Not Signed-In
Which clippings match 'Universals' keyword pg.1 of 1
20 JANUARY 2009

Does the world need Esperanto?

"[Esperanto] was very much the child of its times, like Theosophy, perhaps, or even Communism, which explains both its rapid spread in the early part of the 20th century as well, I think, as its eventual failure, if that's the right word, to live up to the hopes of the hopeful [Dr Ludwik Zamenhof], the founder of the movement.
It's also unsurprising that after the nightmare of the first world war, so many people around the world were inclined, in an era of modernism, to imagine peace in universalist terms.

A century later, we live in a rather different world, one where diversity (in dialects, ethnicities, customs, beliefs) is widely celebrated as a very fine thing, while anything that smacks of a grand narrative (a universal truth, a universal movement, anything hegemonic) is regarded with suspicion, although not universally, naturally."
(Robert Dessaix, 21 January 2006, ABC Australia)



20th centurybeliefscommunismcultural diversitycustomsdialectdifferenceEsperantoethnicitygrand narrativeshegemonylanguagelingua franca • Ludwik Zamenhof • modernism • singularity • Theosophy • universals


Simon Perkins
08 JANUARY 2009

Ludwig Wittgenstein: family resemblance undercutting the philosophical model of essences and universals

"What is family resemblance? Family resemblances are nests of properties, similarities, relations that the things picked out by a general term bear to each other. So Wittgenstein is claiming that, for a family concept, there is no one thing in common among all the objects falling under it.

The nomenclature of 'family resemblance' underplays the variegation that [Ludwig] Wittgenstein is pointing to. For in families, the resemblances of the members depend on a fairly limited number of features. Hence the terminology doesn't completely forestall a misunderstanding, that what is at issue in family resemblance terms is a number of reasonably homogeneous subclasses or subrelations.

But the 'game' example illustrates the point much better. The motley of features can't be readily surveyed, and new cases can always bring in new features. 66 is meant to emphasize this, which is why Wittgenstein plays out the example to some extent. (And we are meant to play it out even more.) Each time that we think of a feature as setting up a large and homogeneous subclass, we see that it fails. Counterexamples are rife. (There are attempts in the literature to rebut Wittgenstein by giving a definition of 'game', but to my eye they fail ludicrously.)

What is the point? Wittgenstein wishes to undercut the philosophical model of essences, or universals, or Platonic forms (or Fregean concepts, or...) as being what underlies the application of general terms. (To get at the traditional way of thinking about this, see Russell's chapter on universals in The Problems of Philosophy. He exhibits quite clearly the philosophical motivations for thinking that we need universals.)

The attack, at first blush, amounts to this: Why think that there is the determining thing? There may be one or many things. For at least some general terms, it is a mistake to think that there is a common property that is possessed by all the objects to which the general terms apply. There is nothing definable in simpler terms that underlies general terms. So we see that, although some of our concepts possess easily statable necessary and sufficient conditions, but others do not, and yet we still operate quite well with them."
(Professor Warren Goldfarb, Dept. of Philosophy, Harvard University)



conceptualisationfamily resemblancelanguage games • logical atomism • Ludwig WittgensteinPlato • Platos Theory of Forms • relationsimilaritiesuniversals • Warren Goldfar


Simon Perkins

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