Family-resemblance is a term invented by Wittgenstein to indicate the relationship between the many uses of a word, like "game" or "number." In these cases, and by extension many abstract words, there is no simple essence that applies to all instances of a word, but an overlapping set of similarities.
The metaphor is based in the resemblances of various members of a family. Some may have a characteristic nose, hair, or walk, or laugh. It is not necessary all members share one family trait in order for us to recognize them as family members.The phrase "family resemblance" come from Ludwig Wittgenstein:
"consider for example the proceedings that we call "games"...[to] look and see whether there is anything common to all... we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; we can see how similarities crop up and disappear.
And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-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 criss-cross in the same way. — And I shall say: "games" form a family. "
His concept was aimed at combating the unexamined belief that all words have an essential meaning. and that the lack of essentialism is a common and useful feature of our words.
I want to highlight two additional features of family-resemblance:
- The active family-resemblance process is active, Words|concepts are constantly and easily extended.
- And, the active family-resemblance process in unconscious and usually unnoticed.
The metaphor of "family resemblance" makes us think of a somewhat static activity; it fails to analogize the ongoing activity of family resemblance as used in thinking, talking and understandings.
AFR is a feature in all philosophical words. I am using philosophy in its most general sense of talking | thinking | understanding about the most general aspects of our world. (It is also a feature of nearly every word in human language use.) we make the word fit the situations or contexts in which it is used.
Since AFR is a constant feature and possibility, it is or are the activities which underlie our fuzzy (multi-criterial or extensible words),
There are a number of important points about this extensibility
Extensibility is nearly invisible
So much happens is the background. We flip contexts (frames) so quickly we do not notice it. we speak of dogs in life and dogs in pictures without a second thought, and have to be reminded how different we handle the two situations. We do not feed food, or pictures of food, to a picture of a dog.
Extensibility is active.
It happens in automatically. We pullout words, make jokes, understand a poetical conceit all the time. We cannot turn it on. We cannot turn it off.
Extensibility is used both in understanding and in speaking.
We understand the passive aspects of extensionality. We tend to make sense of anything spoken | or written. We only speak when we have something to say. What is a little more unintuitive is that we speak with a similar sense of extending our meanings into new contexts. The hearer understand both the extension and the context intended.
Extensibility is a major part of the so-called Big Words.
Traditionally words have been understood as standing for something. A word is like a name. Some words are names. I want to downplay this metaphor in favor of words as metaphors, poetic oversimplifications we use to speak of things we cannot possibly comprehend. This is important in speaking about using big abstract words of the kind used in philosophical and general discussions. They have sense but not necessarily a reference. They result in phantom entities that confuse our understanding. Extensionality of meaning in new contexts is what permits this.
Extensibility is a major part of language.
Since we can hardly comprehend language, perhpas it is silly to say that Extensibility is a "major" part of language. I do want to emphasize that this aspect of language may be far more important than the more traditional ways of looking at words and language.
Extensibility is a major part of the metaphoricality of language.
If we define a metaphor as either "a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable," or "a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract" the question arises how is this possible, either at the creative or the comprehensive level. We don;t need to "learn" a metaphor, as much as simply understand it. (We may need to learn a metaphor that has turned into a cliché.
Extensibility is not only conceptual but also emotional, an extension of connotations.
Although the extension of a metaphor may involve losing some aspects of the context. (We do not feed a picture of a dog, not even pictures of food.) It is often an important part of a metaphor what it carries with it. Often spoken of as connotations, though there may not be a clear and obvious line between connotations and denotations.