Blue Book Family Likenesses–Craving Generality?

There it is.  In every photo in which I am pictured standing empty-handed.  (I am nearly always empty-handed.)  I stand as my dad stands–or stood when he was younger.  I don’t mind that, even if I find it eerie, even if it provokes me to distances–from my picture and from my body at the moment of viewing the picture….

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I mention this because I have been teaching the Blue Book and talking with my students about family likeness (BlBk) or family resemblances (PI).  It is remarkable, given the clarity (at least here) of Wittgenstein’s rhetorical construction, that so many come away from the section thinking that Wittgenstein’s revolution consists in replacing a quixotic quest for commonalities with a promising quest for family resemblances.  –As if the attack on the question “What is the meaning of a word?” really reduced to a shift in quest.

Not that there’s anything wrong with family resemblances.  Or with commonalities for that matter.  Except deciding that one or the other is the philosophical desideratum, the fated form of philosophical finality.

The family resemblances bit is a way of reminding us that ‘unity’ is said in many (at least two) ways.  It is not the replacement of one unity-prey with a different unity-prey.  Be wary of going a-hunting for commonalities.  Be wary likewise of going a-hunting for family likenesses.  Throttle back that craving for generality:  don’t just change gears.

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