Wittgenstein: Family Similarities

Wittgenstein: Family Similarities

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

We think the motto to best summarize Wittgenstein’s method in Philosophical Investigations is this: Don’t think, but look! (Philosophical Investigations, 66).

One of the important reasons for this motto is that we pursue explanations and theories as we think, and we easily fall into the illusions that Wittgenstein warned us about. It is our tendency to think about what should be, not what is, and to compare it with what is before us. Yet, if we look as we are invited, we can succeed in describing what is and thus avoiding these illusions.

At this point, one might ask the following question: Wittgenstein brings the issue to language games in all discussions. As such, everything seems to be “explained” in terms of language games. If there is such a thing as a language game and there is an essence that makes the language game a language game, Wittgenstein explains language completely and homogeneously, through a single concept, by doing what he tells us to avoid.

Wittgenstein is aware that such a question may arise, and he has an answer prepared for it. Wittgenstein developed a concept of “similarity” that criticizes and transcends essentialist approaches. The term “family resemblances”, which Wittgenstein proposes here, is extremely important. Essentialist approaches, which we can perhaps go back to Socrates and Plato, and which have continued throughout the history of Western philosophy, have sought clear and precise boundaries in classifying, separating and relating concepts. In Witgenstein’s approach, however, the search for these boundaries loses its meaning. We may have difficulty in determining the essence of many concepts and separating one concept from others with clear boundaries. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use these concepts or that they’re useless. This is the case for many concepts.

As a result, language is not an ideal, well-defined calculus. Language takes shape, changes, develops in an endless variety of activities (life forms), and appears to us as a whole through family similarities. Not understanding language in this way will stuff us like flies into some bottles.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook