January 1997

Root Page of Article: A Rose by Any Other Name , by Peter J. Murray

Wittgenstein and Family Resemblances in CMC

Many philosophers, and particularly philosophers of language, from Wittgenstein onward, suggest that words get their meaning in use; words don't have some innate immutable meaning, but their meaning is socially constructed through their use in everyday life. For CMC, this means that the meaning of definition of what CMC is arises from the forms of CMC which we use everyday.

One implication of this is that the meanings of words do not stay stable over time, but change with changing social and technological contexts. One of the big under-researched areas in CMC is the effects of changing technologies on the nature of CMC.

Wittgenstein wrote, in Philosophical Investigations,

"Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all,--but that they are related to one another in many different ways. And it is because of this relationship, or these relationships, that we can call them all 'language.'"
If,in the preceding quote, we substitute "CMC" for "language," we see that while there are many things we call "CMC," it is more the relationships between them rather than any single common feature, which make them all forms of CMC.

Wittgenstein went on in the same volume to develop his arguments around language and to discuss family resemblances. He chose the example of games, where we can all recognize that something is a game, but cannot identify any one feature common to all games. What, for example are the common features of all the following games: chess, football, Monopoly, Doom? We recognize them all as games, but probably cannot identify any common feature, although there are commonalities between some of them. Similarly for CMC, some forms havecommon features, but there is probably no feature common to all. ^

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