Naturalistic fallacy

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Comment by Alberto Urquidez on November 25th, 2010 at 12:57 am

The author misunderstands Wittgenstein on two points, when he writes: “The first philosopher to question whether definitions needed to be sharp was Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) who in 1951 proposed family resemblance concepts as a vague alternative to sharply defined concepts in his classic text Philosophical Investigations. Although Wittgenstein suggested that moral concepts were family resemblance concepts, he did not develop a detailed philosophical theory on the issue like Boyd.”

First, Wittgenstein did not develop a theory of family resemblance concepts in morality or in any other domain because he thought that philosophical theories are confused. This point should at least be mentioned so as not to insinuate that Wittgenstein failed to complete the job he set out for himself; for he never intended to develop a confused philosophical theory.

Second, a family resemblance concept is precisely the kind of concept that cannot be detailed in a philosophical theory, because applications of a concept are unified by family resemblances, not by characteristic features. Consequently, there is no such theory to be given if Wittgenstein is right that moral concepts are family resemblance concepts. The best we can do is elucidate the resemblances or features that criss-cross across applications

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