September 16, 2018

Food for Thought

Thanks to the diversity of people, America is great at creating products that have a broad appeal. Burger is a prime example. Even economists use the price of Big Mac as a benchmark to compare the values of currencies around the world. This particular one pictured is a Malaysian version by @themalaysianproject. The beef patty is wrapped in an egg crepe. Every country seems to have its own twist.

Looking at it, it occurred to me that burger is a good example for explaining the philosophical concept called “family resemblance” by the British/Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. He argued that people often assume the meaning of a word to point to something essential, something common to all instances of the word. So, let’s take the word “burger” as an example. There are many different variations of burgers, like salmon burger, turkey burger, veggie burger, ramen burger, rice burger, etc.. At first, you might assume that the buns are what ties them all together, the essence, something common to all burgers. But we have ramen burger and rice burger; the beef patties are the same but the buns are different. There is no one essence that is common to all we call “burger.” Wittgenstein argued that philosophers throughout history have wasted a lot of time and energy trying to figure out this burger-ness that remains consistent across all burgers, but that this is just a trick that language plays on us. There is no such essence. The meanings of words just loosely overlap, and for some words, there may not be an area where all of them overlap. Having an overlapping area shared by all the meanings of a word is not necessary for language to function, and such an area does not carry any particular significance. He told us, therefore, to stop looking for this essence of burgers, or burger-ness that makes something a burger

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