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2009-10-04
Games and Family Resemblances
I published in 1994 a paper alleging to state what all and only games have in common in virtue of which they are games
( "Games and Family Resemblances," Philosophical Investigations, Volume 17, No. 2, April 1994, 435-443). 
There have been no responses. It seems to me what I wrote is worth refuting, anyhow,
and thinking about games is fun, so I wonder if you’all will tell me what you think. I quote below (and paraphrase) the central part of my paper.

‘A promising place to seek the essence of games is within the class of rule-defined activities, that is, activities it would be impossible to perform without following rules. So, for example, we could eat, run, and fight without following rules, but we couldn't play chess, bridge, or basketball. Not all rule-defined activities are games, however (e.g. pace Wittgenstein, speaking a language).

What makes a rule-defined activity a game? I propose the following theory: A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills. This is what all and only games share in virtue of which they are games; also, I believe this account pretty well captures our ordinary concept of games. To put the matter roughly, games are rule-defined play, where success is created by an arbitrary rule.

    Chess, to take an obvious example, is a rule-defined activity involving a state (checkmate) that counts as success because it is so defined by a rule, and chess is typically played for the recreation of participants or spectators or to sharpen skills. Notice that checkmate isn't success because we strive for it; rather, we strive for checkmate because, according to the rules, it is success. Games have the feature that the success state is in this way internal to the rules. The immediate object of a game is to accomplish the state the rules define as success because it is so defined. Note too that you can play chess but not succeed, as when you play but fail to checkmate. To win a game you must play successfully a game that can be played without succeeding.

    The example of chess also illustrates the way in which the rule that defines playing a game successfully is arbitrary. We often ask two questions when learning to play a game: "How do I play?" and "What counts as winning?" These questions are different. Knowing how to move the chess pieces according to the rules isn't knowing what counts as winning; indeed, the set of rules that tell me how to move the pieces is compatible with an indefinite number of definitions of winning (e.g., checkmate, taking all your opponents pieces except his king, queening three pawns, etc.)  These rules do not determine the success state. Hence the rule defining success is an arbitrary addition in that we could have adopted, consistent with all the other rules, a different definition of success. 

    Consider the child throwing a ball against a wall and catching it again. Where this activity is a game, the child is following a rule like: "Throw the ball against the wall and catch it, where success is catching the ball you've thrown against the wall." A feature of many children's games is that the activity which is the playing of the game is also what is defined by the rule as succeeding. As the activity is usually easy so is performing it successfully, one of the reasons such games provide so much pleasure for children and so little for adults. The rule for Ring around O' Roses is: "You and your colleagues hold hands and run in a circle chanting 'Ring a round o' Roses.... All fall down'; and all fall down roughly when you sing "All fall down', which is succeeding." Where the very activity that constitutes the game is defined as succeeding, there is success but no winning. Note, however, that in each case we could have adopted different definitions of success consistent with the remaining rules, e.g., "Success is catching the ball twenty times in a row" in the first case, and "Success is being the first (or second, or last) player to reach the ground" in the second.

    There are plenty of recreational activities that are merely pleasant pastimes, not games, e.g., playing with a yo-yo. Here there is no state that counts as success because rules define it. Either we simply enjoy performing the activity, e.g, throwing a football back and forth, or we are trying to do tricks and feats (with the yo-yo, say, or balancing a stick on one's nose) which count as success because we are trying to do them. If a child is bouncing a ball against the wall and catching it simply because she finds the activity pleasant, in exactly the way we find throwing a football back and forth pleasant, she is not playing a game.

   This theory of games explains our ambivalence toward calling sports like boxing "games." Imagine the announcer at a prizefight shouting: "He's up, he's down, he's up again! What a terrific game this is, folks!" Yet boxing is included among the Olympic games. Our ambivalence isn't simply because boxing is violent. We have no trouble calling football, rugby, and lacrosse games. Our definition, recall, requires that a game involves a state which counts as success because it is so defined by a rule. Fighting, of course, isn't rule defined. And knocking out your opponent in a brawl is success because that is the goal of a brawl, not because a rule says so. Plainly we made brawling into a sport by crafting the rules of boxing to count as success pretty much what is success in a brawl, rules or no. When we view boxing as a game, we must think that a knockout counts as winning because the rule says so. A knockout would be losing if the rule was different. But we also recognize that the rule defines a knockout as winning the fight because it is winning the fight. Consequently we are ambivalent as to whether the success state counts as success because it is so defined by a rule.

Wittgenstein writes:
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.  You might as well say: "Something runs through the whole thread-- namely the continuous overlapping of those fibres".

But a game, on our account, is typically played for the recreation of participants or spectators or to sharpen skills. Isn't this the sort of disjunctive definition Wittgenstein explicitly rejects? Well, no. First, all games must share the feature of being rule-defined activities involving a state that counts as performing the activity successfully because an arbitrary rule so defines it. Plainly Wittgenstein has in mind a more radical disjunction, where there is no important commonality and games share only the disjunction of different properties. Second, the disjuncts themselves have something in common, namely, they reflect the fact that success in games is created by an arbitrary rule. We do not typically play a game because we consider its success state intrinsically valuable, nor do we play it because its success state has pre-existing causal connections to other states we value. We create a rule-defined success state and pursue it, not because it has intrinsic value or pre-existing instrumental value, but because we value the pursuit.'

In sum: A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed not because we consider its success state intrinsically valuable or because it has pre-existing instrumental value, but because we value the pursuit.

2009-10-05
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Sounds plausible to me, at least for typical games.

2009-10-05
Games and Family Resemblances
Hi Gaultiero! Thanks for writing. I hope you and all our colleagues in St. Louis are flourishing. Judy and I are busy at UNC, sitting in on seminars.

I wonder if there are counter-examples, because that of course is the way to show my account doesn't work.

There is a lot more at stake here than games, plainly. The Doctrine of Family Resemblances is endangered.
Nobody takes seriously Wittgenstein's other example, numbers. At the end of the day, when philosophers argue for the doctrine,
the example of games is supposed to clinch matters.

I wrote in my paper:

'After all, if the doctrine fails for its most impressive and persuasive example, why believe it?  Wittgenstein would owe us new arguments, at the least.'






2009-10-10
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Hi Jim,

As plausible  as I find your account, I find it plausible for the central cases of games.  Your account itself becomes somewhat strained for some games, such as games in which children pretend to do something with some toys, pretending that the toys are something other than what they are.  You might say that there is still a criterion of success defined by an arbitrary rule (successfully pretending?), but it's so vague and so different from the standard cases (in which there are explicit rules determining whether you are playing rightly or wrongly) that IMO in order to apply your account, you must employ a family resemblance based notion of success/rule.

More generally, the notion of family resemblance as a way to capture the way many ordinary concepts work is now well established and has proven very useful in both philosophy and psychology.  Even if it turned out that there were strict necessary and sufficient conditions for games (something I sitll do not believe), the notion of family resemblance would still be important and useful.

2009-10-11
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Thank you for these comments. Here’s how I see the thing.

Suppose that knowledge has an essence; that is, there is a set of features that all and only instances of knowledge share in virtue of which they are knowledge. Suppose we discover that essence and this solves all sorts of philosophical problems. It’s likely to turn out, if knowledge has an essence, that some of the things we called knowledge were not knowledge and perhaps also that we knew some things we said we didn’t know. That is typically a consequence of getting a much better grasp on what one has been talking about. One cannot demand that a philosophical account of knowledge (or of justice or courage or....) preserves every last use of the word involved. To insist otherwise is to beg the question against an essentialist account, as these typically undercut  somewhat what we ordinarily say.
   
                           However this isn’t a license for discounting counterexamples. What matters is this. There is going to be a gray area where it isn’t clear what to say: are these games or something else?  .  As long as the alleged counterexamples happen in the gray area, where it’s at least not seriously counterintuitive to deny there is a game, they do not have much force against an essentialist account.

Suppose you and I go out and throw a football around for the exercise. I throw to you, you throw it back to me. We’re playing all right, and with the ball. Are we playing a game? I dont think so. A game requires something more. Of course we could call it a game and it’s certainly like a game in some ways, but this is not yet the stuff of which counter examples are made.  As long is it’s plausible enough to say we’re not playing a game, my account is  okay.  We might call our activity ‘catch, ‘ but giving it a name doesn’t make it a game.

I wrote this: ‘There are plenty of recreational activities that are merely pleasant pastimes, not games, e.g., playing with a yo-yo. Here there is no state that counts as success because rules define it. Either we simply enjoy performing the activity, e.g, throwing a football back and forth, or we are trying to do tricks and feats (with the yo-yo, say, or balancing a stick on one's nose) which count as success because we are trying to do t If a child is bouncing a ball against the wall and catching it simply because she finds the activity pleasant, in exactly the way we find throwing a football back and forth pleasant, she is not playing a game.’

Of course we could call such activities games and they are like games in some ways.
But that isn’t going to get us counterexamples.

  You write: ‘Your account itself becomes somewhat strained for some games, such as games in which children pretend to do something with some toys, pretending that the toys are something other than what they are.’

So far I see this as simply play.  I don’t see a game being played. Maybe more detail would help.  If the kids are just playing with toys ,pretending they are this and that ,it’s plausible to deny that they’re playing a game.. Of course we can say they are playing a game.

I think the doctrine of family resemblances is pernicious, personally.  Suppose we had taken Wittgenstein seriously about numbers, or Putnam seriously about reference,  being merely family resemblance terms . What a catastrophe that would be for philosophy. No need for Rawls’s Theory of Justice. In religious studies the doctrine has become an orthodoxy (see myself ‘A Theory of Religion Revised’ Religious Studies, 37, 177-189, 2001).
And why believe the doctrine is true ? If the doctrine doesn’t work for the
easy cases that are meant to motivate it, why believe it works for the difficult and philosophically interesting ones? Maybe you are aware of successes in psychology I don’t know of . But it’s a bit frightening to throw in the towel on the traditional philosophical enterprise in the name of a doctrine that fails for its allegedly most obvious successes.
Of course accepting the doctrine will make things a lot easier. That the doctrine is well established and has proven 'very useful' is perhaps something we should view with concern.

2009-10-11
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Interesting analysis!  It certainly seems plausible for a core class of games.  But I wonder how to understand 'typically'.  Do you mean that most games are performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills?  Or do you mean that for any particular game, most of the times it is performed, it is performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills?  On the latter reading, there appear to be counterexamples, for instance, a game that has as a rule that the game is performed successfully only if it is not performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills.

Also, I wonder how to understand 'because'.  Do you mean 'solely in virtue of'?  'Partially in virtue of'?  Something else?  If you mean 'partially in virtue of' (and perhaps even if you mean 'solely in virtue of'), then it seems that your analysis predicts that doing philosophy, throwing a party, being in a relationship/dating etc are games.  They are rule-defined activities and arbitrary rules define what counts as performing them successfully (publish n number of articles in these journals, etc/invite more than n number of people to a pre-determined location, make sure some of them show up, serve something you bought or they brought etc./engaging in romantic activities on a regular basis, some mutual understanding that it will continue until one person verbally calls an end to it, etc).

2009-10-12
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim,

What's pernicious about family resemblance?

As far as psychology goes: Since the 1970s, psychologists -- following the work of Eleanor Rosch -- have adopted something close to the notion of family resemblance as the basis for a new generation of theories of concepts.  According to these theories, concepts are "prototypes", i.e., roughly speaking, representations of the statistically likely properties of things that fall under the concept.  So the prototype of birds contains the information that birds are animals, have feathers and a beak, fly, etc.  Individual birds may or may not have all the properties that are represented by the bird prototype; but as long as they have enough (i.e., more than they have properties represented by other, competing prototypes, such as those of reptiles or mammals), people categorize them as birds.  Incidentally, Rosch explicitly referred to Wittgenstein's notion of family resemblance as a source of inspiration for her theory of concepts. 

Since then, other theories of concepts have appeared in the psychological literature.  Some theories, namely, "theory theories", are more essentialistically oriented than prototype theories.  But it seems to me that even psychologists who subscribe to theory theories of concepts would agree that prototype theories get something right, that is, that many concepts have a family resemblance structure.  Surely few people if anyone in psychology believe that most concepts can be given precise definitions.

As to your suggestion that playing catch and such are not games, that just goes against standard usage of the term "game".  You say it falls within the grey area between clear cases of games and clear cases of non-games.  But if the grey area is large enough and significant enough and has enough shades of grey, if you ignore the grey area you end up giving up on the notion that you were originally interested in.

2009-10-13
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Hi Brit and Gaultiero,

Thanks for writing. We have been driving for two days, we're visiting Judy's mom in Massachusetts and I have neither books nor much time.
Mom needs some attention though she is much on the mend.

'As to your suggestion that playing catch and such are not games, that just goes against standard usage of the term "game". '
You say it falls within the grey area between clear cases of games and clear cases of non-games.  But if the grey area is large enough and significant enough and has enough shades of grey, if you ignore the grey area you end up giving up on the notion that you were originally interested in.'

I don't see this as particularly grey. So my intuition is that our throwing a football back and forth for the exericise isn't a game. I've asked this question of
several people (none of whom owe me money) and they don't think it's a game. So I don't see these examples as terribly grey. Same goes for a child
throwing a ball against a wall and catching it for the exercise. Same goes for trying to balance a stick on my nose. Same goes for doing tricks
with a yo-yo. I don't think that's a game. I just asked my
mother-in-law ( I owe HER money). She doesn't think it's a game. Neither does Judy (I also owe her money). So I don't think I'm going against
standard usage. I do think my account tracks standard usage pretty well.

What's pernicious (in my opinion) is this: suppose we take W's claim that 'number' is a family resemblance concept. Then there is, if I understand him,
nothing all numbers have in common in virtue of which they are numbers. Therefore a theory that purports to tell us what they have in common
is misguided. But that really seems a mistake. Same goes for reference, same goes for justice. A consequence of the theory is that there is
nothing that all acts of reference have in common in virtue of which they are acts of reference, so theories of reference (e.g. Kripke's or Frege's)
which purport to tell us what all acts of reference share, are misguided. Again that really seems a mistake. In religious studies any attempt
to say what makes religions religions is often dismissed out of hand on the ground that 'religion' is a family resemblance concept.
But it's easy enough to say what all religions have in common. Same goes for games, IMO. The doctrine is a philosophy-stopper, as it were,
and it needs to be well-motivated. And it isn't, I submit.

I don't know enough about the research you mention (for which my thanks) to comment. I take W to be suggesting that a) there aren't necessary
and sufficient conditions for many of the concepts that interest philosophers; this because there is no interesting feature
that any of these concepts ascribes throughout its extension  and (b) the Socratic effort to find
what makes all just acts just, say, or brave acts brave, is misguided because there is no interesting and illuminating
feature that makes all just acts just, say.

I don't think W gives us a plausible reason to believe a and b. It's supposed to be easy to illustrate his doctrine in the case of games.
As games go, so do numbers and other things.
'Don't think, but look,' W enjoins us. An invitation to miss the forest for the trees.
But if one ignores the fatal injunction and looks and thinks both, well, there's a pretty plausible theory of games
on the face of things.

Brit try to be back later, thanks.

2009-10-13
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim, thanks so much for calling attention to this interesting idea! Do you find any of these to be counterexamples?

1. There is a collection of video games with 'Sim' in the title: "SimCity," "SimEarth," "The Sims," etc. All of them are played for recreation, and all of them have more-or-less arbitrary rules (though they are meant to simulate at least some of the actual challenges of, say, running a city). They do not all have success conditions, however. In fact, what I find charming about "The Sims" is that there is nothing at all that would count as either winning or as losing. A player might decide for herself to establish a goal, but this is not part of the game. In fact, there is no end state--the game just keeps on going, regardless of how you choose to play it. Nevertheless, the Sim series of games is among the most successful collection of video games yet produced. I would contend that this means it cannot be dismissed as insufficiently paradigmatic. A vast number of people (over 16 million, if Wikipedia can be trusted) own "The Sims," and probably all of them think of it as a game.

2. Now, on the other side of things, here is a case that I believe meets your definition, but is not a game. In the US Army's Basic Training, there is a great deal of rule-governed activity, with clear success conditions, performed in order to sharpen skills. Most of these activities do not have arbitrary success conditions, but others certainly do. How many miles long must the run be in order for the recruits to have succeeded? This is up to the drill sergeant. How many push-ups must the unfortunate recruit perform in order to compensate for having made a mistake? This is also up to the drill sergeant. At least when my husband went through Basic Training, the drill sergeants had a great deal of authority in the invention of arbitrary success criteria. The tasks that they imposed on the recruits were always intended to improve their skills, though. And nearly every activity the recruits engaged in was rule-governed. No one involved in Basic Training would take it to be a game, however.

3. This example is derived from Berit's question, "But I wonder how to understand 'typically'.  Do you mean that most games are performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills?  Or do you mean that for any particular game, most of the times it is performed, it is performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills?"
    I suspect that the former reading will strike you as being too loose--this is dangerously close to family resemblances. Your intention is to give rather strict necessary and sufficient conditions for being a game, right? So, the latter reading seems more in keeping with your aim. If this is right, then I would claim "Rock paper scissors" is not, by your criteria, a game. "Rock paper scissors" is sometimes just played for the recreation of the participants, but is most often used as a decision procedure, an alternative to flipping a coin. While this may not be the most paradigmatic case of a game, it does have a fairly strong claim. I don't think it falls into the "gray area" where it's permissible to discount the examples. Of course, I may just be atypical in this respect--perhaps others would take "Rock paper scissors" to be a very tendentious example of a game.
    A further, related difficulty, is that the typical purpose of an activity is difficult to determine, and can change over time. Paradigmatic games (such as basketball) are sometimes played for reasons other than for the recreation of participants or spectators, or for the sharpening of skills. Sometimes they are played in order to prove one's superiority, in order to settle a bet, in order to determine one's status in a given social setting, in order to impress the girls at one's high school, and so on. It seems impossible, in practice, to determine how often basketball is played for recreation or to sharpen skills, and how often it is played for these various other reasons. And so it may be that we cannot know whether basketball is a game, even though it appears to be a paradigmatic case. Even worse, the reasons a game is played may change over time. Basketball could, in the next 100 years, lose its popularity as a form of recreation, but retain its popularity as a way to determine one's relative status. If this were to happen, your account would have basketball change from being a game to not being a game, though the point at which the shift happened would be impossible to determine. What a strange way for things to behave!


I think your definition can handle at least two of Berit's suggested counterexamples, though. She proposed "doing philosophy, throwing a party, [and] being in a relationship/dating." I think she's dead right that these are rule-governed and that the success criteria are arbitrary. But they are not all performed for recreation or the sharpening of skills. I would say that both doing philosophy and being in a relationship are not typically done for either of these reasons (although they sometimes may be, of course). What do you think, Berit?

2009-10-13
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone

Dear Jim,

There is a key idea, derived from ‘family resemblance’, which perhaps games do not exemplify (if you are right), but which many other groups do.   This is that what the ‘family’ F have in common is that every member of F is more like some other member of F than any member of F is like non-members of F.  Members of F naturally form a similarity cluster.   F could be a syndrome, for example, whose totality of instances have this overall character, even though there are no non-disjunctive necessary and sufficient conditions for F-membership which can be generalised to cover all and only members of F.   This notion of clustering has been developed to a high degree of sophistication from the original publication in 1963 by Sneath and Sokal of Principles of Numerical Taxonomy.  Wittgenstein was given an honorific mention on page 14.   

It could be, of course, when similarities between objects are fully mapped, that nature doesn’t have any ‘joints’ by which any taxonomy could reasonably carve it up.   Equally it could be that everything is of some kind, and every kind has an essence imbued in it by the logos.   The jury is out on that, I think.   Meanwhile, there is a massive, sophisticated discipline based on the notion you take to have no application even to its most favourable case.  I think that is because (typical) games probably do not provide its most favourable case.


2009-10-13
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
I have two general points to make; A) possible couterexamples, and B) Wittgenstein's point.
A) I think that it is helpful to think of the difference between work and leisure and how this relates to games.  Under your definition there is nothing I can see that rules out work from being a game - 'value' can be understood so broadly.  Also there are times when playing football can be a leisure activity and times when it can be work - consider professionals.  The 'value' involved would be markedly different but we would still call them both games.  So how would you make the distinction?  Working in a bank is definitely not playing a game and yet the professional footballer may be just as if not more serious about his job and may receive little or no pleasure from it other than the paycheck.
B) When we consider the context of the Philsoophical Investigations, we realise that Wittgenstein was not as concerned with a full proof account of family resemblance as he was with showing an understanding of language based upon usage - the "grey areas" are a consequence of the vagueness and changing usages of language in different contexts and over time.  What Wittgenstein was trying to show was the importance of the activity (game) of language and the practices and world that are inseparable from it.  Further, that philsophy is not about doctrines and theories and definitions (thinking abstractly) but rather about seeing the activity of language (looking at particular situations of language games).

2009-10-13
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Helen Daly
1. Thanks, I never had heard of this. Sims is in fact described as ‘more of a toy than a game’ (wiki).
Also it is likened to a ‘digital doll house.’ Intuitively a child playing with dolls in a doll house,
imagining getting them up in the morning, moving them downstairs for breakfast, just going along through their day isn’t playing a game. Hence we don’t call doll houses ‘games.’ And digitalizing the doll house doesn’t change that. Things become more game-like when there is a built-in challenge, e.g. in some of the original Sim games the city
was under siege or faced with a nuclear meltdown. So it seems to me the intuition of whether we have a game shifts as it would be expected to shift if my theory is correct.

I do think we should be careful of the generic title ‘games’ as in ‘Olympic games’ and ‘Computer games,’ which classify lots of activities some of which aren’t (or are only marginally) games.
Not all Olympic games are games e.g. running broad jump, weight lifting, boxing. The argument,
‘X is an Olympic game, everybody thinks of it as an Olympic game, so it’s a game’ has little force. What matters is what people think when they actually stop and think about the thing with some care, outside of one of these generic classifications.


2.’ Now, on the other side of things, here is a case that I believe meets your definition, but is not a game. In the US Army's Basic Training, there is a great deal of rule-governed activity, with clear success conditions, performed in order to sharpen skills.’

Thanks. I need rule-defined activities.

3. ‘This example is derived from Berit's question, "But I wonder how to understand 'typically'.  Do you mean that most games are performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills?  Or do you mean that for any particular game, most of the times it is performed, it is performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills?"

I mean the latter.

I write this in my paper:

‘If we lived in a world where legal suits were settled
by chess, believing that God would allow only the innocent party
to checkmate, and this was the only venue for chess, we would not
consider chess a game nor would we consider such endeavours
play.14 In fact, games are not essentially games, a feature our
theory preserves.’ Of course we would say it is like a game.

So I embrace these consequences, especially counterfactually. Such developments would indeed be strange but I think that’s because such shifts as you describe seldom happen. ‘Typically’ is vague, and perhaps something more can be said here. It may be a sort of ‘necessity of origin’
is in force here, so the original intent of the activity has a great deal of influence. Anyhow that a term is vague doesn’t make it a ‘family resemblance’ concept, e.g. baldness (not having much hair) is vague but not a family resemblance concept. I don’t know much about the typical use of ‘rock, paper, scissors,’
but it may be a borderline case, depending on its typical use–when I was a kid it was used
chiefly as a decision procedure but sometimes played as a game. It seems I’m putting the borderline in the right place. If RPS is used typically as a decision procedure it’s not a game,
though it can be played as one.

Neat examples.

2009-10-13
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Roger Harris
I would hardly be surprised if something like this proves true for a number of perceptual concepts. Note, though, that Socrates didn't ask 'What do all fish have in common
in virtue of which they are fish?' There are concepts (the sort that he asked about, the sort that philosophers are interested in) that I suspect involve an (often) inchoate
theory about what the concept applies to. Hence answers to the Socratic questions like 'What is justice? What are numbers? What is reference? What is truth? What are games?
What is a religion?' can be checked partly against conceptual/linguistic intuitions. The answers should not violate them flagrantly and also help illuminate what we had in mind all along.
My difficulty is that W seems to have been after the latter concepts. What's interesting is that we do give interesting theories here and sometimes get right answers.

Of course this discussion raises an underlying question. What was
Wittgenstein up to? I wrote this:

'Perhaps the theory sheds some light on the point of
Wittgenstein's treatment of language as a collection of "language
games." The Augustinian account of language acquisition assumes
that human creatures have the natural ability to think about
things, that is, to mentally represent objects in the world, plus
the ability to transfer the contents of thoughts to words. A
language, on this view, is essentially a system of sounds with
derived intentionality, used to communicate information about how
the world stands. As Wittgenstein observes: "Augustine
describes the learning of a human language as if... the child
could already think, only not yet speak." If language is made of
games, however, what counts as success in playing a language game
has no independent or external value or validity; succeeding is
wholly internal to the game, which is what defines success.
Consequently there is no natural intentionality we transfer to
words, the ability to think about things, that determines
linguistic success, the ability to talk about things. Augustine
is mistaken. The meanings of words can be determined only by
their use in a language game. And rules have no derived
intentionality to determine how games are played: the meaning of
a rule is determined by how it is applied, not the reverse. At
bottom, then, intentionality is determined wholly by practices,
what we actually say and do. If language is made of games then
intentionality is determined by behaviour, a consequence from
which Wittgenstein's most striking conclusions flow, for example,
that there can be no private language.'
'





2009-10-15
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim,

I still think your attempts to finesse our usage goes against your attempt at analyzing the concept of game.  You say some people you know don't think that such and suches are games.  Ok, but maybe it has to do with how you ask the question.  I certainly heard people talk about playing a "game of catch"; googling yields  95,400,000 hits.  Wikipedia says that such and such is "more of a toy than a game". But the very presupposition of that statement -- that gameness comes in degrees -- goes against your attempt at a sharp definition.

As to your worries about the perniciousness of the doctrine of family resemblance, they seem to come from the fear that someone enforces the doctrine that all concepts must be treated as family resemblance concepts with an iron fist, preventing philosophers from offering analyses.  But the situation is rather the opposite:  philosophers have tried for decades to analyze all sorts of concepts, and nobody tried to stop them.  But they've had little success.

Maybe some people think that all concepts have a family resemblance structure, including the concept of number, and no concepts can be analyzed.  (I don't think I've heard anyone say that.)  The more reasonable view is that some concepts can be defined quite precisely, whereas others have a family resemblance structure and have no sharp analysis.  But this doesn't mean that we can't do useful philosophical work about the concepts that have a family resemblance structure.  One thing we can still do, for example, is to offer illuminating accounts of the central cases that fall under a concept.  This is what you've done with games.  I think this work can be very useful, even if it does not refute the doctrine of family resemblance.

2009-10-15
Games and Family Resemblances
I ask people: Suppose you and I go out and throw a football back and forth for exercise.
Are we playing a game? Everyone so far says No. I say: Obviously we’re playing with a ball. Suppose we say we’re playing ‘Catch.’ Does that make it a game? They say No. And so on.
They are definite about it. These are definitely my intuitions too. (Occasionally I give them an M&M when they say No, but only once in a while; mostly I eat the M&Ms myself.)

I certainly agree that people sometimes call all sorts of activities games, but what matters to me is what they say on reflection. Also I certainly agree that such activities CAN be games, if we add some rules. I guess we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns in arguing about linguistic intuitions. If I’ve got it wrong, then I’m wrong.
But I honestly think I’ve got it right, not just analyzed ‘one of the central cases.’

Also the theory explains a lot, e.g. why we are ambivalent about calling boxing a game, why Sims is ‘more of a toy than a game,’
and so on. It illumines a good deal of what we have in mind
when we talk of games. E.g. what’s the real meaning of the jibe: "Philosophy is just a game"?

The theory yields this answer:

The point of the jibe is that what counts as success in
philosophy has no independent validity or value; it counts as
succeeding solely because an arbitrary rule says so. If the rule
had been different, something else would count as success. And,
according to the jibe, philosophers go for the success state
simply because they know it is so defined, not because they are
interested in any extrinsic value, for example, truth.

So the theory does a lot of work.

I don’t think I can positively disprove the doctrine of family resemblances;
my point is that the doctrine isn’t particularly well motivated in the first place,
especially not for
the cases that Wittgenstein offered as obvious examples, numbers and games.

Just to add that, on my account, ‘game’ is a vague concept. There will sometimes be borderline
cases of games, just as there are borderline cases of baldness. But vagueness isn’t sufficient for a family resemblance concept. Being bald (not having much hair) is vague but not a family resemblance concept.

As to the perniciousness of the doctrine, you’re right: I’m overstating.
The later Wittgenstein is my bete noir.
When I went to grad school the profs were convinced that LW had solved the problems
of philosophy; it remained for lesser minds to fill in the details. That was our job, especially about the ‘private language argument.’ I sat there bewildered in seminars. Malcolm would publish his fleshed out version of it and Ayer would respond: ‘Well, if that’s the Private Language Argument it’s plainly fallacious because.....’ Then Malcolm would try again and Ayer would produce another obvious fallacy. Finally people said: ‘Of course there is no private language argument in Wittgenstein. That’s just a misreading. Wittgenstein never intended such a thing!’ It went on for a decade. So I didn’t get much of an education. These were dark times.

The Doctrine has become an orthodoxy, in fact, in religious studies.
The account I’ve given on this board of what makes religions religions, though it strikes me as pretty innocuous, is incendiary stuff. It’s radical because I’ve defied the Doctrine of Family Resemblances! Such Doctrines can be really tempting. They make things sooooo easy!

We’re off again in the morning, back on the road for a couple of days, so thanks to all for the conversation. 

2009-10-16
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone

Dear Jim,

I am not so taken with the contrast between fish and justice.   Language is a natural phenomenon, too.   Games were an analogy for Wittgenstein when it came to language.    I.e. language games weren’t really games like football or chess, but, rather, all the different practices which involve language were each more like the others than they were like anything else, but there was not one thing that they all had in common which explained how words might be used in so many different ways.  Tools were another analogy.   It doesn’t matter, in a way, if these simple examples of family resemblance terms can be analysed away.    His claim is that this is nonetheless a feature language has in common with many other social practices.

Cluster analyses are used in data mining, to generate relations between socially produced subject matter which cannot have been intended by the originators of the disparate material placed on the web.  (Because none knew what the others were doing.)   It seems to me that the point of the anti-essentialist arguments regarding language, etc. is to refute the view that we cannot know what we mean unless we have a grasp of the intended essence.   Indeed, the relevance of ‘grasping’ and the ontology of ‘things grasped’ seems to be called into question if a practice can perfectly well be sustained without anyone ‘grasping’ anything ultimately determinate.    The target seems to me not to be theories as such, but ‘foundationalism’ in theory.

However, I am not persuaded by the lurch to the opposite - a strongly conventionalist ‘community’ account of intentionality determined by behaviour.   It cannot give a coherent account of the source of correction in rule following - i.e. that following a rule is only susceptible to external correction.  Self-correction (reflexive imputation of a rule to oneself) must be no less important to rule following than correction by others. Two people in dispute over how to follow a rule correctly would otherwise be compelled each to say to the other <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

‘You can, and I cannot tell whether I am following this rule correctly, but equally, I can, but you cannot tell whether you are correctly following the rule you seek to follow in correcting me.   You can, and I cannot tell whether I am correctly following the rule for correcting your following the rule for correcting me, but you cannot tell…. ad infinitum  ’  

which looks to me like a vicious regress. The issue here is not the epistemic question ‘How is a correct judgment made?’ (this depends on the sort of rule and practice involved).    It is, rather, what are the necessary conditions for the possibility of there being a distinction between correct and incorrect judgment.    The point about rules is that I can follow them by myself so long as there is a rule to follow, the question is ‘What are the necessary conditions for this?’   There aren’t any sufficient conditions, and there blatantly aren’t when it comes to inference, as Lewis Carroll’s What Achilles said to the Tortoise demonstrated long ago.


2009-10-16
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Helen Daly
Hi Helen and Jim,

"I think your definition can handle at least two of Berit's suggested
counterexamples, though. She proposed "doing philosophy, throwing a
party, [and] being in a relationship/dating." I think she's dead right
that these are rule-governed and that the success criteria are
arbitrary. But they are not all performed for recreation or the
sharpening of skills. I would say that both doing philosophy and being
in a relationship are not typically done for either of these reasons
(although they sometimes may be, of course). What do you think,
Berit?"

I suppose we should distinguish between whether an activity is
performed primarily for recreation or the sharpening of skills or
partly for recreation or the sharpening of skills.  I am not sure why
people enter relationships but I suppose part of the reason has to do
with recreation/relaxation/pleasure/fun.  I am not sure either why people
do philosophy.  For money?  Out of goodwill?  Aspirations to fame?  Or
for recreation or the sharpening of skills?  Maybe all of the above?

I suspect that it is going to be difficult to make the definition
precise enough to avoid these kinds of counterexamples.  Professional
football players do not play football primarily for recreation or the
sharpening of skills but that doesn't rule out that the football games
they play are games.

2009-10-17
Games and Family Resemblances
OK, quick review. I wrote

'In sum: A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills.    ...

I added: 'Notice that checkmate isn't success because we strive for it; rather, we strive for checkmate because, according to the rules, it is success. Games have the feature that the success state is in this way internal to the rules. The immediate object of a game is to accomplish the state the rules define as success because it is so defined.'

Brit wrote earlier (sorry for not getting back sooner) that ‘it seems that your analysis predicts that doing philosophy, throwing a party, being in a relationship/dating etc are games.  They are rule-defined activities and arbitrary rules define what counts as performing them successfully (publish n number of articles in these journals, etc/invite more than n number of people to a pre-determined location, make sure some of them show up, serve something you bought or they brought etc./engaging in romantic activities on a regular basis, some mutual understanding that it will continue until one person verbally calls an end to it, etc).’

It seems to me doing philosophy successfully means arriving at the truth ('You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one...') And the reason we want that is because we see
the truth as valuable, if only because we are deeply curious about it.  So we pursue the success state because it is intrinsically valuable.  If doing philosophy successfully means professional success, then professional success is pursued either because we view it as intrinsically valuable and/or instrumentally valuable (more money). So getting the truth or getting tenure and promotion and fame are success because we strive for them, we don’t strive for them because, according to an arbitrary rule (or any rule) they are success. (Also publishing lots of influential papers in prestigious journals isn't success because a rule says it is.)  So philosophy isn’t a game. We typically seek the goal of a party, to collectively have a good time, because we want to have a good time, fun being intrinsically valuable, not because an arbitrary rule says that having lots of fun at a party is success. (Inviting a number of people,  having them show up, serving something, is sufficient for having a party, but not sufficient for a successful party. One can succeed at performing an activity, for many activities, without necessarily performing it successfully.)  Similarly the greater friendship or intimacy that results from a successful date isn’t sought because a rule says it's success, rather we seek intimacy because we consider it intrinsically valuable.

About football: football is rarely played by professionals; and professionals play it for the recreation of spectators.

2009-10-17
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
OK, point taken.  But I am less certain about the tenure process.  We
strive for tenure because, according to arbitrary rules of the
profession ("Publish 6 articles in the course of 6 years in a
tenure-track position"), it is success.  Even if tenure is not
/actually/ performed for the recreation of participants or spectators,
or to sharpen skills, it could be (typically) performed for these
reasons.  But the tenure process is not a game.

Or consider greetings.  We shake hands because an arbitrary rule says
that a handshake in certain circumstances is a successful greeting,
not because shaking hands is intrinsically valuable.  Shaking hands
probably is not typically performed for the recreation of participants
or spectators but greeting ceremonies around the world might be.  Yet
they are not games.

Many celebrations will satisfy your definition of a game.  Or so it
seems to me. Christmas celebrations involve customs such as bringing
evergreens inside in December, dancing around them, eating herring and
fatty foods, drinking caraway snaps.  These customs are typically
performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, and we
seek the goal of Christmas celebrations because an arbitrary rule says
that performing these customs is success, not because they are
intrinsically valuable.

2009-10-17
Games and Family Resemblances
Hi Brit, Thanks for these objections. My responses are in brackets.

OK, point taken.  But I am less certain about the tenure process.  We
strive for tenure because, according to arbitrary rules of the
profession ("Publish 6 articles in the course of 6 years in a
tenure-track position"), it is success.  Even if tenure is not
/actually/ performed for the recreation of participants or spectators,
or to sharpen skills, it could be (typically) performed for these
reasons.  But the tenure process is not a game.

[As we agree that we don’t seek tenure because we value the pursuit, but so as not to perish,
to get higher pay, job security, we agree it isn’t (on my account anyhow) a game.
I don’t think, to defend my thesis, I
must argue that seeking tenure couldn’t be a game.  Also the department’s telling me
what level of scholarly success is required for it to support my tenure, what is expected of me to get its support,
doesn’t seem a rule, and, even if it is a rule, it  doesn’t define or create tenure, which is awarded not by the department but by the university, which may deny tenure despite the department’s recommendation. ]

Or consider greetings.  We shake hands because an arbitrary rule says
that a handshake in certain circumstances is a successful greeting,
not because shaking hands is intrinsically valuable.  Shaking hands
probably is not typically performed for the recreation of participants
or spectators but greeting ceremonies around the world might be.  Yet
they are not games.

[Again, we agree that folks typically don’t shake hands (or use other customary greetings) for the recreation of participants or spectators or to sharpen skills, so we agree that, on my account anyhow, such greetings aren’t games. And so it goes around the world. I don’t think that, to defend my account, I must show that non-games couldn’t under any circumstances, be games.]

Many celebrations will satisfy your definition of a game.  Or so it
seems to me. Christmas celebrations involve customs such as bringing
evergreens inside in December, dancing around them, eating herring and
fatty foods, drinking caraway snaps.  These customs are typically
performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, and we
seek the goal of Christmas celebrations because an arbitrary rule says
that performing these customs is success, not because they are
intrinsically valuable.    

[I don’t see customs as typically rules, but set that aside. I wrote:

‘Notice that checkmate isn't success because we strive for it; rather, we strive for checkmate because, according to the rules, it is success. Games have the feature that the success state is in this way internal to the rules. The immediate object of a game is to accomplish the state the rules define as success because it is so defined.’

The customs you mention are meant to set the stage for having fun and good cheer, it’s a kind of party. The success of such a celebration is a matter of people having a good time, and it is pursued because having a good time is intrinsically valuable (we just want to have fun), not because a rule states that having a good time is success.

Even if there are rules for setting the stage for such a party (we bring in a tree, etc) we typically do not follow them because we enjoy setting up the party but because a well staged party has instrumental value–it increases the prospects that people will enjoy themselves. If no one was going to attend we wouldn’t do it.]

Thanks again, Jim 

2009-10-17
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
But Jim, doesn't your strategy for showing that celebrations are not
games apply equally to typical games?  Suppose you tell me that
poker, which you play on a weekly basis with the guys while drinking
beer and talking about women, is a game.  I respond as follows
(copying you):

Poker is meant to set the stage for having fun and good cheer, it's a
kind of party.  The success of such an activity is a matter of you and
your guy friends having a good time, and it is pursued because having
a good time is intrinsically valuable (you guys just want to have
fun), not because a rule states that having a good time is success.

Even if there are rules for poker, you guys typically do not follow
them because you enjoy following rules.

The rules of the game are meant to set the stage for having fun and
good cheer, it’s a kind of party. The success of such a celebration is
a matter of people having a good time, and it is pursued because
having a good time is intrinsically valuable (you guys just want to
have fun), not because a rule states that having a good time is
success.

Even if there are rules for playing poker you guys typically do not
follow them because you enjoy following them but because poker has
instrumental value–it increases the prospects that people will enjoy
themselves. If no one was going to attend you wouldn’t do it.

2009-10-17
Games and Family Resemblances
Well, Poker is a rule-defined activity (we couldn’t play poker without following rules) involving a state (having a winning hand) that counts as performing the activity successfully (winning) because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule (or set of rules, e.g. a pair beats nothing, three of a kind beats a pair, four of a kind beats that (sorry, I haven’t played poker in a while) a flush beats that (I think), etc.), which is typically performed for the recreation of participants or spectators or to sharpen skills. A royal straight flush isn’t success because we strive for it; we strive for it because, according to the rules, it is success. The immediate object of the activity is to accomplish the state the rules define as success because it is so defined. So poker is a game by
my definition.

A poker game may or may not (often not) be the occasion for socializing, but generally people are trying to win, not set the stage for a party. If people also have a good social time, that’s icing on the cake; socializing, if it  happens,  often flows from the fact that there is another primary pursuit that is motivated on its own, namely, people want to win.  The primary recreation in playing poker, as in playing chess or Scrabble, is trying to win a rule-defined competition.  I deny that a poker game is a kind of party or celebration, and that the cards and dealing of them is generally meant as stage setting for a social event and good cheer.

2009-10-21
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim,
I think part of your response to Berit leaves your account open to other counterexamples of the same sort as poker. In your second paragraph, you claim that the main (typical, primary, immediate) goal of playing poker is to win, not just to have fun. Because so many people play for money, I suspect you are right that this is more common than the purely recreational sort. This latter certainly does happen, but probably not as often as serious poker. However, there are similar sorts of games that are far less likely to be played seriously. These might make Berit's point seem more problematic, since they cannot be avoided in the way you've described. Take, for example, the card game of bridge. My impression is that this is played largely by people who just want to socialize, but who would like to have an excuse for getting together regularly. Each pair of players wants to win, but only secondarily. What makes the evening successful is that everyone had a nice time together. My impression of this may be skewed, though, by the fairly non-competitive games of bridge that I've witnessed. I'm sure some people take it deadly seriously, and care very much about winning. Unlike poker, however, I think in this case that the serious players are less common than the non-serious players. Does this mean that the typical goal of a game of bridge is for everyone involved to have fun, like the goal of a party? If so, is bridge not a game?

I'd like to add another, non-card-based example. Have you ever encountered "role-playing games"? This is a technical term used by a certain sort of geek to refer to Dungeons and Dragons and other games of that sort. The rules for these games are very complicated, but I'll attempt a quick general summary. One player creates an imaginary setting, while the others invent characters for themselves to pretend to be. This is done in keeping with elaborate rules. Then the characters enter the setting, and explore it, also in keeping with elaborate rules. Often the creator of the setting will include some sort of invented goal for the players to accomplish (a "quest"), but a game need not include anything like this. In addition, a game of Dungeons and Dragons can be successful even if the intended goal is never accomplished. The point is for everyone involved to enjoy playing, to develop their characters, and maybe to get ideas for their next fantasy novel. Winning isn't even really possible in many such games, since the creator of the setting need not include a quest. Would you say that those games with a quest are really games, but those without are not? Or do they all count as games if the having of a quest is more typical than not?

And finally, I'm interested in your remark that 'game' is a vague concept. While I agree that there is nothing about being vague that entails a concept is a family resemblance concept, one might still think that family resemblance is a fine way to explain the vagueness of some concepts (like games). 'Bald' is typically not thought of as a family resemblance concept because it is thought to be a matter of one hair, more or less, at each step, all the way down the line. Whether this is the right way to think about baldness has been reasonably called into question, but insofar as we think of baldness as a simple case of (sorites-series-type) vagueness, this is the picture we have in mind. Games cannot be put into this sort of sequence: There is no single feature that varies incrementally along the line from clear cases of games to clear cases of non-games. Because of this disanalogy between the two kinds of vague concepts, we might expect to find two different explanations. So, while vagueness does not entail family resemblance, it may be that some sorts of vague concepts can usefully be thought of as family resemblance concepts. I'd hate for this to be dogma, of course, since any irrationally-held philosophical commitments are a barrier to our discovery of the truth. (Your experience in grad school sounds awful.) But still, this does seem like a promising way to account for a certain class of vague concepts. Or, would you object that this is just a way of giving up the project of finding analyses of concepts?

2009-10-21
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
"In sum: A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed not because we consider its success state intrinsically valuable or because it has pre-existing instrumental value, but because we value the pursuit."

Sort of a nitpick here. But it's hard to see how this definition rules in games that are designed to give people practice at real-world (i.e., game-independent) skills. For if a game is played to give people practice at a skill valued outside the game, then it appears the game's success state has "pre-existing instrumental value."

I think the right definition of "pre-existing" can probably fix up this problem, but I don't think you gave the right definition in your post. You said that if a success state tends to cause things to occur outside the game which people value, then if people play the game because of this, then the success state has pre-existing instrumental value, and the thing it's the success state of is a game only problematically if at all.

But can't there be things that really are central examples of the concept "game" and which are also played because they people skills they can use outside the game?

In fact, take chess. If someone is playing, not because they like chess in itself, but because they believe playing a lot of chess will make them smarter, does that mean that when this person sits down to a chess board, s/he's not playing a game?



2009-10-21
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone

I agree that all games share a common resemblance, but  what if any thought process one could articulate could also be understood in terms of a game?  In my paper, “The Frame(s) Problem and the Physical and Emotional basis of Human Cognition” (Acosta, 2006, pp. 151-165)[1], I state:

Although there are broad variations in outward appearance from game to game, all games share the same fundamental structure. On close examination it can be seen that all games, whether board games, parlor games, or sports, possess the same five defining characteristics, or Five Elements:

1. Field

2. Element(s )

3. Rule(s )

4. Objectives

5. Feedback Loop

A field may be defined as a static, non-moving bounded area of space, in or on which the elements move. (1)

Elements are objects that move, or are caused to move, along or within a field. (2)

Rules, i.e., the action component, are descriptions of how the elements are positioned in space, and move or are caused to move in relation to the field and relative to each other. (3)

The objective is the underlying rationale that initiates an action resulting in a gain or a loss, or which can be perceived in the more general positive and negative terms of a concept and its opposite. (4)

The feedback loop is any action or reaction to the prior movement of elements within the field over time. (5) (Note: when an object changes position along or within the field, we contextually perceive this movement in terms of a span or duration of time. Accordingly, the ―fourth dimension‖ of the external physical universe is implicitly understood to be the sixth operational element of the frame of reference of any game.)3

All games share this modified spatiotemporal configuration. The outward expression of each criterion may differ from game to game, but their underlying commonality remains. In fact, none of the above-mentioned essential characteristics is new. They have always inherently described the general form of any game. In the past, however, it was incorrectly assumed that rules alone govern every descriptive aspect of a game. As a result, all the perceptual classifications were inappropriately grouped together under this one-dimensional catch-all descriptive heading. In the strictest sense, the five core properties of all games, plus time, should not be lumped together under such an all-encompassing designation as ―rules, but instead, each principal game element should  properly be considered as a distinct contextual category of information within a single frame of reference.

With minimal effort this framework could be adopted to describe any complex thought process; number theory and language may be

good examples.

3 When physicists describe time as the fourth-dimension, they have in mind the three spatial dimensions of height, length, and width combined with time. By contrast, the term ―fourth dimension‖ as utilized in this paper is meant to convey the four macro properties of space, matter, motion, and time, also with time as the fourth but distinct element in the series. This convention is intended to emphasize the temporal dimension in a manner that is more in keeping with the way it is subjectively perceived.



    [1] http://www.theassc.org/files/assc/The%20Frame(s)%20Problem_0.pdf  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


2009-10-21
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Kris Rhodes
‘In fact, take chess. If someone is playing, not because they like chess in itself, but because they believe playing a lot of chess will make them smarter, does tha mean that when this person sits down to a chess board, s/he's not playing a game?’
                                    
No, she is definitely playing a game on my account. The success state is a certain configuration of pieces on the board. That configuration of pieces on the board isn’t intrinsically valuable nor has it any pre-existing instrumental value. She pursues it, according to the rules, because she values the pursuit. She values the pursuit because she believes it will make her smarter.

2009-10-21
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Helen Daly
[hi, Helen, my responses are in brackets.]
    
Jim,
I think part of your response to Berit leaves your account open to other counterexamples of the same sort as poker. In your second paragraph, you claim that the main (typical, primary, immediate) goal of playing poker is to win, not just to have fun. Because so many people play for money, I suspect you are right that this is more common than the purely recreational sort. This latter certainly does happen, but probably not as often as serious poker. However, there are similar sorts of games that are far less likely to be played seriously. These might make Berit's point seem more problematic, since they cannot be avoided in the way you've described. Take, for example, the card game of bridge. My impression is that this is played largely by people who just want to socialize, but who would like to have an excuse for getting together regularly. Each pair of players wants to win, but only secondarily.

[To the extent that they are playing bridge, the immediate goal of the activity is to achieve the success state defined as success by the rules, typically because they value the pursuit. The typical reason people value the pursuit is that they enjoy the pursuit. One of the reasons they enjoy it may well be that it places them in pleasant social proximity to others. That may matter to them more than winning the game; still the definition is squarely satisfied. It is in no way required that the players care a great deal about winning.

Thanks for the example of dungeons and dragons. I really don’t have a grip on what you are describing, I’m afraid, so I can’t say anything much about it.

About your interesting remarks on vagueness:

My chief  claim is that the doctrine of family resemblance is unmotivated by Wittgenstein’s examples, numbers and games, especially for the sorts of examples to which philosophers have deployed it (see my thread in philosophy of religion). Before we appeal to the doctrine to solve this or that problem, it seems to me we ought to have more reason to believe the doctrine is true. Of course if somebody came up with the doctrine in the first place in the context of a discussion on vagueness, and proposed it as a way of treating vague concepts, I wouldn’t wish to disqualify it a priori. I have more trouble with deployments of the doctrine that proceed on the supposition that Wittgenstein has given us good reasons to believe it. Also I wouldn’t wish to apply the doctrine to vague concepts to which we can give plausible definitions. These definitions tend to be illuminating.]

2009-10-24
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
I'm not clear on a couple of points here.

First, it is claimed that success states can be defined either as winning or, in case there is no win-state, successfully performing the activity which constitutes the game.  It is suggested that, if there is a win-state (such as checkmate), then success is winning the game.  This means that, according to the proposed definition of "game," a person who has played chess remarkably well for a number of years, but who has never won a game, has not successfully played chess.  I find this implausible.

If a child throws a ball against a wall and regards catching the ball as a success, then the child is playing a game.  Yet, the child would not say that he/she has won the game each time the ball is caught.  So here, there is no win-state, but success is defined in terms of successfully performing those actions which constitute the game.  This should go for chess as well, for successful play does not require winning the game.

Second, it is claimed that "If a child is bouncing a ball against the wall and catching it simply because she finds the activity pleasant, in exactly the way we find throwing a football back and forth pleasant, she is not playing a game."  This does not cohere with the previous point, which is that throwing a ball against a wall is a game if catching the ball is a successful performance of the activity.  Clearly, if a child enjoys throwing a ball against a wall and catching it, and the child intentionally performs this activity, then the catches may be regarded as successes.  Thus it is with playing with a yo-yo.  So it is not clear how we should draw a line between "pleasant pastimes" and "games."

The proposed definition of "game" then amounts to this:  playing a game is engaging in a rule-based activity for no purpose other than recreation or entertainment.  A similar definition was proposed in 1978 by Bernard Suits in a book entitled, The Grasshopper.  Problems with Suits' approach have been discussed relatively recently.  Counterexamples have been proposed, and Suits has also been accused of missing the point.  (See here and here.) I am afraid the same might be happening here.

Wittgenstein's point was not that we cannot draw a clear line around the concept of "game," nor was it that such lines could not be interesting or valuable.  It was rather that such lines do not precede our use of the expression "game."  In order to circumscribe the concept of "game," we must draw distinctions which have not already been made, and which do not underlie every meaningful and valid use of the concept.  We need not first have a clearly defined concept before we can meaningfully use an expression.  The uses of ordinary language expressions have developed in the absence of clear definitions which fully account for their use.  The proposed definition of "game" does not counter this point.

Finally, a proposed counterexample.  I wonder how well the proposed definition allows us to distinguish between games and telling jokes.  Jokes have success states according to arbitrary rules:  the correct ordering of the narrative.  The order could have been different.  The punchline could have been different.  The purpose of a joke is only to pursue good humor, and the successful telling of the joke is not otherwise of value.  Should we thus consider joke-telling a sort of game?

2009-10-24
Games and Family Resemblances
'In sum: A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills.   

 ...A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed not because we consider its success state intrinsically valuable or because it has pre-existing instrumental value, but because we value the pursuit.

I added: 'Notice that checkmate isn't success because we strive for it; rather, we strive for checkmate because, according to the rules, it is success. Games have the feature that the success state is in this way internal to the rules. The immediate object of a game is to accomplish the state the rules define as success because it is so defined.'

You write (my responses in brackets):
 
If a child throws a ball against a wall and regards catching the ball as a success, then the child is playing a game. 

[No, this is insufficient on my account. If the activity is a game, the child counts catching the ball as success because catching the ball is defined as success by an arbitrary rule. She is trying to catch the ball because catching it is defined as success by a rule. If she counts catching the ball as success simply because that’s what she’s trying to do, my definition isn’t satisfied. So the child may or may not be playing a game. Depends why catching the ball is regarded as success.]

Second, it is claimed that "If a child is bouncing a ball against the wall and catching it simply because she finds the activity pleasant, in exactly the way we find throwing a football back and forth pleasant, she is not playing a game."  This does not cohere with the previous point, which is that throwing a ball against a wall is a game if catching the ball is a successful performance of the activity.  Clearly, if a child enjoys throwing a ball against a wall and catching it, and the child intentionally performs this activity, then the catches may be regarded as successes.  Thus it is with playing with a yo-yo.  So it is not clear how we should draw a line between "pleasant pastimes" and "games."

[On my account the success state in games is defined as success by an arbitrary rule, which is why it is regarded as success. Success isn’t success because we strive for it; rather we strive for it because, according to the rules, it is success. If I try to balance a stick on my nose, to prove how well I’m coordinated, balancing the stick is success because I strive for it, not because a rule says it is. So I'm not playing a game. Suppose I strive to stand on my hands and succeed, to prove my strength. There is success but no game. Successful performance is insufficient for a game.]

The proposed definition of "game" then amounts to this:  playing a game is engaging in a rule-based activity for no purpose other than recreation or entertainment. 

[No, please check the definition.]

Finally, a proposed counterexample.  I wonder how well the proposed definition allows us to distinguish between games and telling jokes.  Jokes have success states according to arbitrary rules:  the correct ordering of the narrative.  The order could have been different.  The punchline could have been different.  The purpose of a joke is only to pursue good humor, and the successful telling of the joke is not otherwise of value.  Should we thus consider joke-telling a sort of game?

[No, the success state of a joke is making people laugh. That success state is sought because making people laugh in both intrinsically valuable and also can get us other things we want.
We don’t try to make people laugh because a rule says it’s success. ]

P.S. I just want to acknowledge something, in light of several preceding posts (e.g. Gaultiero's). I do agree that we often use 'game' so that it is a synomym of 'play.'
That is, any play is said to be playing a game. What is interesting to me is that, on reflection, we don't say that.

So my trying to stand on my hands, say, to prove my strength or for the recreation, isn't a game.  Trying to balance a stick on my nose to see if I can manage it
isn't playing a game. Throwing a ball back and forth for the exercise isn't playing a game.
Throwing it against the wall and catching it for the exercise isn't playing a game.  A child playing with dolls needn't be playing a game. A child
playing with electric trains isn't playing a game. And so on. 

However these are also sometimes said to be games. So I think we use the word 'game' loosely sometimes. Here there is a univocal sense of 'game.' It's what's played.
Anyone playing is playing a game. Not a family resemblance term.

But we also have a more narrow sense of 'game,' which I maintain I've captured. This just gets us a loose and more narrow sense of the word, not a family resemblance
concept.

2009-10-25
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Professor Stone,

I wouldn't say that a person must laugh for a joke to be successful, though if we are talking about stand-up comedy, then that's another story.  In ordinary social situations, it is enough that people enjoy the joke, though laughing is a common indicator that a joke was properly enjoyed.  In any case, I do not see how this could disqualify joke-telling.  The sharpening of skills is of intrinsic value, and you accept this as a reason for playing some games.  The success conditions of those games are as they are because of the skills they sharpen.

Also, I am not clear on the distinction between the following two definitions:

        (1)   A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully
               because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed for the recreation of participants
               or spectators, or to sharpen skills.


        (2)  Playing a game is engaging in a rule-based activity for no purpose other than recreation or entertainment.


Obviously I left out the part about sharpening skills, and I appreciate being corrected on that point.  However, I think you would like to draw some other distinction.  You suggest that, in (1), the rules are followed for no reason other than because they are the rules of the activity. In (2), you say, the rules are followed because the person wants to enjoy the activity.  What's the difference? 

You say that a child throwing a ball against a wall may or may not be playing a game, because the child may or may not be doing it in order to satisfy an arbitrary rule.  Is it possible to draw this distinction?  I don't see how you could.

Should we say that, if a child wants to play catch with a ball, and they perform the activity, then they are not following an arbitrary rule, and so not playing a game?

If I want to play bridge, and play bridge, am I for that reason not playing a game?

I also must say that I am surprised by your comment that "anyone playing is playing a game."  What counts as play?  If I act silly, not taking a situation seriously, I might be sternly told to stop playing.  Was I playing a game?

Finally, I am curious about the lack of response to my point about Wittgenstein.  Have I gotten Wittgenstein terribly wrong?  Or am I right in thinking that your analysis of games does not challenge his point about family resemblances?

It seems that you are willing to acknowledge that there are varying, loose, and perhaps overlapping uses of the expression "game."  Isn't that to concede Wittgenstein's point? 

Regards,

Jason
Oct. 24, 2009

2009-10-25
Games and Family Resemblances
Jason, if I may make a suggestion, if you click on my name you will find a list of my articles--including 'Games and Family Resemblances.' This was published in
Philosophical Investigations, a journal that specializes in Wittgenstein studies. I think we've reached the point of diminishing returns on my
trying to explain my definition  to you here in this thread, however if you click on the title in my list, there is the paper. It isn't long or hard to read, it includes
a number of alleged counter-examples and objections, and also quotations from Wittgenstein. I think the best hope of my communicating to you what I'm up to
is your simply reading it. As to your concern that I've missed W's point, I think we would more fruitfully discuss that after
you  grasp the definition, which does not require your agreeing with it. Thanks for your questions, Jim

2009-10-27
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim, thanks for starting this interesting thread! I just came across it, and have been trying to recapitulate developments. I also once published a paper in PI (back when Fred Mosedale was editing it, just before its transition to glossy-paper respectability, and--like yours--it was met with deafening silence. ("The Argument from the Hand", some time in 1978 or 79). Maybe I'll post an abstract of it one of those days, and let people tear into it.

First, let me state your position as I understand it:
  1. You want to show that a tenable and precise definition of what is and is not a game can be formulated, and you propose such a definition.
  2. You believe that if you fail to establish this, then we are left only with Wittgenstein's "family resemblance" as a way of understanding what is meant by saying that something is a "game" (and presumably a great many attempts to define philosophically important things, such as "knowledge", "intention", etc.).
  3. You believe that 2 is "pernicious".
My most immediate reaction is that if you convinced Wittgenstein that 1 is true, then he would no longer want to talk about language games. If games are exactly what you say they are, then there would no longer be a point, as far as Wittgenstein is concerned, to remarking that language is something like a game; instead of being an illuminating metaphor, this would merely be a flat taxonomic assertion about language. And that was very far from Wittgenstein's intention. So if we grant that 1 is correct, then you are making a point hostile to Wittgenstein's intent in his discussion of language. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as I have understood your intent correctly: you think that games are not the kind of thing Wittgenstein should be thinking of when he talks about language; talking about "language games" isn't useful to making his point. Games aren't games by virtue of some sort of "family resemblance", but can be defined quite precisely.

Having (I hope) established your intent, I can now turn to examine item 1. I admire the elegance of your formulation, and it's worth repeating:
A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed not because we consider its success state intrinsically valuable or because it has pre-existing instrumental value, but because we value the pursuit.
I think that's a good definition of "game". Where I disagree with you is that you think this is the only plausible or accurate definition, and that you (apparently) think that anything that might be called, at some point or another, a "game" and that does not fit this definition is somehow shady, somehow not really a game. I think this implies a mistaken notion of how definitions work in general, and also about the universality of this particular definition.

Dictionaries often contain a series of definitions. Some of these apply to different <em>senses</em> of the word, or homonyms that are spelled the same. That sort of case isn't germane, because in the case of English homonyms, we are dealing with two different words--even if they are spelled exactly the same. The cases germane to this dicsussion are those where multiple definitions are given because they illustrate the different ways in which the word is commonly used.
For example, the dictionary that I happen to have on my desk says:
game: ... 1. A way of amusing oneself : DIVERSION. 2. A set of rules completely specifying a competition, including the permissible actions of and information available to each participant...3. A competitive activity, as a sport, governed by certain rules <the game of badminton>...
Some games--such as chess--fit your definition very well. Perhaps that's because chess is one of the first examples that will come to a philosopher's mind when he turns to thinking about games. Other activities don't fit your definition well, so you are inclined to skepticism. Mr. Streitfeld advances the case of a child throwing a ball against the wall, and catching it. He is satisfied that this is a game, but you want to analyze the child's criteria for success:
If the activity is a game, the child counts catching the ball as success because catching the ball is defined as success by an arbitrary rule. She is trying to catch the ball because catching it is defined as success by a rule. If she counts catching the ball as success simply because that’s what she’s trying to do, my definition isn’t satisfied. So the child may or may not be playing a game. Depends why catching the ball is regarded as success.
This strikes me as labored. Perhaps, if we perform an intensive psychological inquisition into the child's ball-throwing behavior, we will get the kind of answer you want. But I think you have then gotten to the point where you are treating the definition as prescriptive: we investigate, and if the behavior doesn't conform to the definition, then we throw it out of consideration.

I wonder also about your treatment of boxing. You say that people are reluctant to call it a "game", and you are right. But there are rules of boxing--and not only about where one may strike a blow. There are rules about what constitutes winning a bout. I know almost nothing about boxing, but I know that a knockout (opponent is unconscious on the floor) constitutes a win. So perhaps a contender decides that because she does not have the endurance of her opponent, she will strive to win by achieving a knockout early in the fight. There is nothing personal in this; she beats her opponent into unconsciousness because the rules of the sport count this a success, not because she enjoys inflicting injury or has some grudge against her opponent. So it seems to me that boxing meets your criteria, but you do not want to call it a "game". Why doesn't the definition apply to boxing?

I once had a relevant argument with a friend, who writes computer game software, about what constitutes a game. I don't recall the entirety of his definition, but he was very certain that in order to be considered a game, the activity must have clear win or loss conditions. He did not think that so-called "role-playing games" (RPGs) that were then coming into vogue in their computerized form were really games. The reason he gave for this is that RPGs, particularly the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) such as Everquest, World of Warcraft and Aion can, theoretically go on forever. (In practice, they end when the player gets bored of them.) I disagreed (and still disagree) with his position. They're clearly games; I say it's a game, the other players say it's a game, the company that sells and runs the servers call it a game, why say it's not? (My programmer friend, at any rate, has come round to my position. I'm sure it had nothing to do with his new job, writing an MMORPG...)




2009-10-28
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Peter T. Cash
[Thank you for these comments. My responses are in brackets.]

First, let me state your position as I understand it:

   1. You want to show that a tenable and precise definition of what is and is not a game can be formulated, and you propose such a definition.
   2. You believe that if you fail to establish this, then we are left only with Wittgenstein's "family resemblance" as a way of understanding what is meant by saying that something is a "game" (and presumably a great many attempts to define philosophically important things, such as "knowledge", "intention", etc.).

[No, there may well be better definitions. Or it may be that ‘game’ is synonymous with ‘play.’]

   3. You believe that 2 is "pernicious".

[Well, I think it’s bad for philosophy and unmotivated. Mostly I’m mad at Ludwig.]

My most immediate reaction is that if you convinced Wittgenstein that 1 is true, then he would no longer want to talk about language games. If games are exactly what you say they are, then there would no longer be a point, as far as Wittgenstein is concerned, to remarking that language is something like a game; instead of being an illuminating metaphor, this would merely be a flat taxonomic assertion about language.

[Actually I think my account of games helps illumine part of the work that  LW’s ‘language-game’ metaphor does in his account of language. I write:

'Perhaps the theory sheds some light on the point of
Wittgenstein's treatment of language as a collection of "language
games." The Augustinian account of language acquisition assumes
that human creatures have the natural ability to think about
things, that is, to mentally represent objects in the world, plus
the ability to transfer the contents of thoughts to words. A
language, on this view, is essentially a system of sounds with
derived intentionality, used to communicate information about how
the world stands. As Wittgenstein observes: "Augustine
describes the learning of a human language as if... the child
could already think, only not yet speak." If language is made of
games, however, what counts as success in playing a language game
has no independent or external value or validity; succeeding is
wholly internal to the game, which is what defines success.
Consequently there is no natural intentionality we transfer to
words, the ability to think about things, that determines
linguistic success, the ability to talk about things. Augustine
is mistaken. The meanings of words can be determined only by
their use in a language game. And rules have no derived
intentionality to determine how games are played: the meaning of
a rule is determined by how it is applied, not the reverse. At
bottom, then, intentionality is determined wholly by practices,
what we actually say and do. If language is made of games then
intentionality is determined by behaviour, a consequence from
which Wittgenstein's most striking conclusions flow, for example,
that there can be no private language.']
'
I think that's a good definition of "game". Where I disagree with you is that you think this is the only plausible or accurate definition, and that you (apparently) think that anything that might be called, at some point or another, a "game" and that does not fit this definition is somehow shady, somehow not really a game. I think this implies a mistaken notion of how definitions work in general, and also about the universality of this particular definition.

[No, I don’t think that. I wrote above:

I just want to acknowledge something, in light of several preceding posts (e.g. Gaultiero's). I do agree that we often use 'game' so that it is a synomym of 'play.'
That is, any play is said to be playing a game. What is interesting to me is that, on reflection, we don't say that.

So my trying to stand on my hands, say, to prove my strength or for the recreation, isn't a game.  Trying to balance a stick on my nose to see if I can manage it
isn't playing a game. Throwing a ball back and forth for the exercise isn't playing a game.
Throwing it against the wall and catching it for the exercise isn't playing a game.  A child playing with dolls needn't be playing a game. A child
playing with electric trains isn't playing a game. And so on.

However these are also sometimes said to be games. So I think we use the word 'game' loosely sometimes. Here there is a univocal sense of 'game.' It's what's played.
Anyone playing is playing a game. Not a family resemblance term.

But we also have a more narrow sense of 'game,' which I maintain I've captured. This just gets us a loose and a more narrow sense of the word, not a family resemblance
concept. ]

...
Some games--such as chess--fit your definition very well. Perhaps that's because chess is one of the first examples that will come to a philosopher's mind when he turns to thinking about games. Other activities don't fit your definition well, so you are inclined to skepticism. Mr. Streitfeld advances the case of a child throwing a ball against the wall, and catching it. He is satisfied that this is a game, but you want to analyze the child's criteria for success:

    If the activity is a game, the child counts catching the ball as success because catching the ball is defined as success by an arbitrary rule. She is trying to catch the ball because catching it is defined as success by a rule. If she counts catching the ball as success simply because that’s what she’s trying to do, my definition isn’t satisfied. So the child may or may not be playing a game. Depends why catching the ball is regarded as success.

This strikes me as labored. Perhaps, if we perform an intensive psychological inquisition into the child's ball-throwing behavior, we will get the kind of answer you want. But I think you have then gotten to the point where you are treating the definition as prescriptive: we investigate, and if the behavior doesn't conform to the definition, then we throw it out of consideration.    

[Here’s what I actually write in my paper (quoted in the first post in this thread). I don’t think it’s prescriptive or labored:

Consider the child throwing a ball against a wall and catching it again. Where this activity is a game, the child is following a rule like: "Throw the ball against the wall and catch it, where success is catching the ball you've thrown against the wall." A feature of many children's games is that the activity which is the playing of the game is also what is defined by the rule as succeeding. As the activity is usually easy so is performing it successfully, one of the reasons such games provide so much pleasure for children and so little for adults. The rule for Ring around O' Roses is: "You and your colleagues hold hands and run in a circle chanting 'Ring a round o' Roses.... All fall down'; and all fall down roughly when you sing "All fall down', which is succeeding." Where the very activity that constitutes the game is defined as succeeding, there is success but no winning. Note, however, that in each case we could have adopted different definitions of success consistent with the remaining rules, e.g., "Success is catching the ball twenty times in a row" in the first case, and "Success is being the first (or second, or last) player to reach the ground" in the second.

    There are plenty of recreational activities that are merely pleasant pastimes, not games, e.g., playing with a yo-yo. Here there is no state that counts as success because rules define it. Either we simply enjoy performing the activity, e.g, throwing a football back and forth, or we are trying to do tricks and feats (with the yo-yo, say, or balancing a stick on one's nose) which count as success because we are trying to do them. If a child is bouncing a ball against the wall and catching it simply because she finds the activity pleasant, in exactly the way we find throwing a football back and forth pleasant, she is not playing a game.]

I wonder also about your treatment of boxing. You say that people are reluctant to call it a "game", and you are right. But there are rules of boxing--and not only about where one may strike a blow. There are rules about what constitutes winning a bout. I know almost nothing about boxing, but I know that a knockout (opponent is unconscious on the floor) constitutes a win. So perhaps a contender decides that because she does not have the endurance of her opponent, she will strive to win by achieving a knockout early in the fight. There is nothing personal in this; she beats her opponent into unconsciousness because the rules of the sport count this a success, not because she enjoys inflicting injury or has some grudge against her opponent. So it seems to me that boxing meets your criteria, but you do not want to call it a "game". Why doesn't the definition apply to boxing?

[Here’s what I wrote about boxing:

      This theory of games explains our ambivalence toward calling sports like boxing "games." Imagine the announcer at a prizefight shouting: "He's up, he's down, he's up again! What a terrific game this is, folks!" Yet boxing is included among the Olympic games. Our ambivalence isn't simply because boxing is violent. We have no trouble calling football, rugby, and lacrosse games. Our definition, recall, requires that a game involves a state which counts as success because it is so defined by a rule. Fighting, of course, isn't rule defined. And knocking out your opponent in a brawl is success because that is the goal of a brawl, not because a rule says so. Plainly we made brawling into a sport by crafting the rules of boxing to count as success pretty much what is success in a brawl, rules or no. When we view boxing as a game, we must think that a knockout counts as winning because the rule says so. A knockout would be losing if the rule was different. But we also recognize that the rule defines a knockout as winning the fight because it is winning the fight. Consequently we are ambivalent as to whether the success state counts as success because it is so defined by a rule.]

I want to thank everyone for their comments. I’m involved in two graduate seminars right now and the work load is becoming overwhelming, so I must regretfully leave this discussion. Thanks again to everyone. Much appreciated.

2009-10-28
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Thanks for the reply, Jim. Ok, you are trying to help Wittgenstein by clarifying something about games, rules and intentionality. At least I've got your general drift right. I think. I'm afraid that I don't completely follow how you are proposing to help Wittgenstein along...but then again I always found Ludwig himself hard to follow. I know people think there's a "private language argument" that he made somewhere in the Investigations...and I've found the spots where he talks about things that pertain to stuff about made-up words only we can understand, beetles in boxes, and so forth--but I sure haven't managed to discern an argument. Neither did some of my teachers, whom I respected (before they died, anyway). Maybe I just need to read the Investigations by candlelight again, as one of them advised.

I don't know if this is at all helpful, but the German word for game is "Spiel" (noun). The German word for play is "spielen" (verb). You can't quite say "play a game of chess" in German. You can say "Schach spielen" (play chess), or "eine Partie Schach spielen (the equivalent of "play a game of chess"). So in German, the English words for "game" and "play" are closely conjoined. As in English, "spielen" can carry with it the sense of whimsy that cover's children's aimless (to adults) play, or an activity that has distinct "rules of play" ("Spielregeln").
I’m involved in two graduate seminars right now and the work load is becoming overwhelming, so I must regretfully leave this discussion.
And I'm a software engineer for a brain-sucking international pharma corporation...but I'll leave you in peace anyway. 8^)


2009-10-30
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Professor Stone,

I've read your paper, and the questions I've posed still seem like legitimate queries.  However, since you suggested I look more closely at your paper, I will address some other problems I have found with it.

You refer to W.'s comment "don't think, but look!" as an injunction, when it was no such thing--as if W. universally condemned thought about games.  The Investigations are more commonly interpreted as a series of tasks which the reader is asked to undertake in order to recover from their (presumed) restricted view of language and meaning.  When W. asks us not to think, but to look, he is asking us to perform a specific task for a specific purpose.  By asking us to look at what we call games and consider what we see before defining a strict concept of a game, he asks us to consider all the sorts of things we call "games" without first deciding what defines a game as such.  He wants us to think about games, but not by analyzing them in terms of a single rule.  The point is that we can (and normally do) think about games without analyzing them in terms of an all-encompassing rule, and that if we do draw such a rule, it will (at best) only resemble the way we had previously thought of games, much in the way that a vaguely defined set of color patches only resembles a set of patches with clear lines of demarcation (PI, paragraph 76).

W. acknowledges (for example, in PI, paragraphs 68 and 69) that we can draw boundaries and so define "game" for any number of purposes.  So, again, while your rule for "games" is interesting and perhaps valuable, it does not challenge W.'s point, which is that the use of our concepts does not depend on the prior drawing of all-inclusive rules.  As he says (PI, paragraph 68):  "[The use of the word 'game'] 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."  We have rules for the word "game," but they do not cover every aspect of our use of that word, just as the rules of tennis do not cover every aspect of our behavior during that game.

So, again, if your position is that there are various, loose, and overlapping uses of the term "game," and that your definition circumscribes one such use, then you have not challenged Wittgenstein.  Perhaps we can say that many times we use the word "game" in a way which resembles the use you have described.  However, many times we do not, and your rule does not offer a clear or unproblematic application.

For example, in your paper, you claim that we follow rules for "walking" and "reading," but that nothing counts as doing these things successfully.  Yet, it is obvious when a child (or a person going through physical therapy after an accident) can walk successfully, and when somebody can read successfully.  W. discusses reading at length, pointing out that it is another concept which we employ without strict rules for its application (PI, paragraphs 156-171).  Perhaps you want to agree with W. that "reading" is a family resemblance concept.  In any case, I do not think you have successfully explained why walking and reading for pleasure are not games. 

So with the case of a child throwing a ball against a wall and catching it.  You say sometimes it is a game, but not others, depending on why the child is doing it.  Is the child following the rules in order to follow the rules, or is the child following the rules in order to throw and catch the ball?  Since throwing and catching the ball are the rules, it seems impossible to draw the distinction you require.  So how can we distinguish "pleasant pastimes" from "games"?

Also, if the motives for playing a game determine whether or not we are playing a game, then how could we say any particular activity is or is not a game without taking the motives of the players into account?  What goes for throwing a ball should also go for playing bridge.

Furthermore, I am still not clear why telling a specific joke (say, "why did the chicken cross the road?") should not qualify as a game by your rule.  The chicken joke has a specific form, and we know when it is or is not told correctly.  Yet, the punchline could have been different--and, indeed, countless variations on the punchline have been developed by children over the years.  Of course, we prefer jokes which have punchlines which are funny, because these bring about good humor and whatnot--but then, we prefer games which have success states which are enjoyable to achieve, and which bring about smiles and other good feelings, including laughter.  So there is no significant difference here that I can see.  We like achieving the arbitrary success states of telling jokes properly, and this is in part because it creates good humor and fellowship.  We like achieving the arbitrary success states of tennis for similar reasons. For, we would not play tennis if it did not bring about such things as:  camaraderie, physical health, advanced skill, social status, and so on.  Yet, these do not determine what counts as successful play, just as laughter does not determine what counts as telling the chicken joke correctly.

I'd also like to comment on another of your interpretations of Wittgenstein.  You write, summarizing what you take to be W.'s insight into the nature of language:  "If language is made of games, however, what counts as success in playing a language game has no independent or external value or validity; succeeding is wholly internal to the game, which is what defines success." 

Firstly, I do not think W. ever says that languages are made of games.  He notes similarities between languages and games, and adopts the term "language-game" to reflect the lack of specifity here.  I do not think he means to refer to all languages as games, or as collections of games.  More importantly, W. does not claim that all languages (or all games, as I noted earlier) are completely circumscribed by rules.  Quite the contrary.  The value of speaking a language is not limited to or wholly determined by what is deemed correct by the rules of that language.  So I do not think you have correctly summarized W.'s insight.

I apologize if I am wasting your or anybody else's time.  I hope I am not being too presumptive in supposing that my questions and observations might be of value.

Regards,

Jason
Oct. 25, 2009

2009-10-30
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone

Dear Jim,

The problem, as I see it, with

A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed not because we consider its success state intrinsically valuable or because it has pre-existing instrumental value, but because we value the pursuit.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

is that citing a game as an example of a notion that exhibited ‘family resemblance’ was part of a large project intended to throw some light on the notion of a ‘rule’, so that incorporating the notion of a rule into the proposed definition of a game involves an indirect petitio, so to speak.

A valuable point was made by Jason:

Wittgenstein's point was not that we cannot draw a clear line around the concept of "game," nor was it that such lines could not be interesting or valuable.  It was rather that such lines do not precede our use of the expression "game."  In order to circumscribe the concept of "game," we must draw distinctions which have not already been made, and which do not underlie every meaningful and valid use of the concept.  We need not first have a clearly defined concept before we can meaningfully use an expression.  The uses of ordinary language expressions have developed in the absence of clear definitions which fully account for their use.  The proposed definition of "game" does not counter this point.

much more clearly than my attempt many posts ago.  The point is not that ‘game’ can’t be defined, but that it didn’t need to be.    Most of the posts have been assessing your definition against a prior intuition we all have which did (does) not need anyone to have a definition in mind in order to operate perfectly well.

What seems to me to have been ‘pernicious’ about the later Wittgenstein (and, in particular, some of his more tiresome disciples) was the hostility to any systematic approach to language or to philosophy.   These two were assimilated, because of the Tractarian assumption that they amounted to one and the same thing.    There were, and are Wittgensteinians who do not share this hostility.

Nonetheless, to return to the point with which I began, there is a deep issue about the character of following a rule which writers have come to refer to as “rule-following considerations”.    Namely the uncertainty, or indeterminacy, or open-endedness, or lack of overt compulsion, or ….. of rule following.    I.e the issue which comes to a head in the Investigations

201. This was our paradox: no course of action could be determined

by a rule, because every course of action can be made out to

accord with the rule. The answer was: if everything can be made out

to accord with the rule, then it can also be made out to conflict with it.

And so there would be neither accord nor conflict here.

It can be seen that there is a misunderstanding here from the mere fact

that in the course of our argument we give one interpretation after

another; as if each one contented us at least for a moment, until we

thought of yet another standing behind it. What this shews is that

there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation, but which

is exhibited in what we call "obeying the rule" and "going against it"

in actual cases.

Hence there is an inclination to say: every action according to the

rule is an interpretation. But we ought to restrict the term "interpretation"

to the substitution of one expression of the rule for another.

 

There are several distinct approaches taken to this by interpreters of Wittgenstein who do not simply want to trade conundrums in order to confound any systematic understanding.    So Winch and others in that group saw this in neo-Kantian terms: that the apparently sceptical implications here could be refuted by transcendental-type arguments.   Stroud Kripke and others take a Humean line, that, whether he was right or not, what Wittgenstein intended was to insist that nothing but common habit underpins the following of rules.   Brandom takes a neo-Hegelian view that what starts out immanent becomes explicit when inferential roles are mapped.  There are others, I am sure.

I think Wittgenstein’s key insight in this connection is that ‘there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation’.   The pre-Stone understanding of ‘game’ was a case in point; and a definition which appeals to the notion of a rule, in order to explain what a game is, doesn’t quite succeed in showing that Wittgenstein was wrong about this.


2009-11-12
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
The condition of "success created by an arbitrary rule" seems to me the really insightful part of this treatment of games. It does really seem to hit on a key element that is missing if we regard games are merely "rule-defined activities". I thought I'd offer a couple of examples that seem to me to support this condition, and then an explanation of why the "typically played for recreation or to sharpen skills" condition seems unnecessary to me.

Ex.1. When children complain about chores or tasks they find boring (eg, picking up toys, brushing teeth, doing math problems) parents sometimes suggest to the children that they "make it a game". The activity itself may remain the same and be defined by the same rules -- the blocks are stacked in the bin, teeth are brushed, sums are computed -- and merely insisting that one "have fun" while doing these things will not in itself make it into a game. But adding an arbitrary rule that creates conditions where both success and failure are salient possibilities does make these chores into games. Tossing the blocks into the bin from a distance, or doing each math problem within the time it takes to hold one's breath will be games. "Brush only your front teeth" is not a game, since it's hard to see how one could fail at that, but "Brush only every other tooth" or "Brush your teeth while standing on one leg" represent a challenge, and so they become games. Likewise there is a difference between vacuuming the carpet (which is a chore) and vacuuming the carpet only turning the vacuum at 90 degree angles each time / in the time it takes to sing the national anthem / avoiding may be games.

Ex.2. Both children and adults often play with soccer balls or basketballs without actually playing games -- they may just pass the ball around, kick or throw it here and there without a lot of thought. They may insist they are not "playing a game", but are just "messing around" (as you say, these are "pasttimes"). However, it is the addition of an arbitrary rule that defines "success" which turns the play into a game. This arbitrary rule may develop in the midst of play purely by chance -- someone will accidentally kick the ball into the light pole, there will be a loud clang, and then there will be a brief game of "kick the ball into the light pole so that it makes a loud clang".

Ex.3. Suppose a prosecutor puts little effort into his cases and gets few convictions, but always mounts a convincing case against defendants whose last names begin with whatever letter appears first in the headline of that morning's newspaper and they are convicted. We may accuse him of playing a game, because the condition is arbitrary. But suppose that he believes that the headline of the morning's newspaper is a prophetic message that reveals to him the first letter of the last name of any defendants who are guilty. Now he's no longer playing a game, because the rule connects to other beliefs and values.

Do those seem in line with what you are saying?

If so, then I'm not certain anything is added in the definition by the condition "typically played for recreation... or to sharpen skills". It seems as though with "recreation" you are trying to exclude from games activities done with a serious purpose or with some intrinsic or instrumental value (and then letting a few of these under cover of "sharpening skills"), and perhaps getting across that games are generally done for someone's entertainment or interest (it is a strike against a game to say that it is boring).

But aren't most of these elements already covered by the previous condition of an arbitrary rule for success? At least, it seems to me like specifying that the rule must be "arbitrary" is sufficient to eliminate activities defined entirely by rules that have serious purposes or instrinsic values . . . and typically it is the possibility of success or failure which makes an activity entertaining or amusing or interesting. At least, it is hard for me at the moment to think of a rule-defined activity with an arbitrary rule for success/failure which nonetheless fails to be a game because it fails to be recreational. Someone mentioned the use of rock-paper-scissors as a decision procedure, which is not typically recreational (or skill-building), but it is my intuition that we would still call that a game.

Suppose in the midst of a war that bomber pilots begin to compete to see how close they can get their bombs to land on the south-east corners of the buildings they are bombing. I would call this a game. But I wouldn't say that this is a recreational activity, or that the purpose is building skills. The same would apply if the operators of the guillotines during the Reign of Terror attempted to complete each beheading within the time it look to sing "La Marseillaise". We would say they were playing a very morbid game, but we would not say they were engaged in recreation or sharpening skills.

(And I'm right that we can accept the "arbitrary rule for success" condition without the "recreation" condition, then I think we have left room for "language games" as well).

2009-11-12
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
I am new to this list.  I am a psychologist with experience in discourse analysis.  I am interested in applying Wittgenstein's concept of the language-game empirically, in discourse analysis.  Why does discussion of this concept always have to be done within the confines of an armchair?  Why can't we do what Wittgenstein himself advised:  go out and see how language is actually used?  I'm familiar with Wittgenstein also having had a jaunticed view of Psychology (in the PI he said that in psychology "problem and method pass each other by), but at the time he wrote Psychology was very different than it is now. 
Priscilla Hill

2009-11-12
Games and Family Resemblances
Hi, Priscilla, No reason at all why this discussion must be done from an armchair. When it comes to empirical research, Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom!

My point is that LW's arguments for family resemblance aren't persuasive. No one mentions his example of numbers; the example of games carries
the burden. He writes:

'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.'

Note that he isn't interested principally in concepts. His point is that games have nothing in common in virtue of which they are games. Indeed, they have nothing interesting in
common at all.

This is how he is widely understood. He isn't chiefly talking about concepts but about actual phenomena in the world. Perhaps it reflects this way on concepts--
as games or numbers or... have nothing in common in virtue of which they are games (or numbers or...), we can't very well conceptualize them in terms
of that feature. So Hillary Putnam writes:

Even at the ordinary-language level, it is strange to say that all games "have something in common," namely, being games. For some games involve winning and losing, others ("Ring a Ring o'Roses") do not; some games are played for the amusement of the players, others (gladatorial games) are not; some games have more than one player, others do not; and so on. In the same way, when we examine closely all the cases in which we would say that someone has "referred to" something...., we do not find any one relation between the word and the thing referred to.

                Hilary Putnam, 1988

The phenomena themselves lack a commonality. This is an interesting thesis, plainly. And a response which says 'Well, Ludwig didn't mean to deny that games
share a common feature in virtue of which they are games, only that that isn't how our concept works; so if you come up with the feature, it wasn't needed'
conflicts with what he actually wrote and also is a good deal less interesting.

My response to LW is that one can, in the case of games, find a plausible and informative commonalility in virtue of which games are games. And I think it can be
done in other cases where philosophers have invoked Family Resemblances. So LW didn't provide sufficient motivation for the Doctrine. Maybe someone
else can, but on the face of things the Doctrine seems pretty doubtful for the cases W had in mind. I think we can do what he said we couldn't.

I suppose if you wish to apply W's concept of a 'language-game' empirically it would be a good idea to get clear on it first. Is it a metaphor or what?
If he's wrong about games, is he right about language games? What concept will you actually apply?

Thanks, Jim









2009-11-12
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jeff Watson
Very helpful. Here's what I write in my paper.

   ' Wittgenstein writes:
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.  You might as well say: "Something runs through the whole thread-- namely the continuous overlapping of those fibres".

But a game, on our account, is typically played for the recreation of participants or spectators or to sharpen skills. Isn't this the sort of disjunctive definition Wittgenstein explicitly rejects? Well, no. First, all games must share the feature of being rule-defined activities involving a state that counts as performing the activity successfully because an arbitrary rule so defines it. Plainly Wittgenstein has in mind a more radical disjunction, where there is no important commonality and games share only the disjunction of different properties. Second, the disjuncts themselves have something in common, namely, they reflect the fact that success in games is created by an arbitrary rule. We do not typically play a game because we consider its success state intrinsically valuable, nor do we play it because its success state has pre-existing causal connections to other states we value. We create a rule-defined success state and pursue it, not because it has intrinsic value or pre-existing instrumental value, but because we value the pursuit.'
  .'
I do think the definition I give that is most plausible is this:

In sum: A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed not because we consider its success state intrinsically valuable or because it has pre-existing instrumental value, but because we value the pursuit.'

But I also think the disjunction of motives matters ( played for the recreation of participants or spectators or to sharpen skills). The two definitions are meant to
operate in tandem. I think the bomber pilots you mention are involved in a kind of recreation--that's a plausible motive, given your description. Same for the executioners.

I wrote this:

'Then why not omit the disjunctive condition from the definition? If we lived in a world where legal suits were settled by chess, believing that God would allow only the innocent party to checkmate, and this was the only venue for chess, we would not consider chess a game nor would we consider such endeavours play. In fact, games are not essentially games, a feature our theory preserves.'

We might imagine that this means of settling suits, the rules and so on, were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Of course we would say that chess is LIKE a game. I'm after checkmate,
not because I value the pursuit, but because it proves my innocence. Note though that success is defined by God's arbitrary rule (he could just as well have made it taking
all your opponents pieces except his king).

Thanks, Jim

2009-11-16
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone

Jim, I am not so much interested in defining the concept of language game (whether it involves family resemblances or not) as to define how meaning is a function of language game usage.  W. said that the meaning of a word is its use in a language (language game).  So when one is doing discourse analysis the language-game context of this discourse is important.  Most discourse analysis is decontextualized and suffers from a behavioristic/positivistic bias.  It takes great pains to focus on what W. would say is the surface structure of language.  On the one hand W. said that we can go out and see how language is actually used and its meaning will be clear to us, i.e., we can read off rules from its surface structure.  But on the other hand he emphasized deep structure meanings in language which are harder to access; he used an analogy here of its being harder for a swimmer to dive down to the depths than to stay on the surface.

My work involves an attempt to integrate aspects of Wittgenstein’s work with the work of George Lakoff (a linguist) and Mark Johnson (a philosopher) in their 1980 book, “Metaphors we Live By” and especially their 1999 book, “Philosophy in the Flesh:  The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought.”  In this latter book (which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in language and thought) L&J present their Conceptual Metaphor Theory as the basis of abstract thought and language.  So I am interested in metaphor theory in a deep and basic way and I believe that it is compatible with Wittgenstein’s thinking in the PI, although I haven’t seen this connection made by others.  [Also, W. had an embodied approach as do L & J.  I love it when W. said (P. 223, PI):  “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.”]

In doing what I am trying to do it is necessary to be conversant with literatures in philosophy, linguistics and psychology and they still don’t converge in basic ways I am interested in.  As I said, I am new to this list and I don’t know if an interdisciplinary approach fits with it.

Priscilla Hill


2009-11-17
Games and Family Resemblances
Hi Priscilla,  I am very interested in your research.  I too have read L&J's first book but not the second which I will look for after your recommendation.  Here is another quote for you to consider:

These concepts: proposition, language, thought, world, stand in line one behind the other, each equivalent to each (PI, #96).

The metaphorical consequences of this are telling but when you think through Wittgenstein's approach to language you end up realizing that "concepts" and "propositions" are part of the problem - thinking in terms of them instead of words and speech acts is to be too theoretical.  The beauty of language games as "objects of comparison" or "models" (rather than as atoms of language) is that they reveal the unity of language, people, place and time.


2009-11-19
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Professor Stone,

You say, "a response which says 'Well, Ludwig didn't mean to deny that games share a common feature in virtue of which they are games, only that that isn't how our concept works; so if you come up with the feature, it wasn't needed' conflicts with what he actually wrote and also is a good deal less interesting."

I'm curious about who has offered the response you suggest.  It looks like such an obviously implausible and uninformed interpretation of Wittgenstein, I am surprised that it has even been suggested.  Of course, there are plenty of conflicting and questionable interpretations of W. in the literature, even among those published in reputable journals specializing in Wittgenstein.  (As I've already indicated, I think your interpretation of W. is an example.)  But the particular response you have indicated seems highly unlikely.  Any pointers would be appreciated.

Thanks,

Jason
Nov. 14, 2009

P.S.  I suppose it is commonly said that Wittgenstein's notion of family resemblance rests on the examples of games and numbers, but one can find many other examples of its application in his Philosophical Investigations:  for example, with respect to knowing/understanding (paragraphs 143-155), reading (paragraphs 156 - 171), and being guided (172 - 180).  Wittgenstein may not offer these arguments to substantiate his notion of family resemblance, but they are clearly applications of that notion, and so any criticism of that notion should also take such applications into account.  Merely criticizing his discussion of games (or numbers) is not enough.  Though, for reasons I've already discussed in detail, I think your criticism of his discussion of games is unsuccessful.

2009-11-19
Games and Family Resemblances
Hi Max,  Thanks for your response.  I hope you do get Lakoff&Johnson's (1999) book, "Philosophy in the Flesh:  The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought (PIF)".  I guarantee it will blow your mind.  I could cite several prominent scholars who have had conversion experiences after reading it.  But I want to cite just one because it will bring me back to Wittgenstein and his concept of intentionality.  [L & J don't cite Wittgenstein in PIF but Lakoff uses Wittgenstein's theory of family resemblances in his 1987 book, WFDT.]  Raymond Gibbs is one of the relatively few psychologists who seem to understand L & J's theories well.  Gibbs published a book in 1999 (at the same time PIF came out), called, "Intentions in the Experience of Meaning."  Then in 2005 Gibbs published a book called "Embodiment and Cognitive Science", which is all full of L & J stuff.  In this later book Gibbs barely mentions intentionality/intentions.  ---But to get back to Wittgenstein:

I am interested in contrasting Wittgenstein's use theory of meaning with theories of meaning (such as Gibbs' earlier theory, above) which see intentionality as playing a central role in meaning:  the simplistic idea that meaning something and intending something are equivalent.  Of course Wittgenstein, in his use theory of meaning stressed the idea that meaning is not a mental accompaniment (although in PI 308 he also said that he was not thereby denying mental processes).   A major concern of Wittgenstein in his later work was to counter the idea of the objectification of meaning:  He wanted to show that meaning is not a picture of exterior physical reality nor of interior psychological reality (intentions, etc.).  I read recently that if you want to understand Wittgenstein's later theories you have to understand Frege and Wittgenstein's objections to him.  I also read that you need to get rid of (Fregean??) ideas of Propositions and of Intentions.  Propositions picture external reality and Intentions picture internal/psychological reality.  Wittgenstein's takes an ontological stance against objective realism which L & J do also in PIF.  But L & J go further than Wittgenstein by formulating  their theory of embodied realism involving conceptual metaphors.  I believe that this theory is compatible with Wittgenstein's later thinking.

If my writing is too convoluted for this list, someone please tell me.  Also I would appreciate having any inaccuracies in my statements pointed out to me.  I know I am coming from a different place than most people here, especially being a psychologist rather than a philosopher. 

Priscilla Hill 

   

2009-11-24
Games and Family Resemblances
Hi Priscilla,

I was about to reply in further detail to your comments when I realised that this deserves a thread of its own and that you should start it based upon your research focus if you want to involve more discussion around this topic.  Otherwise you can contact me at max_bini@hotmail.com .

All the best,

Max

2009-11-28
Games and Family Resemblances
Hi Max,

Thanks so much for your response and I will contact your individually, because I see that my post didn't fit well with the ongoing thread. 

My Best,
Priscilla

2009-11-30
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone

I don't think Wittgenstein is trying to say that you cannot define games. That would indeed seem false: for what can stop us from giving a definition? We can carve reality more or less as we like, and I guess one measure of a successful definition would be its usefulness. Perhaps, if one were to conduct a sociological study about games, one would need such a definition. It seems more plausible to take Wittgenstein as saying that the ability to use the concept game effectively typically does not depend on knowing of, accepting, or using any such definition.
What would you say about PI §83:
“Doesn't the analogy between language and games throw light here? We can easily imagine people amusing themselves in a field by playing with a ball so as to start various existing games, but playing many without finishing them and in between throwing the ball aimlessly into the air, chasing one another with the ball and bombarding one another for a joke and so on. And now someone says: The whole time they are playing a ball-game and following definite rules at every throw.
And is there not also the case where we play and--make up the rules as we go along? And there is even one where we alter them--as we go along.”


2009-11-30
Games and Family Resemblances
I wrote this earlier in the thread:

'My point is that LW's arguments for family resemblance aren't persuasive. No one mentions his example of numbers; the example of games carries
the burden. He writes:

'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.'

Note that he isn't interested principally in concepts. His point is that games have nothing in common in virtue of which they are games. Indeed, they have nothing interesting in
common at all.

This is how he is widely understood. He isn't chiefly talking about concepts but about actual phenomena in the world. Perhaps it reflects this way on concepts--
as games or numbers or... have nothing in common in virtue of which they are games (or numbers or...), we can't very well conceptualize them in terms
of that feature. So Hillary Putnam writes:

Even at the ordinary-language level, it is strange to say that all games "have something in common," namely, being games. For some games involve winning and losing, others ("Ring a Ring o'Roses") do not; some games are played for the amusement of the players, others (gladatorial games) are not; some games have more than one player, others do not; and so on. In the same way, when we examine closely all the cases in which we would say that someone has "referred to" something...., we do not find any one relation between the word and the thing referred to.

                Hilary Putnam, 1988

The phenomena themselves lack a commonality. This is an interesting thesis, plainly. And a response which says 'Well, Ludwig didn't mean to deny that games
share a common feature in virtue of which they are games, only that that isn't how our concept works; so if you come up with the feature, it wasn't needed'
conflicts with what he actually wrote and also is a good deal less interesting.

My response to LW is that one can, in the case of games, find a plausible and informative commonalility in virtue of which games are games. And I think it can be
done in other cases where philosophers have invoked Family Resemblances. So LW didn't provide sufficient motivation for the Doctrine. Maybe someone
else can, but on the face of things the Doctrine seems pretty doubtful for the cases W had in mind. I think we can do what he said we couldn't.'

................................

On the face of things, W is a sort of nominalist. If we say that he is merely saying we don't need a definition to use these terms effectively,
well, it conflicts with what he says and it's a good deal less interesting. I'm more interested in the more interesting version of W.
Also this is sort of standard.  A thesis is promulgated in a strong and interesting form until it is effectively challenged--then it turns out
W didn't say it. I'm not a big fan of 'cryptic.'

2009-11-30
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
You say that "a response which says 'Well, Ludwig didn't mean to deny that games share a common feature in virtue of which they are games, only that that isn't how our concept works; so if you come up with the feature, it wasn't needed' conflicts with what he actually wrote and also is a good deal less interesting."

It is certainly very widely accepted that W had a thesis about games, and that the thesis was that they don't all share a common feature in virtue of which they are games. I don't object to the possibility of reading W in this way. But is it the only way for what he says to be interesting?
I agree with you that W was interested in games, but this is not to say that this interest for him was not at the same time an interest in the concept game. He was after all a philosopher of language, and a sharp distinction between an investigation of games and an investigation of the concept game seems a bit anachronistic--at least in the following sense: it would be to attempt to make sense of W's claims by placing them in a different philocophical context.
So I guess part of the problem is how much of W's meta-philosophy we think is needed in order to understand W's claims about games.
Also, it may be that given our current philosophical and meta-philosophical beliefs, it seems to us that the only way to be interested in games (and to say somethig philosophically interesting about games) is to come up with some thesis about games.  But--and this is another related quesiton--how does that sit with W's claim that there are no theses in philosophy? At least on the face of it, it doesn't. Perhaps we shouldn't take W's meta-philosophy seriously. But then I think that this will diminish our claim that we are trying to interpret W in the first place.

2009-11-30
Games and Family Resemblances
Well, he says there is no feature games share in common in virtue of which they are games.  Same goes for numbers and probably
a lot of other interesting stuff. That's false, I believe I've shown, at least for games, and there's no reason to believe it for anything else.
Nobody takes him seriously about numbers.
The weaker thesis you mention is less interesting
than the strong thesis, which entails the weak thesis. The strong thesis
is what the Doctrine of Family Resemblance has been taken to mean, generally.
It has had a pernicious effect in some fields of study, I believe( e.g. religious studies).
If people are interested in the weaker thesis, that's fine with me.
As long as we all agree that the weaker thesis is consistent with games, numbers,
religions, reference, just acts, and so on, all the members of each of these classes
sharing a common feature in virtue of which they are games, numbers, religions...
I'm less interested in interpreting W. than in seeing if what he says, and is widely taken to mean,
is true.


2009-11-30
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
I didn't mention a weaker thesis. I was pointing out that there are ways to read W without ascribing any such theses to him. I personally find such readings more fruitful, but that doen't commit anyone else. I think it is a shame that people dont' take parts of W seriously. There seem to be a lot to learn from him by taking him more seriously.

But like you, I'm also not here interested in interpreting W. I was interested in YOUR thesis about games. I asked you about the example that W gives in PI 83. Given your thesis, what would you say about such cases? - And int he same context, it might be also interesting to consider games people paly with their pets, or with little kids, before those fully master the following of rules. Would you say that those involved in such games are not palying a game? Would you say that they are playing a variety of games? How would you draw the line in such cases between playing the same game and playing a differnt game?

There is also another kind of example of games children play with dolls: putting them to sleep, being angry at them, etc... In such cases, the idea of "success" seem to be less relevnat, or at least, if at all, it seems to be relevant in a differnt way. but I'm not sure, adn I was interested in what you have to say.

2009-12-01
Games and Family Resemblances
'It seems more plausible to take Wittgenstein as saying that the ability to use the concept game effectively typically does not depend on knowing of, accepting, or using any such definition.'

I thought this was a 'weak' thesis ( it's come up several times already in this thread, by the way) because it doesn't entail the stronger thesis that there is only a family resemblance between games (or whatever), but is entailed by it. If indeed there is a commonality between games  (or whatever), it suggests the possibility that we are actually aware of that commonality and that it directs our linguistic usage, even though we have a good deal of trouble expressing it in a definition. Some evidence for that is that we can tell that an alleged commonality is real because it explains and illumines linguistic usage. It seems to me that we sometimes may have inchoate theories implicit in our concepts. The philosopher seems to be telling us something we already knew, it rings a bell, it explains distinctions we make naturally without knowing quite why. You recall Plato's charming theory that we've all seen the forms, that they still operate linguistically, but we 'forgot' them in the trauma of being born. The job of the philosopher is to help us recollect. Perhaps the forms are contained in our linguistic heritage, inchoate but operative,
and the philosopher helps us say explicitly what has been motivating linguistic usage all along.

I'm away from home and don't have  my copy of the Investigations, so I can't say much about 83, except that I don't see it creating difficulties. As to your examples, a good deal of what I say earlier in this thread pertains to them, even mentions them, as does my short paper. thanks

2009-12-01
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim,

You say, "If we say that he is merely saying we don't need a definition to use these terms effectively, well, it conflicts with what he says and it's a good deal less interesting."

Wittgenstein quite clearly says we do not need a definition which accounts for every legitimate use of the term "game."  Consider these excerpts:

PI, 68:  "For how is the concept of a game bounded?  What still counts as a game and what no longer does?  Can you give the boundary?  No.  You can draw one; for none has so far been drawn.  (But that never troubled you before when you used the word 'game.')"

PI, 69:  "How should we explain to someone what a game is?  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?--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 the special purpose.)"

Wittgenstein says that one can draw a definition for the concept of game, but that such a definition was not needed for the concept to be useful.

He makes the same point with the concept of "plants":  "When I give the description: 'The ground was covered with plants'--do you want to say I don't know what I am talking about until I can give a definition of a plant?" (PI, 70)

Now, it may very well be that all games do have something in common--but having such a feature is not what makes them games.  It would be a remarkable coincidence if everything we called a game had one feature in common which was not shared by anything else.  For we do not appeal to such a feature when we apply or judge applications of the term "game."  That is, unless we are using a strict definition for a special purpose, as W. notes. 

So, an interpretation that says "Well, Ludwig didn't mean to deny that games share a common feature in virtue of which they are games, only that that isn't how our concept works; so if you come up with the feature, it wasn't needed"--such an interpretation is surely false.  Wittgenstein does deny that all games share a common feature by virtue of which they are games.  But this does not mean that games cannot share a common feature.  So, pointing out a common feature does not in any way challenge Wittgenstein's point.

It may be that Wittgenstein's view is not as interesting as you would like it to be.  But it seems clear that he does not say what you attribute to him.  While you may be promoting a common misinterpretation of W., I am suspicious of your claim that it is "standard."

Regards,

Jason
Nov. 30, 2009

2009-12-01
Games and Family Resemblances

You say, "If we say that he is merely saying we don't need a definition to use these terms effectively, well, it conflicts with what he says and it's a good deal less interesting."

Wittgenstein quite clearly says we do not need a definition which accounts for every legitimate use of the term "game."

................................

Kindly note the word 'merely.'

2009-12-01
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
This is your definition.
"A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills."

Among other things, there is a question about the application of that definition. And I have a question about the application, because I'm not sure I understand how we should use it. One thing you say that seems relevant is that you view some recreational activities, like playing with toys, as simply play. I'm not sure how you applied your definition in this case. It at least appears as if playing with toys fall under the definition. That is, my quesion is: How will I be able to tell, given your definition, whether some activity is or is not a game?  

2009-12-04
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Jim,

I don't think I have misunderstood you.  Maybe we should go over the basics, to make sure there is no confusion.

W. takes the notion of family resemblance to indicate sets which are not bound together by a common element, but which are grouped according to various overlapping similarities.  Our notions of such sets are family resemblance concepts, which are employed in the absence of definitions which fully account for their use.  Yet, this does not discount the possibility of drawing definitions to suit our needs.  As far as interpreting W. goes, we seem to agree on this much, I think.

It is important to dwell for a moment on what constitutes the grouping of a family resemblance set.  The grouping is something we do.  It does not precede our use of the family resemblance concept.  Rather, it is constituted by our use of that concept.  Family resemblance sets are grouped by application of the concepts which indicate them.  The concepts determine the sets.  Thus, Wittgenstein regards games as a family resemblance set because the concept of games is a family resemblance concept. 

If you were to turn it around and claim that "game" is a family resemblance concept because the set of all games lacks a common, defining ingredient, it would mean the set of all games existed independently of our categorization, as if there were a definable set of all games and we just didn't know its boundaries.  Yet, as Wittgenstein says, our inability to give a definition for "game" is not a result of our ignorance.  It is a result of the fact that no definition has been given.  (See the quotes I offered in my last post.)  We cannot isolate the set of all games because no well-defined set exists as such.  But, as W. says, we can define such a set for a special purpose.  The application of the concept "game" is not realized in the world ahead of time.  We can thus disagree about how to apply the concept of "games" without being able to appeal to a rule to decide who is right--again, not out of ignorance, but because the concept is not completely circumscribed by rules.

You seem to take it as trivial that W. claims we can employ concepts in the absence of all-encompassing definitions.  Yet, if you will grant this trivial point, Wittgenstein's conclusion seems to follow.   That is, unless you suppose that our employment of concepts mysteriously matches with independent rules for their application, even if we do not know of them; in which case, if we do disagree on the application of a concept, there is a sense in which one of us is right, and the other is wrong, even though we have no means of knowing it.  Wittgenstein clearly does not embrace such a view, and neither do I.  There is no basis for regarding the set of all games apart from the rules we use to regard that set.  If our rules are not all-encompassing, then the set of games is a family resemblance set.

Your objection is that there really is a common feature for all games, and that we have such a feature in mind (somehow, perhaps unconsciously) when we talk about games.  However, this is highly unlikely, considering the way we learn how to use the term "games."  Even if there is a common feature, such a feature is not obviously what defines games as such.  It seems more likely that such a feature would be wholly coincidental, since we do not appeal to it and are so far unaware of it, despite our complex use of the term "game."  (Consider why it is that W. constantly reminds us to look at how our language is used and learned.)  Thus, W. predicts that no such feature is to be found.  But to overcome W., it is not enough to suggest a common feature shared by all games.  You would rather have to find a feature which defined games as such.  That is, you would have to show that the feature in question was operant in our conceptualization of games.  To undermine the notion of family resemblance (as it applies to games), you would have to show that our grouping together of games relies on some recognition of that shared feature.

Of course, even if you were to succeed in demonstrating that "game" is not a family resemblance concept (and I wish you luck on that quest, though I do not expect you will succeed), you will not have undermined the notion of family resemblance.  For the notion has many other applications, both in and apart from Wittgenstein's Investigations.

Regards,

Jason
Dec. 1, 2009


2009-12-04
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone

I thought I would come back even though no one seemed to like what I wrote before.   

Isn’t play important to the notion of a game?   ‘Recreation’, in Jim’s definition, does not seem to me to be the same thing – this is what adults do to relax, while play, for ethologists, is an important descriptive notion which characterises the behaviour, particularly of the young, of many advanced mammals – part of their ‘natural history’, in W’s phrase.   Not only does it seem to have an important role as a way to practice (in the sense of ‘rehearse’) adult activity, but it is also not serious, i.e. it involves pretending.

Wittgenstein’s apparent levity in foregrounding the notion of a game in relation to language is one reason for the wider philosophical establishment’s hostility.   He seems to mock what he did in the Tractatus and, by extension, what most of that establishment still do: it isn’t really serious.

In fact his points are more deeply serious than they first appear.   A creature which can pretend is capable of irreducibly intentional action, interpretation and appreciation: making a distinction between appearance and reality.   A naturalistic, biologically situated, notion of intentionality, with non-human evolutionary precursors, is clearly tied in with the notion of play, and, hence that of a game.   When you really pursue the notion of a rule (such as is followed in playing a game, Jim concedes) you find that you follow it ‘blindly’.   Pursue it in another vein (as the Tortoise does with Achilles) and it is capable of indefinite elaboration, but to no useful end.  In another, Kripkean, vein its pursuit leads nowhere: to a sort of happenstance of social agreement for which there seems to be no possible underlying explanation.    Nonetheless, there are rules, despite their apparently bucking the Quinean ‘no entity without identity’ slogan.

Against this background, one can doubt the seriousness of the sort of logico-ontologico-philosophical research which receives funding because it may help machines to a simulacrum of intelligence (in, e.g. games consoles).   Such machines, I suspect will never play, even if using them can be a game.   Is a chess-playing programme which makes a move which is a feint actually pretending or making a sequence of moves appropriately classified as ‘called for in circumstances such as these’ in its taxonomy of successful stratagems?  Is it playing, or rather, is it serious when it makes any move?   Kasparov was serious when he was playing, of course.   You can do that with a game.


2009-12-05
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Roger Harris
'I propose the following theory: A game is a rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule, an activity typically performed for the recreation of participants or spectators, or to sharpen skills. This is what all and only games share in virtue of which they are games; also, I believe this account pretty well captures our ordinary concept of games. To put the matter roughly, games are rule-defined play, where success is created by an arbitrary rule.'

I am sympathetic to your comments about play, but I think we count as 'games' some activities that aren't played, like war games.
So I make no central reference to play in my account.

2009-12-05
Games and Family Resemblances
'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.'

Now suppose we take Ludwig’s advice and look, and we find something common to all games, and only to games, and it seems intuitive that this is what makes them games.
That is, it seems to capture what we have in mind when we talk about games, and it also explains linguistic usage, it illumines intuitions we have about what is and isn’t a game in odd cases, so that now it seems we can say clearly why what we think isn’t a game isn’t a game. And we can’t find any plausible counterexamples.

In short, we appear to see what he says we won’t see. Then on the face of things, what Wittgenstein says at this point is false. Unless nothing will be allowed to count against anything he says.

Now suppose someone says this. What we appear to see isn’t what we would expect to see if the concept of a game is a family resemblance concept. For such a concept operates without any awareness of a commonality.  Yet if there is one and it isn’t all that hard to find, we would almost certainly in some way be aware of it and it would guide our concept. That is, it is most implausible that our concept of a game is a family resemblance concept and there is, coincidentally, a feature that all and only games share in virtue of which they are games.

Suppose this is correct.. Then, as on the face of things we would have good reason to think Wittgenstein is mistaken that we can’t find such a commonality, because we seem to have without much difficulty found it, we have good reason to deny that our concept of a game is a family resemblance concept. That doctrine is also called into question by our apparently seeing what Wittgenstein says we won’t see.  So we can’t, without begging the question, invoke the claim that our concept of a game is a family resemblance concept as a reason to reject the claim that we have found what all and only games have in common in virtue of which they are games.

Now it’s obvious that we don’t learn the use of words like ‘game’ from reading a dictionary definition, but the absence of an explicit definition provides little support for the idea that we aren’t aware of a commonality. Suppose we teach a child the word ‘game’ by giving her examples of games and correcting her mistakes, and we go on this way with her for some time
until her use of the word matches ours. Well, human beings are clever and may well be able to triangulate to a commonality, one implicitly guiding the public use of the term. This theory is very old, going back to Aristotle. But it doesn’t mean that the child, or anyone unskilled in conceptual analysis, can necessarily express the commonality in a definition!  Indeed, we might teach her the word ‘rectangle ’ in this way, never giving her a definition, until she can recognize rectangles, and she might not be able to say what it is that all rectangles have in common in virtue of which they are rectangles. There is little question that we are sometimes guided by commonalities that we do not know how to express.

That Wittgenstein appears to go wrong in his claim that we cannot find a feature that all and only games share provides a reason to think that something like the Aristotelian account of language acquisition is plausible. Anyway, if we allow that the family resemblance idea of language acquisition predicts that we cannot find such a feature, on the face of things an alternative to it is better.

In sum: Wittgenstein seems to go wrong at the place that I’ve quoted. The way to show that he doesn’t go wrong is to find an objection to my account of games, for instance, a counterexample. Maintaining that other things he says predict that we won’t see something common to all and only games, calls them into question too. 

2009-12-06
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Hi Jim,

I don't think you have shown that Wittgenstein goes wrong.

As you say, to challenge Wittgenstein's family-resemblance analysis of games, you must show that a single definition picks out something common to all games and only games, and that it "seems intuitive that this is what makes them games."  It should be just obvious that the proposed definition is what we mean by the word "game."  Yet, it is only obvious that we might mean something sort of like what you propose in some cases, and not all, and that there is no established boundary between the use you propose and other uses.  So I do not see how your definition, if cogent, would require any change to what Wittgenstein has said.  Furthermore, several problems with the application of your proposed definition have been noted, and I do not think you have addressed all of them.  So your definition is not particularly compelling or intuitively appealing, regardless of whether or not it challenges W.

Also, I do not think Wittgenstein would disagree with your claim that "we are sometimes guided by commonalities that we do not know how to express."  Indeed, we are guided by commonalities.  That is the point.  We are so guided, but we do not have rules ahead of time which define their boundaries.  We do not always know how and when to apply them appropriately--and this is not a matter of ignorance, but simply a lack of definition.  What lends credence to Wittgenstein's view is not merely the fact that we do not learn language solely by applying dictionary definitions, though that is certainly evidence in W.'s favor.  Rather, W. points out problems which arise when you try to think how the conception of "game" could somehow fully account for its use ahead of time, as if all of the possible movements of a machine were there in the machine before it was ever used.  Once we realize that the use of a term is not determined in advance, a whole host of philosophical problems disappear.

To add more weight to your rejection of W., you mention rectangles as a case of a non-family-resemblance concept.  Here's how I think W. would respond:  Imagine a series of pictures of a thickly drawn red rectangle against an orange background.  In each successive picture, the rectangle becomes more and more blurred (or, to take it another way, becomes broken apart into smaller and smaller fragments).  At some point in this series, it is obvious that there is no longer a picture of a rectangle.  But at what point can you say "this is the first picture at which the rectangle is present [or absent]?"  We have no rule for that.  Whether or not something is a rectangle is clear enough in many cases, so that the use of the concept is firmly established; but we don't have rules for all cases.

Now imagine the case of a rectangle drawn on a sphere.  In some sense, we might say it is impossible to have a rectangle on a sphere; yet, in many cases, we can say that it is a rectangle without any trouble.  Indeed, if you draw a rectangle on the ground, have you not drawn it on something much like a sphere?  At what point do we say the spherical diagram is not a rectangle?  Again, we have no rule for that.

Regards,

Jason
Dec. 6, 2009




2009-12-06
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Hi Jim,

Perhaps this is off-topic, but isn't your point about games being defined as "rule-defined activities" countered by what Wittgenstein goes on to say in the Investigations about rule-following? Namely: "This was our paradox: no course of action could be determined by a rule, because every course of action can be made out to accord with the rule. The answer was: if everything can be made out to accord with the rule, then it can also be made out to conflict with it. And so there would be neither accord nor conflict." (PI 201)

Although I'm no expert, my understanding of W's later work is partly an attempt to uproot the foundationalism of meaning, such as that which he attempted to establish in the Tractatus, while at the same time shifting the derivation of meaning "back to the rough ground" of its actual use in the community. If we accept that games and language-use are both rule-based activities, then I don't see that it makes a lot of difference to W's attack on foundationalism. To reverse the analogy, the rules of our games aren't derived from a Platonic world of perfect rules, but rather, the rules of our games are based on convention.

If W's point on this topic is to try and illuminate the conventionalism of the rules of language-use and meaning, then how does your claim that a game must be a conventional "rule-defined activity" affect this?

You may be right, the analogy of family resemblances, by way of a comparison of a word's meaning, to games, may be imperfect. Then again, the word "game" itself might be aptly applied to situations that fall outside of your proposed - dare I say "absolute" - definition.

Also, if others accept 'catch' or the 'pretend play' of children as "games" then isn't that the counterexample you were asking for? If, to you, the only acceptable definition of a game is one which is a "rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule," then what sort of counterexample is possible?

(I've just noticed that I've repeated some of what Roger Harris recently posted - only with a lot less eloquence. Ah well.)

2009-12-07
Games and Family Resemblances
I wrote: ‘Now suppose we take Ludwig’s advice and look, and we find something common to all games, and only to games, and it seems intuitive that this is what makes them games. That is, it seems to capture what we have in mind when we talk about games, and it also explains linguistic usage, it illumines intuitions we have about what is and isn’t a game in odd cases, so that now it seems we can say clearly why what we think isn’t a game isn’t a game. And we can’t find any plausible counterexamples.’

This is meant to capture some of the conditions that make it plausible that we’ve given a good account of games.  I do think my account does all of that, and  I have defended it against every objection that I could understand and judged not to be based on a plain misunderstanding.   I hardly think I’ve proven my account, the nature of such accounts is that they are defeasible. I’ve
defended its plausibility. How successful I’ve been, I leave the reader to decide.

You respond:

 ‘As you say, to challenge Wittgenstein's family-resemblance analysis of games, you must show that a single definition picks out something common to all games and only games, and that it "seems intuitive that this is what makes them games."  It should be just obvious that the proposed definition is what we mean by the word "game." ‘ Yet, it is only obvious that we might mean something sort of like what you propose in some cases, and not all, and that there is no established boundary between the use you propose and other uses. ’

Kindly note that “It should be just obvious that the proposed definition is what we mean by the word ‘game’” is not what I say, nor is it  implied by what I say. This condition for a plausible account is much stronger than anything I list. I agree that my account doesn’t satisfy it.

It seems we agree that finding what all and only Bs have in common in virtue of which they are Bs isn't going to decide in advance the application of 'B' in every case that might
arise. First, most terms are vague, so there will be borderline cases where it isn't clear whether the term applies. Also there may be cases where a condition for B's application
is, in one way, satisified and in another way not satisfied (see what I say about boxing in the paper (I believe in the first post)). Applying the definition, if we have one,
is often going to be more like interpreting a law than applying a mathematical rule. One test of the adequacy of the definition is that it will explain our
ambivalence in such cases.  That's part of what suggests we were operating on something close to it all along.

2009-12-07
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Luke Culpitt
Thank you for this post and for directing me back to Roger H's post. I agree that W's later work is meant to uproot foundationalism in meaning.
Don't ask for meaning, ask for use. More important, he is attacking intentionality, that we as a species have an ability to think about
things that gets transferred to language so that we can talk about things. In this I think W is entirely mistaken. I think
Augustine got it right.

Now either there are or there are not rule-defined activities on W's account. These would be activities we can only perform if we are following rules.
So monkeys pushing chess pieces around on a board in a way that happened to duplicate Fisher vs. Spasky, would not be playing
chess if they were'nt following the rules of chess. If rule-defined activity, like playing chess, is impossible on W's account,
so much the worse for W. If it is possible, but we must say interesting things about rules and their relation to public activity,
then there is no problem I see for my account of games.

I don't think I'm begging any questions against W, therefore. I don't believe he would deny that we sometimes follow rules,
however heterodox his account of what this involves turns out to be.

Also the Doctrine of Family resemblance is widely accepted by analytic philosophers who aren't Wittgensteinians (e.g. Putnam),
generally on the basis of the example of games. They think they have nothing in common
cause L said so. I do think it's OK to say to such people, 'Well, it looks like we
can say well enough what makes games games. There doesn't seem a problem here. Maybe if you study
Wittgenstein you will find some other doctrine that can be applied.....'
That would rightly make the Doctrine a good deal more controversial.

Finally the rubber really has to meet the road somewhere. Philosophical theories touch earth sooner or later.
If W says, You can't give a plausible account about games, look at them and you won't find any commonalities,
and we look at them and find apparent commonalities, in fairness, its really should be a problem,
and invoking other controversial and difficult things W says doesn't make it go away. It makes them
more controversial.

'Also, if others accept 'catch' or the 'pretend play' of children as "games" then isn't that the counterexample you were asking for?'

My difficulty here is that when I ask people, Suppose you and I go out and throw a football back and forth for the exercise? or Suppose I try to balance a stick
on my nose to see if I can do it? or Suppose I stand on my hands to prove my strength' or 'Suppose a child 'wakes up' the dolls in her doll
house and pretends they are eating breakfast and then they clean up their room...'

Then I ask them Are we/I... playing a game? They answer No. (I ask these questions singly, of course.)
I've asked these questions of a number of people. They all are intelligent people who have
in no way been prepped. They always answer No. This is why I don't think that's the
counterexample I'm asking for.

I agree that Mom might answer the question 'Where did they go?' by saying 'Oh they are out in the street playing a game with a ball'
without doing violence to language, but I don't think that trumps what people generally say when asked 'Suppose you and I go out
and throw a football back and forth for the exercise...Are we playing a game?' In effect, a counterexample will need to
be what people generally say in direct response to a clearly described case. .




2009-12-08
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Hi again, Jim.

I'll just quickly go over some of the problems with your definition, as I see it.

On the one hand, there are common games that do not seem to fall under your definition.  For example, the games we play with other people's hearts and minds.  But the main problem is that you throw the net too wide.  There are many activities that qualify as games by your definition, but that we do not call games. 

For example, rule-defined recreational activities, like going for a walk around the block five times (or going for a 20-minute walk).  The success state--having performed the activity--was not integral to the act of walking, and so was an arbitrary condition placed on that act; and the act was performed for one of your stated reasons:  recreation.  Yet, I don't think anybody would say that going for a 20-minute walk is playing a game. 

Furthermore, playing music in some common situations could qualify as a game by your definition.  For example, if I decide to improvise on a theme for ten minutes, I have placed a rule on my playing which defines an arbitrary success state.  I am doing so for recreation, entertainment, and/or to sharpen my skills.  This is a game by your definition, but I doubt anybody would call that activity a game. 

It also appears that telling some kinds of jokes qualify as playing games by your definition.  I will not repeat myself here, but only refer you to my account of the case of "why did the chicken cross the road?"

We could also question your definition on the grounds that it presumes we have non-family-resemblance conceptions of success states, arbitrary rules, recreation, entertainment, and the sharpening of skills.  In other words, it is not clear that you have not appealed to family-resemblance concepts in your attempt to define the term "game."

If you think any of the above involves a misunderstanding of your definition, I hope you will explain why.

As for Wittgenstein . . .

'Kindly note that “It should be just obvious that the proposed definition is what we mean by the word ‘game’” is not what I say, nor is it  implied by what I say. This condition for a plausible account is much stronger than anything I list. I agree that my account doesn’t satisfy it.'

Perhaps we disagree on what you must do to disprove Wittgenstein.  I think that, to successfully counter W., your definition must obviously be the one we have always had in mind--once it is understood, of course.  That is, once we grasp the correct application of your definition, we should not hesitate to accept that this is the way we have always used the word "game."  We should not require any additional evidence or argument to convince us.  Thus, as I said, it should just be obvious.  That is how I understand the situation, and I thought you did as well.  That is why I interpreted your use of the expression "seem intuitive" as I did.  If you meant "seem intuitive" to mean something else, I hope you don't mind explaining how it differs from what I have said.

It is interesting where you agree and disagree with W. on vagueness.  For, wouldn't you agree that the vagueness inherent in some of our concepts would naturally lead us towards divergent applications of them?  So that our application of those concepts does not itself constitute a well-defined set, but rather a set of entities which contain many overlapping commonalities? 

As Wittgenstein says (forgive me for not looking up the exact quote right now), when we see a blurry picture of somebody from far off, we do not correctly describe it by saying what they look like up close.  The point, I think, is that a well-defined rule does not accurately describe what our vague concepts look like.

You note that we are adept at triangulation, and that we can be clever in the way we are guided by commonalities.  But, if the concept is vague, as you seem to allow, then no clear definition will exactly indicate the concept we had previously been using.

Thus, your departure from W. is hard to understand.  It occurs here, when you say, " One test of the adequacy of the definition is that it will explain our ambivalence in such cases."  I don't see how that works.  Can a vague definition account for its own vagueness?

Finally, in your recent response to Luke Culpitt, you say, "If W says, You can't give a plausible account about games, look at them and you won't find any commonalities . . ."

I don't think W. says you cannot give a plausible account about games, though it depends on what you mean by "account."  In any case, he does not say you won't find any commonalities.  Rather, he says you will find commonalities, but not a unifying principle--not a single commonality running through the whole set.  He's quite explicit about that.



Regards,

Jason
Dec. 7, 2009



2009-12-08
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Thanks for your response, Jim.

JS: "More important, he is attacking intentionality, that we as a species have an ability to think about things that gets transferred to language so that we can talk about things."

I don't see Wittgenstein as attacking intentionality in the Investigations. However, he might, in some ways, be attacking the picture that thought "gets transferred to language so that we can talk about things." I can only assume that your assumption re intentionality is based on a behaviourist reading of Wittgenstein. Marie McGinn notes, on pp. 130-131 of her 'Routledge Philosophy Guidebook on the Investigations' 1997:

MM: "For it seems that the whole point of the [private language] argument is to force us to accept that the meaning of psychological concepts consists in their possessing public criteria of application against which a first-person use of the concept can be checked, and without which the first-person use is simply meaningless."

However, as she continues on to say:

MM: "The moral of the argument [...] is not that our psychological concepts must possess public criteria, but that it is only by reminding ourselves of the grammar of our ordinary psychological concepts that we can grasp the essence, or nature, of a given kind of psychological state"

And further:

MM: "the remarks provide a critique of the idea that a psychological concept can be defined on the basis of introspection alone; they are not intended to serve as a proof of what must be the case. The relationship between our psychological concepts and behaviour is something Wittgenstein reveals through a grammatical investigation of how our concepts actually function[...]; it is not something that he presents as the conclusion of an argument intended to establish what must be the case."

I would agree with this interpretation, which is also consistent with Wittgenstein's statement that philosophy "leaves everything as it is." (PI 124)

JS: "If rule-defined activity, like playing chess, is impossible on W's account, so much the worse for W. If it is possible, but we must say interesting things about rules and their relation to public activity, then there is no problem I see for my account of games."

Rule-defined activity is clearly possible on W's account and is a major topic of his Investigations. I think W's main reason for invoking games is to make us look for an essence that is common to them all, such that we must call them all "games". W is suggesting that there is no such essence, only "overlapping and criss-crossing" similarities and relationships. You are claiming that the essence to all games is in being a "rule-defined activity involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because it is so defined by an arbitrary rule." However, as Berit has noted, many more things than games could fall under such a definition. Language-use itself falls under your definition of a game, according to Wittgenstein, but we don't consider all forms of language-use as games; although some, e.g., crosswords, might be. Just as there are many different types of activities that could be (or could not be) defined as "language-use", there are likewise many different types of activities that could be defined as "games".

I think the problem I'm having with your definition of a "game" is that it's too broadly defined, in that it cannot be distinguished from many other, if not all, social practices.  

JS: "If W says, You can't give a plausible account about games, look at them and you won't find any commonalities, and we look at them and find apparent commonalities, in fairness, its really should be a problem, and invoking other controversial and difficult things W says doesn't make it go away. It makes them more controversial."

In fairness (to Wittgenstein), he's not saying that "you won't find any commonalities" when considering the various types of games. I see W as saying that there is no singular common essence to all games, which makes them all games, rather than saying that "you won't find any commonalities". As he says in the quote which opens your paper: "Now pass to card-games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ball games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost." (PI 66) 

2009-12-08
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Hello everybody,

As Paul McCartney famously sang, "Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play".

Now, is love a game or not? If you think it is, you have a counterexample to Jim Stone's proposed definition of game - for love is not a rule-governed activity.
If you are inclined to say that "love is a game" is a metaphor, then please don't forget to tell us how anyone can distinguish between metaphorical and literal uses of the word "game".




2009-12-14
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Phil55 Smith

Dear Phil55,

I think I agree with you.   Let me add two allegories – paradigm counterexamples for Augustine.   The first is true, if a true situation can be allegorical.   At my daughter’s birthday party, when she was seven, I tried to organise the children to play various games.  Some the children knew – pass the parcel, musical chairs etc. – but others I had to organise for them to play for the first time.   ‘Ssshhh! Quiet!’ I shouted, ‘We are going to play a new game.’  (It was the one where players in two teams each race to pass a balloon down the line without touching it with their hands.)  But chaos reigned.  ‘Shut up! Shut up!’ shouted a sweet earnest little boy ‘How can you play the game if you don’t know the rules?!’

I thought he might grow up to become a philosopher, but luckily for him, perhaps, he has not.   Instead he learnt that you can’t learn the rules if you don’t play the game.

The other allegory is a science fiction story I read many years ago and whose provenance I have forgotten.   Two massive battle fleets are assembled to confront one another, ships spread out over the distances of an entire solar system.   They are evenly matched in strength of numbers, power, equipment and, in particular, in both having tactical computers which can each plot the development of battle tactics and anticipate and counter the moves their opponent makes.   The commander is brought the news that the tactical computer has calculated that the outcome of the battle is certain in only one respect: whoever wins (which it cannot predict) virtually every ship will be destroyed on both sides.    The commander decides to switch it off and order the attack.  

The other side’s computer is paralysed trying to work out the subtle and devious battle tactics the attackers must have employed.  They sustain massive losses while waiting for their computer to discern their opponent’s battle plan, so as to respond appropriately, and only realise, too late, that there wasn’t one.  

Love is a worse game still.   When I was twenty five I thought ‘If only I was seventeen and knew what I know now!’   When I was forty I realised that if I were seventeen and knew what I know now, I would have made an even worse mess of things.  Who said these were the rules, after all?   You find out that, even if they once were, they aren't now.


2009-12-14
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone

Dear Jim,<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Now it’s rather more in the open. You say

I agree that W's later work is meant to uproot foundationalism in meaning.   Don't ask for meaning, ask for use. More important, he is attacking intentionality, that we as a species have an ability to think about things that gets transferred to language so that we can talk about things. In this I think W is entirely mistaken. I think Augustine got it right.

I think Wittgenstein was looking for a paradigm change.   He was not looking to endorse or deny the sorts of theses about thought and intentionality he associated with Augustine: he thought that they made no sense.   This is not a refusal of intentionality, but a radical repositioning of its foundations in social normativity, rather than in the mind’s grasp of ‘ideas’.

You write “so we can talk about things”, but there is no “so” about this.   W argued that we can “talk about things” in all sorts of different ways and that the notion that we first think and then speak our minds is just back to front.    The example of games as a ‘family resemblance concept’ and the notion of a ‘language game’ are two small parts of a far larger argumentative strategy directed at what has crystallised after his death, in opposition to his claims, as the ‘language of thought hypothesis’ but goes back to Plato, Descartes, Locke and Frege, as well as Augustine.  

Humpty Dumpty was under the illusion that he had the

 “ability to think about things that gets transferred to language so that we can talk about things”

when he said

‘When I use a word,'…' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.' 

But, if words did not already mean what they do mean, he wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to express any part of what he thought to anyone else in any case: I cannot give a word a meaning by associating it with my thought (no matter how precise) if my thought come first, and is only known to me alone.   That does not give it any meaning for you.

Indeed, the Augustinian view seems empirically false: my thoughts take on the meanings that they do in so far as I understand what others say about me and the world around us.    Someone with a disability which prevents him from learning this is profoundly bereft of self-understanding.    On the Augustinian model, by contrast, a person’s mind has to be wholly transparent to itself, and the outer language takes on its meaning for the learner by derivation from the prior meaningfulness of the inner ‘language of thought’, ‘clear and distinct ideas’ ‘impressions’ or whatever.   

This is the point of all W’s arguments against inner ostension.  As a child acquires language she does not already have the meanings inwardly, so she can successfully guess which of these inner meanings corresponds to what people are trying to convey.   Quite apart from the incoherence of inner ostension, we now have new reasons to reject this.   What sort of explanation of language acquisition is it to say ‘The explanation for the acquisition of language is that an inner language is already there’?  ‘Language’ appears in both explanans and explanandum, like the explanation that opium sends you to sleep because of its dormative potency.     So dogs don’t speak for no other reason than that they can’t put their thoughts into words, like we can?

The mental rehearsal, Augustinian view that thought precedes sense, is what makes akrasia seem so puzzling:  how can you go through the sequence of reasoning which yields your action and then do other than what it dictates, if the explanation for your action is that it is preceded by a sequence of reasoning which has the appropriateness of that action as its conclusion?    This could be taken to show that action just cannot be explained in that way and that practical reasoning is not a representation of a mental mechanism, it is an account of the social hermeneutics of action.  Actions have social meanings, which it takes the first twenty years of your life to learn, if you are lucky.   They are much harder to learn than language.

This refusal of a style of explanation takes on its most general form in the case of rules, since all the various cases of intentionality have in common that there are correct and incorrect performances, and so exhibit some form of normativity.    You write:

Now either there are or there are not rule-defined activities on W's account. These would be activities we can only perform if we are following rules.

What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for an activity to have a rule-governed character?   One necessary condition is that following the rule and breaking it should both be compatible with all the laws of nature.   ‘Ought’ implies ‘can’, but so, too, must ‘ought not’.

Another necessary condition is that you have to do this in a public context.   It is not possible in the sphere of your own private inner mental life, because the privacy and incorrigibility of what can only be known by introspection does not allow any distinction to be drawn between appearance and reality: “what seems right is right”.   

What would be a sufficient condition?   Note that if a ‘rule’ is given a completely determinate formulation and then built into a nervous system (or a machine) which unfailingly follows it, then the necessary condition is not met that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’, but so, too, must ‘ought not’.  Hence the ‘This was our paradox…’ passage.    There isn’t a sufficient condition, which is why keeping ‘rule’ in your definiens doesn’t allow it to provide a counterexample to his main thesis when you define ‘game’.

When it comes to the rubber meeting the road, an explanation (such as all forms of nativism regarding language acquisition ) shouldn’t have the key terms of the explanandum in the explanans.    Equally if we are to have a definition which shows that there can be a determinate rule for the use of  the term ‘game’, it shouldn’t have ‘rule’ in the definiens, on pain of simply shifting the problem from  the indeterminacy of the rule for applying ‘game’ to the indeterminacy of the rules whose presence has to be determined in order to show that any given activity is a game.  The more so since games serve as an example of W's contention that a rule does not need to have a determinate form in order to be followed.


2009-12-26
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone

Whew! This was a discussion! I have read your paper, and basically disagree, although I find many interesting ideas in it. I try to make my point in a short way, using  your (now well known) definition of game for classifying small talk (it works!) and playing with dolls (it does not work):

a rule-defined activity

involving a state which counts as performing the activity successfully because

a.    the activity is so defined by an arbitrary rule

b.  the activity is performed for

                                               i.     the recreation of participants or spectators,

                                             ii.     or to sharpen skills.

As you remarks, this sounds, against Wittgentein's warnings, like putting a disjunction to solve the problem. You say that it is  not just a disjuncion, but there is also something common to all games, therefore a necessary condition. I wonder whether also this is true. Is a game always a rule defined activity?

Not necessary: to me it is apparent that the definition does not cover all typical games: playing with dolls cannot be said a "rule defined activity" (unless using words improperly); it is a game of imitation, without rules; sometimes girls invent rules, sometimes they just play with dolls, imitating adults in the most awkwards ways. Still, playing with dolls is one of the most common games in our society (if not dolls would not sell so much). Don't be confused with the difference between "play" and "game"; playing with dolls in other languages is normally called "the game with dolls"; it is similar to 

Not sufficient: as you say there are rule governed activities that are not games, therefore the definition is not even sufficient (speaking a language is often used just for recreation, entertaining one another in small talk, and at the same time in speaking a language we sharpen our skills; still we don"t say that "small talk" is a game; it is just small talk).

Not sufficient again: Many activities, which are not games, are used to sharpen skills: think of training in many kinds of jobs or of martial arts or or of a child reading a story... Many activities, which are not games, are performed for the recreation of participants (think of jam sassions) or spectators (most of television shows)...

I wonder whether the problematic concept might be  "success" or "successfully", which is a typical US-male-oriented concept :). It is as if we had games when we have a "successful" activity (differently - as you say - from walking, where we may be said to succeed in walking, but not that we walk successfully). A boy throwing a ball and catching it is considered to play a game if and only if he follows a rule such: "throw the ball and catch"; if you don't catch you lose. But there are boys who like to go on without any idea of success; just for playing:). And...there is no playing dolls "successfully"!  

 P.S.: in your answer to R-A-Segal - 2009-11-30 - you say that W. is not interested mainly in concepts. However, the beginning of his discussion in the thirties is exactly a critique of "Plato's talk of looking for the essence of things", which amounts to a critique to Plato's conception of what and idea or a concept is. (Cambridge Lectures '32-'35, p.34). The point made by Jason Streitfeld might be strenghtened: Wittgenstein's family resemblance view is not only about our uncertainty in borderline cases, but mainly on our ability to dub "games" certain activities without hesitating. We certainly rely on basic and simple properties common to games, but not to all games, just to some of them, as in a chain (following may be Goethe's ideas, as now is much debated). The idea of frames in Minsky's work, and in default logics after that, is just trying to give a formal definition of this peculiar ability of humans' use of concepts. W's voice is not like a siren's voice compelling us to abandon the search of what is important (let us call it "essence" or "nature"); however he tries to avoid the idea that everything has to be put inside the same kind of necessary-sufficient conditions. Therefore, if he is right, we have to deepen our search, not to abandon it. 



2010-02-20
Games and Family Resemblances
Reply to Jim Stone
Professor Stone,
I have two questions about your attempt to solve W problem.
1. It's seems you didn't consider that the PI didn't written in english, in German like Peter Cash before remarked, the word for game is "spiel", but in german (and so in Hebrew which I more familiar with) , there isn't any different words for "play" ang "game", so a playground is called "Spielplatz", and the kind that throw a ball "ist spielen". so all of your remarks of "non-games" playing isn't going to help, because it's enough to show one absolute example in any language to give W's theory advantge you can't beat. ( word that seems to follow rule doesn't bring W's theory to collapse, while word that doesn't follow any rule in any language will support it )

2. even in english you didn't succeed convince me (maybe it's only me...) that all the usages of the word "game" is following the same rule, you said:

"Not all Olympic games are games e.g. running broad jump, weight lifting, boxing. The argument,
‘X is an Olympic game, everybody thinks of it as an Olympic game, so it’s a game’ has little force. What matters is what people think when they actually stop and think about the thing with some care, outside of one of these generic classifications."

if you can say that not all Olympic games are games in the meaning you mention and even tough they called "games", you just ignore the main point in W's argument: we call separate meaning in the same word not because any samilarity between their meanings, but because they part of family of meanings. If you want to confront this thesis you should get a rule for all the usages of the words.
because with W's thesis I can see the connection with all the usages, for example:
the Olympic Games are resembeld to professional sport games that resembled to sport games that resembeld to the kid that play with his ball that liked to the kid that play with dolls that isn't much diffrent than role-playing-games. to play with someone heart is related to the objectification of the other for the mere enjoyment like kid with his doll.