The Fundamental Problem With Objectivism, Ctd.

65.  Here we come up against the great question that lies behind all these considerations. — For someone might object against me: “You take the easy way out! You talk about all sorts of language-games, but have nowhere said what the essence of a language-game, and hence of language, is: what is common to all these activities, and what makes them into language or parts of language. So you let yourself off the very part of the investigation that once gave you yourself most headache, the part about the general form of propositions and of language.”

And this is true. — Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all — but that they are related to one another in many different ways. And it is because of this relationship, or these relationships, that we call them all “language”. I will try to explain this.

66. Consider for example the proceedings that we call “games”. I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? — Don’t say: “There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’”— but look and see whether there is anything common to all. — For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don’t think, but look! — Look for example at board­games, with their multifarious relationships.

Now pass to card­games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ball­games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost. — Are they all ‘amusing’? Compare chess with noughts and crosses. Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players? Think of patience. In ball games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared. Look at the parts played by skill and luck; and at the difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis. Think now of games like ring­a­ring­a­roses; here is the element of amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared! sometimes similarities of detail. And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear.

And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss­crossing: sometimes overall similarities.

67. I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than “family resemblances”; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss­cross in the same way. — And I shall say: ‘games’ form a family.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations


3 comments on “The Fundamental Problem With Objectivism, Ctd.

  1. Sisyphus says:

    There seems also to be another aspect to games (or really anything) and that is the condition of the possibility of the game. Games are essentially a particular type of structure as Wittgenstein says, and with any structure are the rules by which it operates. I could be wrong here, but he looks like he is pointing to the amorphous nature of the structure of things more than the resemblance and type-casting aspect.
    Sorry if this is vague. Logic (usually of the first order predicate kind) is the structure by which we normally approach knowledge structures. More recently we have begun to experiment with other modal logics (I was talking with a friend recently about something called “Eastern” logic that brought to mind weird East Indian musical analogies to mind.). But Wittgenstein’s project from the very beginning seems to have been to show these various structures for what they are. Nothing substantial. Games. Things we make up rules about, but could walk away from at any time to create other games with completely different logical structures. It is the particular nature of the structure that we inhabit that it leads to certain problems, thus we see the Wittgenstein becoming a philosophical “therapist” toward the end of his career to help other philosophers overcome their philosophical difficulties (monism vs dualism, problem of other minds, problem of sensation/representation, problem of the outside world, etc). In doing so he became the Anti-philosopher (I am picturing Anti-Christlike emanations here..), as I am sure he viewed himself as a Christ-like figure sent to rescue philosophy from its delusions (wow.. the Christianity metaphor is great!) and “sins” by providing a way to wash their consciences clean. If it is all just a game, a particular chosen thought structure, and the rules of the game dictate that there are certain inherent difficulties or limitations, and one can recognize these if one steps back from it all… Well… then we can pursue things of real value then can’t we? Perhaps we can retire to an Austrian Alpine village and teach grammar school.

  2. poseidonian says:

    However that may be, the purpose of putting this up is that a propensity to fail to notice “overlap” and “criss-cross” is rampant in Objectivist circles. Despite an official opposition to essentialism (to avoid metaphysical inflation) they have a tendency to identify the first interesting or salient similarity between two things as the correct basis for classification. To paraphrase LW “they must all have something in common, or we wouldn’t call them all ‘government actions'”. I was once in a conversation with an Objectivist during which he asserted that the Thirteenth Amendment had abolished taxation, because “taxation is slavery”. This was not a politically interesting piece of hyperbole, but, to his mind, a simple statement of evident fact. He had noticed a similarity; he ignored the equally interesting differences (the government cannot vest title to taxpayers in exchange for money, cannot gift title to taxpayers, etc. etc.) Another example is a current eminence in those circles asserts that the Republican Party is “the religion party.” That is its (suitably anti-platonically deflated) *essence*. So if you like all their policies and are an atheist, it would be *irrational* to vote for them. This kind of silliness is rampant, and I think it is nicely addressed by our LW quote.

  3. SisyphusBound says:

    Whoops. Teach me not to read the title!

    It seems that in Objectivist influenced circles there is a need to pick up on a particular political or economic slogan (meme if you will) that establishes a “family resemblance” between a particular problem and a particularly oriented solution. These slogans are usually slick, well packaged, and swiftly produced by a certain news channel as a way of shutting OFF debate and further inquiry. The talking heads then vociferously argue against or denigrate contention with the slogan by raising the volume of the argument. The Objectivist-leaning-circle-people of my acquaintance subsequently argue in a similar way.

    Where the Republican party gets into trouble is that these slogans come as a package deal. Because there doesn’t seem to be much internal debate in these circles (not that they are incapable mind you) leads to a somewhat grudging acceptance of certain ideas balanced by a wholehearted acceptance of others. Rarely are they philosophically evaluated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s