forms of life
forms of lifethe multiplicity of circumscribed language-embedded social practices which, according to WITTGENSTEIN (1953), characterize social life. The socially-located and conventional character of all languages is emphasized by Wittgenstein. In this interpretation of the nature and limits of language, all ‘descriptions’ and accounts, and hence all SOCIAL ACTION, are relative to language and to the social contexts in which a particular language is used. In a strict sense, there is nothing that can be said outside the language and context, hence translations are problematic.
One consequence of Wittgensteins view has been to encourage those forms of philosophy and social science which tend towards a ‘relativistic’ conception of social studies. It also had a seminal influence on the construction of modern LINGUISTIC PHILOSOPHY, which has emphasized the need for analysis of the many particular uses of language (see also SPEECH ACTS).
In sociology, the concept lends support to the notion that the main task of the discipline should be the MEANINGFUL UNDERSTANDING AND EXPLANATION of the distinctive beliefs and practices of particular societies or social movements (see WINCH), and an ‘empathic’ understanding of historical societies (compare COLLINGWOOD).
Related to the above, the concept has also been important in arguments for a ‘discontinuous’ view of scientific change. Thus both KUHN's and FEYERABEND's conception of SCIENTIFIC PARADIGM, and associated conceptions such as INCOMMENSURABILITY, draw explicitly on Wittgensteins notion of forms of life. One of the best ways of describing what a scientific paradigm involves is that it is a ‘form of life’. See also TRUTH, RELATIVISM; compare GADAMER, HERMENEUTICS, FUSION OF HORIZONS.