Table of Content
Aristotle’s Concept of Essence
Representation of the Self
Concept of Family
Master of Arts Art Exhibition
Representation and Reality of the Self in Art
3. Wittgenstein's Concept Of Family Resemblances
far, in Chapters 1 and 2, I demonstrated that Aristotle’s
Metaphysics can be considered as the historical source for the thesis
that self-portraits represent the essential self, which is based
on the assumptions that (1) there is an essential Self and (2) the
Self can be visually represented as likeness. My thesis is that
self-portraits refer to a concept “self”, and not to
an essential Self. In this chapter I will argue that Aristotle’s
concept of essence is not a fact, but a metaphysical construction
which should be abandoned, and replaced with Wittgenstein’s
concept of family resemblances.
discusses the concept of essence in Philosophical Investigations,
when the question of essence of language is raised. For Wittgenstein,
language is not a single entity, but a set of various language games.
He starts the analysis of language with examples of ostensive definitions
and the game of naming. In such games, language is understood as
a relationship between words and objects. This definition of language
is important insofar as it creates a metaphysical illusion when
words like “spirit”, “mind” are treated
as referring to existing objects, in the way in which the words
“table”, “chair” are referring to actual
tables and chairs.
proceeds with an example of language that consists of four words
referring to physical objects used in masonry. Such a language would
serve as communication between a builder A and his assistant B.
Person A is building with four types of building stones: blocks,
pillars, slabs and beams. B has to pass the stones to A, corresponding
to the words A utters. For that purpose they use a language consisting
of words “block”, “pillar”, “slab”
and “beam”. 
calls such a primitive language a language-game.  The whole language
consisting of language and all possible actions is also a language-game.
He doesn’t consider language to be single entity, but a complex
structure containing numerous language-games. Such language-games
are: giving orders, describing the appearance of the object, constructing
an object from the description, reporting an event, speculating
about an event, forming and testing hypotheses, making up a story,
singing catches, guessing at a riddle, telling a joke, translating
from one language into another, requesting, thanking, cursing, greeting,
praying, etc. 
an understanding of language raises the question of whether there
is an essence common to all language games. Wittgenstein’s
answer is that there is no common essence shared between all language
games. There is only “a complicated network of similarities
overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarity, sometimes
similarity of detail.” Wittgenstein calls this network of
similarities family resemblances. 
examples are various games, which have no one single thing in common.
He compares board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games etc.
If we look for what is common to all, we will find only similarities
and relationships. We can find more similarities among board-games,
or among ball-games, but there is no one characteristic common to
all.  Now, the question is whether such a “concept with
blurry edges”  has meaning at all. Wittgenstein’s
answer is that the meaning of the word is its use in a language
game. Therefore, the concept “game” has a meaning in
referring to all various games, without having one simple definition
of “game” common to all various games.
could consider “self” to be a similar family resemblance
concept, which yields no one precise definition, but which is a
concept that is used in a “language-game”. That would
explain why it is possible to find numerous, even contradictory
definitions of the “self”. The Dictionary of Philosophy
defines self as “1. Ego, subject, I, me, as opposed to the
object or the totality of objects 2. The quality of uniqueness and
persistence through changes, by virtue of which any person calls
himself “I” and leading to the distinction among selves,
as implied in such words as “myself”, “yourself”,
“himself”, etc. 3. The metaphysical principle of unity
underlying subjective experience, which may be conceived as dependent
upon the given organism or as distinct in nature; sometimes identified
with the soul”.  Some philosophers, like David Hume and
Daniel Dennett, doubted or even denied the existence of the self.
Michael Foucault traced various meanings of the concept “self”
in The Technologies of Self. 
the sake of my thesis it is important to explain how Wittgenstein’s
“family resemblances” refutes Aristotle’s “essence”.
Aristotle considered that the genus of species is essence, imprinted
as a form on a particular individual body. Wittgenstein’s
argument is that it is fallacy to posit the existence of such an
ideal constellation of shared characteristics among members of a
species. Instead of “essence” we can only find “family
resemblances”. And “family resemblances” bypasses
the traditional questions of the ontological status of universals.
the same analysis applies to the individual and the concept of the
Self. Instead of supposing that there is a singular identity unifying
a person we should recognize that there is only a “family
resemblance” of characteristic identifying the individual
through time and actions. The Self is a metaphysical construction
we project into observation, and not a universal concept we derive
same can be said about Rembrandt’s self-portraits. Where art
historians used to see representations of the essential Self, or
searched for the hidden self, the essence of a person, we should
recognize just a family resemblance of individuals changing over
1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
(Massachusetts, Malden: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 2001.), 3-4.
2. ibid., 4.
3. ibid., 10.
4. ibid., 27.
5. ibid., 27.
6. ibid., 29.
7. Dagobert D. Runes, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy
(Totowa, New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams and Co., 1975), 287-8.
8. Martin, Luther H., Huck Gutman, Patrick H. Hutton,
ed. Technologies of the self : a seminar with Michel Foucault (Amherst,
Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988)