’; she plays a different ‘language game’ to me.