10.05.2002

[69,70] Family resemblances function not only to characterize similarities between things -- numbers, games, etc. They also work in teaching. In 69, Wittgenstein wonders how we go about teaching someone what a game is. One way is to show a person a variety of games. We can draw boundaries -- temporary, incomplete, indeterminate -- in order to fulfill a special purpose. Here the boundaries around family resemblances are drawn in order to teach.

In 70, the interlocutor responds that this image of teaching is not definitive enough. If the concept of a game is unbounded, then you do not really know what a game is and so you cannot teach it to someone else. To know what a game is, you must know the essence of games. Wittgenstein responds: Is my statement "The ground was quite covered with plants" meaningless until I give a definition (the essence of) plant?

What I like most about this exchange is that I do indeed understand the interlocutor's impulse to go deeper that surface similarities to offer a definition of games. There must be something more that unites all those activities that we call games. In trying to go deeper, however, we create a duality that distracts the eye from celebrating the beauty of the surface. Wittgenstein is back to his ethical best at this point: seeking the essence of games is not only a false epistemological procedure, but it is unethical since the search for universality entails a denigration of the rich diversity of appearances.

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