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Philosophical Investigations

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Terms List and Analysis

General Summary

Themes, Arguments, and Ideas

Criteria  -  Criteria do not give us solid ground for saying what something is. For instance, the criteria we might use for judging that someone is in pain—moaning, writhing, or complaints that "it hurts"—could equally well be simulated by someone who is not in pain. Rather, criteria tell us what sort of thing we are judging: moaning, writhing, and complaints that "it hurts" do tell us that, genuine or feigned, pain is what is in question here. Wittgenstein's use of criteria illuminates his technique regarding two points. First, criteria, nor anything else, can serve as an ultimate ground of justification. We cannot, for instance, appeal to criteria as a definite proof that someone is following a rule correctly. Our judgments do not rely on definitional criteria so much as a shared understanding of certain forms of life. Second, in the absence of criteria, it ceases to be clear what we are talking about. There are no criteria by which I can judge that I am in pain: my pain is not an object of knowledge for me. We can only use criteria in cases where many people can recognize the same criteria, so judgments regarding whether someone is in pain, is understanding a word, is intending to do something, etc., are determined by the person's outward behavior. That there are no inner criteria does not mean that we do not have an inner life, but that our inner sensations are not themselves the objects of scrutiny when talking about our inner lives.
Family resemblance  -  The greater part of the words we use are not fixed according to sharp boundaries and rigid definitions. The classic example is "game." There are many different things we call "games," and there is no catch-all definition that can rigidly tell us what is a game and what is not. The resemblance between different kinds of games is like the resemblance between members of a family: we might note a father and son have similar noses, while the same father resembles his daughter more due to a similar jaw structure. Sometimes the resemblance is less clear even than this. There is no set of defining characteristics that all members of a family share, but the resemblance between them still exists.
Form of life  -  We do not assume, nor can we justify, a great deal about our behavior and modes of thought. We do not give reasons why someone should take the arrow "<—" to be pointing left rather than right, nor do we give reasons for believing that the people around us not just automata made to look human. These are just two examples of a wide range of activities that are comprised in our "forms of life." These are the sorts of things that stand beyond doubt or justification because we could not function as human beings without certain basic shared customs. A society in which it were always open to question whether or not the world had existed for five minutes would be very different from our own: our concepts of memory, history, purpose, and much else besides, would be upset. TERM Language-game {language-game, language-games} /TERM Wittgenstein uses this term to talk about different aspects of our linguistic behavior. The word "language," no more than the word "game," refers to a rigidly defined single phenomenon. Rather, it comprises a whole range of phenomena that are loosely related through family resemblance. Thus, we cannot reach any general conclusions about the nature of language or the nature of the proposition, because there is no such single nature. By examining different language-games, Wittgenstein brings out the disanalogies that exist between different aspects of our linguistic behavior. TERM Ostensive {ostensive} /TERM We could define what "chair" means by describing what it looks like, how it is used, and so on. Alternatively, we could define it by pointing to a chair and saying "that is a chair." This latter method is called ostensive definition. Ostensive definition seems superior to verbal definition because it gets us beyond words and connects language to things in the world. Wittgenstein brings out the limitations of ostensive definition in a number of ways. For instance, if I point to a pencil and say, "that is a pencil," a person could take me to be defining "wood," "one," "brown," or any number of other possible things.

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