Notes on Truth, Beauty, and Goodness -- Phil A231

William Jamison - Instructor

Meaning and Understanding

Key terms that Wittgenstein uses that have become very much a part of our understanding of how language works are:

Family resemblance: the meaning of a word is the set of the various uses we make of the word in language games. As a metaphor of how we recognize these various uses to successful apply the word we can think of how children in a family resemble one another. It is not something we can exactly point to, but a collection of factors that together enable us to recognize them as being related to one another. In the same way, we both apply words to uses and recognize that they have been used correctly because of a sort of family resemblance they have to successful usage in the particular context we use the word in.


Language game: the same word used in a different context has a different use from context to context. The context of use is similar to a game and there are different games just as there are different contexts. We can speak of the language game of "nursing" or "lawyering" or "philosophizing" and so on.

Rules (of the language game): each language game has different rules that define the game. These rules define how a word can be properly used in the context of the game.

Form of life: each language game is "attached" to action and this context of a language game is a form of life.

Now we can think about the particular language games we use and the definitions words have in them, the rules of the games, and the forms of life the games are attached to.

One such game (actually a set of many games!) is mathematics (from the Greek: "mathematica" = df "learning" and "mathematikos" = df "being fond of learning".)

Definition of a point: A point is that which has no part. (These links were meant to go directly to those pages in Euclid but it seems the server at Perseus only goes to the main page.)

Definition of a line: A line is breadthless length.

Definition of surface: A surface is that which has length and breadth only.

Other words from Greek that are interesting:


Arithmetikos :


arithm-êtikos , ê, on, of or for reckoning, skilled therein, anthrôpos Id.Grg.453e .

Look at this page for a startling relationship among all biological systems:



With regard to the issue of our souls existence after death it is interesting to me that using Einstein's concept of Space-Time (am I a classicist having trouble with this concept?) our lives are permanently in their place in time and space in sort of the same way that if I drive from Eagle River to Anchorage -- even though my reaching Anchorage is the end of the drive, all of the distance between the start and finish of the drive is still there. In that sense, if I had a time machine and could go back to my 5th birthday, everything there at that time would be still there precisely as it was then. So doesn't this mean that in some sense my whole life is eternal? My total consciousness then is all of my states of consciousness from start to finish and what I make of myself from moment to moment is me for all eternity. It kind of makes each moment more important since what I do with it lasts forever! It also makes me wonder what liberty I have to do what I choose since the future moments I become conscious of -- have already been waiting there for me to reach them -- also forever!

So in this sense what could it mean to think our souls do not last forever? Just thought I'd throw this into the mix.

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