(Emphasis in bold is inserted by Shawver to
|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
|We have now shifted to a new topic that he announces
straightforwardly. The topic is presented in the form of an
Augustinian voce, or a "somone." This someone wants Wittgenstein to
defie the essence of the concept of a language game. Notice, within
the Augustinian frame, the 'essence" is equal to "what is common to all
these activities." This idea goes back to Plato who talks of the
essence of various things or the transcendental idea behind their various
So, the question is: What is the essence of a language game? and
hence to all of language? What is the essence of language?
Also, notice that in the last part of this passage, the Voice reminds
LW that this search for the essence was once something that he tried very
hard to do, and it gave him considerable trouble.
|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.
||It is true, LW is saying, that he hasn't yet presented
this essence that is common to all language (or all language games).
His answer here in this passage is very famous, and it is a powerful move
in developing the Wittgensteinian framework. Before this move, it
seems imperative that we define the essence of what we are talking
about. Now, LW is going to show us another way to see things.|
|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! --
|This aphorism has a little different structure than
some of the others that we are reading. Here LW is explicitly
guiding our reading and he does such a good job of it, I am not going to
offer much commentary.
But a few notes: Now, notice your inclination to say certain
things has become the Wittgensteinian voice. Now, we can begin to
listen to this voice within ourselves. The voice speaks within us
when we want to say "there must be something common among
"games." There must be an essence if we have a concept.
LW says, in a manner of speaking, "don't say to yourself that this
must be the case and then give yourself a headache trying to see
what is not there. Let's look at specific kind of cases and ask if
the essence is there in those cases.
Look through these aphorisms while putting the point that he is making
out of mind. Don't think so much, or ponder what you're looking for,
just look at your memories and understanding of games and detail what you
|Look for example at board-games, with their multifarious
||Board games, what are some? Consider chess, of
course, but think also of monopoly.|
|Now pass to card-games; here you find many correspondences with the
first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear.
|Card games. What about poker? And what
about Old Maid. Remember that children's card game? How are
these card games alike and different from each other? And how do
they compare with board games? What about the element of
strategy? Or how many players can play and whether or not there is a
single winner or, as in Monopoly (I believe) there are different degrees
|When we pass next to ball-games, 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 of the way one wins or loses in tennis.
Winning is hierarchical. One can win a point, but lose the
game. One can win the game, but lose the set. And one can win
the set, but lose the match. One can win the match but lose the
tournament. Compare this with baseball (also hierarchical) or with
checkers. And howabout board games that revolve around a throw of
|Think now of games like ring-a-ring-a-roses; here is the element of
amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared!
sometimes similarities of detail.
|Then we have children's ritual games. Do they
have a winner? What about drop the hankerchief? Or London
Bridge is falling down? How about "spin the bottle."? Are you
winning or losing if the bottle stops pointing to you?
What about jacks? Jacks is a girls' game that was popular when I
was a child and I was into the game. You have 10 little objects
called "jacks" that you toss onto the ground as the other girls sit in a
circle. Then each girl has a turn. She starts with a ball in
her preferred hand and she tosses the ball up and lets it bounce and
before it bounced again, she picks up one jack and then catches the ball
before it bounces again. She does that with each jack. Then
she does "twosees" which means she picks up two jacks in one sweep.
She continues that until she has done all ten jacks. Then, if she
completes that round without difficulty, she starts again with a more
difficult rule. Perhaps she doesn't let the ball bounce at all, or
she not only picks up the jacks but she puts them in a particular place
before she catches the ball. There are a few of these rounds that
are already invented, but it is common for the winning player to invent
the next game.
How does "jacks" compare with chess? Or with
ring-a-ring-o-roses? How are they different? How does it
compare with tennis? Or American football?
|And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same
way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear.
|Don't children invent games on the spot? See who
can spit the furtherest? Or see who can solve a particular puzzle
first? Or who can follow a rule the best (think of Simon
|And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of
similarities overlapping and cries-crossing: sometimes overall
|And what you'll find, I think, if you go through a
careful study of these various types of games, is that there are
similarities and differences. Poker is like chess in certain
ways. They both have clear rules and the winner is likely to have
practice and skill. But they are different in some ways, too, and if
you look at how they are different, you'll find other games that are not
different in these ways, but different in other ways.|
|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 cries-cross in the same way.-And
I shall say: 'games' form a family.
|Here is the key move, and the new metaphor that LW
extends to replace the old Platonic metaphor of essence. The concept
is one of "family resemblance." |
||Notice Al and Jack have the same eyebrows, while
Elmer and Bob have the same ears and Al and Bob have the same
smile. There is no common feature among them yet they all
resemble each other.|
|And for instance the kinds of number form a family in the same way.
Why do we call something a "number"? Well, perhaps because it has
a-direct-relationship with several things that have hitherto been called
number; and this can be said to give it an indirect relationship to other
things we call the same name. And we extend our concept of number as in
spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread
does not reside in the fact that some on e fibre runs through its whole
length, but in the overlapping of many fibres.
|I suppose what LW means here is that we call positive
numbers, negative numbers, real numbers, or a sequence of characters
(a,b,c...z) numbers (see 8). How are
these "numbers" like and unlike a series of characters that we would not
Also, consider phone numbers, and the numbers on football jerseys,
social security numbers, numbers that are ranks, verus numbers that
can be added and subtracted.
Or, let's take an example that requires less mathematical
sophistication. Take the word "food." Imagine a plate of food
composed of only vegetables, or a food concoction made of cheese and
tomato sauce, or food for the dogs, or for the goldfish. Also,
imagine spoiled food, or raw food, or petrified food. Is there some single
feature in these foods that runs through all of them? Think of
artificial food (like wax apples) and playfood (for children's tea).
And don't say that the single feature is that they are all related to
eating because that is a way we frame "wax food" and "play food" but it is
not a characteristic of this "food."
And, what a closer examination shows is that even if there isn't a
single thread that runs through everything (and there may be in some
cases, of course), there is a family resemblance between these different
items. Some are edible. Some are animal flesh. Some are
vegetable. But there need not be a single aspect that is common to
all the varieties.
Can you think of another example that can be analyzed in this
way? Take the concept of "thought." Do all the different
acceptable uses of this term have a common feature? Or take the
concept of "nothing." Is the meaning of "nothing" the same in these
1. There is nothing in the box.
2. There is nothing for me to do.
|But if someone wished to say: "There is something common to all these
constructions-namely the disjunction of all their common properties"
--I should reply: Now you are only playing with words. One might as well
say: "Something runs through the whole thread- namely the continuous
overlapping of those fibres".
||This is an important passage, too. It points to
the tricks we play to keep ourselves in the fly-bottle.|
|68. "All right: the concept of
number is defined for you as the logical sum of these individual
interrelated concepts: cardinal numbers, rational numbers, real numbers,
etc.; and in the same way
the concept of a game as the logical sum of
a corresponding set of sub-concepts."
|Here's the Augustinian voice, again. It always
seems to have a comback. To return to the concept of "number,"
remember LW had said that there need not be a single common feature in all
|--It need not be
so. For I can give the concept 'number' rigid limits in this way,
that is, use the word "number" for a rigidly limited concept, but I can
also use it so that the extension of the concept is not closed by a
frontier. And this is how we do use the word "game". For how is the
concept of a game bounded?
|Here is another important passage. Wittgenstein
is pointing to the way in which we can locally and provisionally define a
concept. How do we do this? In numerous ways. Sometimes
we set things up explicitly. We say, "I am using the word number
here to mean 'rational number.'" And sometimes this slips in without
our awareness. (We studied this 51-59, and see
|What still counts as a game and what no longer does?
||I think we can count this as the Augustinian
|Can you give the boundary? No.
||It is very hard to delineate what the boundaries of a
game are, to define it so that it includes both tic-tac-toe and
|You can draw one; for none has so far been drawn.
||But in a local and provisional context you might say,
"By game I mean something in which one keeps score and there is a definite
|(But that never troubled you before when you used the word "game".)
||But ordinarily you use the word "game" without trying
explicitly to define it locally and provisionally. You just say, "Is
this some kind of a game?" and you take it that people will understand
|"But then the use of the word is unregulated, the 'game' we play with
it is unregulated."
||Now, the Augustinian feels uncomfortable with where
we're going. It seems we need to keep things more tied down than
|It is not everywhere circumscribed by rules; but no more are there any
rules for how high one throws the ball in tennis, or how hard; yet tennis
is a game for all that and has rules too.
||The rules of the game can't control every last detail
of the action. There is always a considerable amount action that is
beyond the rules of the game. |
|69. How should we explain to someone
what a game is?
||If we don't have a common thread running through
everything we call a "game" it seems very chaotic! How on earth do
we teach people to use this term "game"?|
|I imagine that we should describe games to him, and we might add:
"This and similar things are called 'games' ". And do we know any more
about it ourselves? Is it only other people whom we cannot tell
exactly what a game is?
|Still, don't we teach this term "games" to
children? And don't they learn it? Can it really be as
diffficult as all that if we manage to teach it so easily?|
| -But this is not ignorance. We do not know the boundaries
because none have been drawn. To repeat, we can draw a boundary-for a
special purpose. Does it take that to make the concept usable? Not at
all! (Except for that special purpose.) No more than it took the
definition: 1 pace = 75 cm. to make the measure of length 'one pace'
usable. And if you want to say "But still, before that it wasn't an exact
measure", then I reply: very well, it was an inexact one.-Though you still
owe me a definition of exactness.
||The term "game" is not a difficult term for a
child to learn and the fact that it seems that it should be is a
flag for this being a confusion left over from our Augustinian muddle.
The situation is that we imagine that we have one term here and the
different senses are just variations on a common theme, but in practice we
take these vague concepts that are loosely defined and we tie them down to
more particular definitions. It just takes a moment to do this, and
the practice is all around us. It is just that we fail to notice
that we do this. We have a theory of terms having essential meanings
(based on transcendental essences) and this belief in the theory of
language is so strong we simply overlook the way in which we negotiate the
language that we use, when other people do it, and when we do it
|#[Someone says to me: "Shew the children a game." I teach them gaming
with dice, and the other says "I didn't mean that sort of game." Must the
exclusion of the game with dice have come before his mind when he gave me
||This is a footnote in which LW reminds us how we teach
this ostensibly difficult concept of "game." Notice how we have
practices of continuously clarifying our local and provisional