“Wittgenstein words”

DefN: A Wittgenstein word is one which has a manifold of uses, but no determinate meaning that applies to all of them; it seems so fundamental a part of the furniture of our lexicon that it resists analysis itself.

Wittgenstein’s example is of a ‘game’. What is a game? We may ask; we can give a conception (having objectives), but we then find a use of the word ‘game’ that does not fulfill this construction; some games, as we know, don’t have determinate objectives.

Okay; let me consider a few ‘Wittgenstein words’; every candidate is going to be contraversial, I must admit. But I’m simply tying up some thoughts that myself and Michael are having in our discussions.

 Here are our thoughts:

1. Love – this word is a conceptual primitive (inspired by J. Armstrong) [Michael will write a post on this in more detail perhaps]

2. Knowledge – we have addressed this issue in the past, with Williamson’s suggestion that the concept of ‘knowledge’ evades conceptual analysis.

3. Truth? – this is a scary one – I don’t want to say any more about this…

Destre (aided by Michael)


One thought on ““Wittgenstein words”

  1. Oh, you know I can’t resist Wittgenstein. 😉

    Of course, Wittgenstein himself called such words “family resemblance categories”, and the one he uses principally to illustrate his point is *game*. I shall mull your suggestion of “Wittengenstein words” as a denotation of this.

    In my philosophy, I make use of this concept in addressing the idea of religion, which is also a family resemblance category. The first such category I discovered in my philosophical investigations, however, was “soap opera”. 🙂

    The three you list – love, knowledge, truth – certainly have elements of this idea in them. None of them are logical constructs, certainly, and all contain relative judgements.

    There are certainly many more – language is stuffed to the rafters with them.

    Best wishes!

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