Reconsidering Some Passages in Wittgenstein

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 2 (1):1 - 28 (1972)
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I want to consider some difficulties which I have on rereading the passages on “common properties” or “common features” and “family resemblances” in The Blue Book and in Philosophical Investigations. These passages are not as easy to read as they once were. Wittgenstein tells us that we think, or have a tendency to think, that all the things to which we apply a general word have some property or feature in common, and he tells us that we believe it is because of this common property or feature that we apply the same word to them. In The Blue Book the phrase is “common property”; in Philosophical Investigations it is “common feature.” Wittgenstein may have changed from the word “property” to the word “feature” because the word “property” is obviously too limited in its application. We speak of the properties of mercury or neoprene but not of the properties of barnowls or slatterns. The word “feature” also seems too limited in a way, but he may have chosen this word mainly because it fits his metaphor of family resemblances. I do not think that Wittgenstein wants to impose any special restriction at this point, so I shall use the word “feature” only where it is appropriate, and I shall use the less limiting word “characteristic” where it seems more appropriate than the word “feature.” Thus I assume that Wittgenstein means to examine our tendency to think that a general word is applied to things because those things have some features or features, characteristic or characteristics in common.



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The Philosophy of Wittgenstein.Sydney Shoemaker - 1966 - Journal of Philosophy 63 (12):354-358.

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