Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of Philosophical Investigations

By J. F. M. Hunter | Go to book overview

Six
THE SCOPE OF THE IDEA OF FAMILY RESEMBLANCES

SINCE Wittgenstein never specifically cautions against doing so, it is natural to assume that his idea of family resemblances was intended to apply very generally, not of course to connectives, definite and indefinite articles, pronouns or auxiliary verbs, but to nouns regardless of whether they name physical objects, activities, processes or psychological phenomena, and very widely at least to verbs, adjectives and adverbs. The assumption here need not be formulated with great care, because it would not generally be spelled out in being made. One would just not doubt that according to Wittgenstein thoughts, efforts, colours; and sins form families as much as do games, tools, vegetables and diseases.

It would be a very large project, and not clearly very useful, to work out for every kind of word whether it is a family resemblance concept. I will confine myself to the philosophically important question whether the family resemblance idea applies normally to what are sometimes called psychological concepts. If this was Wittgenstein's intention, he would characteristically diagnose our puzzlement about these words as being due to demanding, but failing to find, some one feature running through all instances of thinking, hoping, believing and so on, and would represent our problems as being solved when we realised that it was enough if there are family resemblances, and he might remind us how we learn to identify cases of believing, for example, by their experienced properties, in spite of the fact that there is no feature common to them at all.

While he never denied that the idea of family resemblances applied to psychological words, and while, in the Blue and Brown Books he sometimes (not always) spoke as if he did

-61-

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