The Essence of Games

I've been sitting on this for quite a while, partly because I'm not much of a philosopher and partly because I haven't been able to figure out what to do with it. So I'm finally just throwing it out.

"In his Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein proposed the idea of cluster, or ‘family resemblance’, concepts: some terms by their nature do not admit of an essentialist definition, but are rather characterized by a diffuse network of more or less loosely interconnected properties. Any particular instantiation of the concept may draw on a subset of such threads, even though there is a limit to such conceptual ‘plasticity’. Wittgenstein’s famous example is the idea of a game: the more one thinks about it, the more it is clear that it is difficult to list a set of characteristics that are necessary and sufficient to define what we mean by ‘game’. Board games like chess or monopoly clearly have more features in common than any of them has with ball games like soccer or basketball, and yet we meaningfully refer to all of these activities as ‘games’.

To put it as the master did: “How should we explain to someone what a game is? I imagine that we should describe games to him, and we might add: ‘This and similar things are called games’” (P.I., para. 69). ... “But this is not ignorance. We do not know the boundaries because none have been drawn ... We can draw a boundary for a special purpose” (ibid).

The same holds for species. Not only special purposes (like the very different works of a paleontologist and a geneticist), but also different classes of living organisms (a bacterium vs. a reptile) may require us to think of species as concepts made of a loose cluster of characteristics, some of which turn out to be particularly useful – while some do not apply – in any given circumstance."

If this inspires anything in you, have at it.


I think species is a loose term with different meanings depending upon the field you're examining. As such it's not really a technical scientific category. Applying Wittgenstein to philosophy of science is done, I'm sure. But I confess I've not read much doing so. 

Posted by Clark

8/28/2005 12:47:00 PM  



<< Home