Ludwig Wittgenstein on Words


You might wonder about my intellectual platform. Why aren't these pages stuffed with references to on-going academic research?

It's because I am not in the academic business. Not being there is a basic part of my lifestyle. I'd rather look for useful experiments that could have theory findings as spin-offs. After all, this is the natural path of science, is it not? (That said I must admit that AI and computational linguistics is productive and experimental.)

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein displays a gift for empirical work, as well as an outstanding skepticism. If he had had the chance to experiment with computers, I think the results would have been interesting. He anticipates data base design when he discusses "threads."

Gunnar Sommestad


"Here we come up against the great question that lies behind all these considerations. . . . . 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". . . .

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 . . . ? 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 . . . . we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and cries-crossing: sometimes overall similarities.

"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. 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 one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres."
                                                              Ludwig Wittgenstein
                                                                                Philosophical Investigations
                                                                                #65, #66, and #67