Definition and Family Resemblance

Colin McGinn

in Truth by Analysis

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199856145
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919567 | DOI:
Definition and Family Resemblance

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This chapter explores Wittgenstein's characterization of the concepts of “family resemblance”; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, color of eyes, gait, temperament, etc., overlap and crisscross in the same way. If Wittgenstein is right, then, meanings and concepts don't necessarily work by decomposing into parts that give necessary and sufficient conditions, but by a much looser kind of structure—family resemblance. The question becomes: How far does this idea of family resemblance extend—to how many concepts does it apply? The chapter also analyzes Bernard Suits' The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, which gives noncircular necessary and sufficient conditions for being a game, patiently defends the analysis against a variety of putative counterexamples, and draws the necessary methodological lessons. Wittgenstein' approach is abandoned based on this analysis.

Keywords: Wittgenstein; Bernard Suits; philosophy; concepts; game

Chapter.  11547 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy

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