It struck me this morning how incredibly disrespectful to phenomena it is to attempt analysis of them in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions.

I found myself thinking that it implies, from the get go, a lack of humility, a lack of respect. Can't the phenomena be allowed their own voices? Granted their own sui generic character? Why must we attempt a summation of them, this project of verbal capture, using words most apt straight off not for this, but rather for some other, phenomenon?

We would never act thus to people. Not if we are ethically alive. Never try to say what exactly makes them who they are in this way. Not unless we had, say, lapsed into thinking of them as 'characters' (... i.e. as tokens of a type). Perhaps we can show the same respect to the rest of creation?

And it's a hubristic narcissistic vaunting of our own intellectual capacity too - isn't it? - to suppose that what may pass from our lips as an apt articulation of the being of some phenomenon in one context might suffice for all other contexts too. The latent supposition being that the meaning of my words is something I can secure independent of the innumerable situations, conversations, historical products, moods and moments of the life I'm immersed in. ... This, this aspirational Atlas... this exsanguinated Sisyphus... the Analytical Philosopher...

But how then might we aid our reflective grasp of the character, the being, the nature of this or that phenomenon? Well, we might be introduced to it. Dwell amongst it. Take our time to get to know something. Be shown a lively range of examples. We might think on the differences of our phenomenon from other phenomena - the 'I will show you differences' approach. ... You know, it seems to me: we can relax - we truly do get the reflective hang of things in such ways. Don't we?

Those who find this dark: let's try to coax them out of their cave into the light of phenomena themselves, and gently discourage this urge to drag the phenomena of the world into the cave of their minds. For that - the cave - is wherein the darkness lies. That gleaming array of shiny analytical torches provided by the necessary and sufficient conditions pundit - we don't need that. ... We just... need the courage and humility to venture outside.


Addendum: The concept of 'family resemblances' is often put forward as a counterpart to the idea of a concept articulable in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. I think it fair to say that, to someone still in love with the analytical philosophical project, the very idea of a 'family resemblance concept' looks a poor thing. If one still feels an urge to 'know' phenomena in the way that the analytic metaphysician wants to make their acquaintance - which is rather, one might say, a way of forcing them to make his acquaintance - then to be told that a concept has no 'essence' but only, rather, a set of 'family resemblances' looks a cop out. Well, to be honest, and mindless now of whatever Wittgenstein might have meant by it, the concept looks a poor thing to me too. The problem, it seems to me, is not with the idea that phenomena have essences, but that the concept of an 'essence' is the concept of what corresponds to a list of defining characteristics. From the standpoint of the analytical philosopher, the concept of 'family resemblances' fails to scratch his itch. If you stay in the gloom of the cave, the concept of 'family resemblances' will shine but the feeblest light on the phenomena. My claim here has been that the philosopher's itch is caused by a vitamin D deficiency - which will lift when we help him out into the sun, help him encounter the phenomena on their own terms, in their own habitats, and cease trying to drag them back into his cave for dissection by lamplight.


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