Random thoughts on random topics

Atocha railway station, Madrid

Normativity of practices

As Wittgenstein makes clear in Philosophical Investigations 198[c], training, viewed as the setting up of a pattern of causal relationships between signs and behaviour, always takes place within a normative framework, viz., an existing practise of using the signs in question in a particular way. In that sense training has both a causal and a normative aspect. This nicely explains the continuation of normative practises, but as such it als raises the question of their origin: how did these practises in their turn come into being?

Perhaps an answer along the lines of our earlier remarks on ethics could be defended here. Normative practises arise from congruent causal patterns in behaviour through consciousness of, and reflection on, those patterns. A shared nature (physiological and cognitive) is responsible for (sufficient) similarity in the causal mechanisms, which are probably calibrated further by means of common ways of adapting to our shared environment. Such congruences define a group. The group turns into a community if these congruences are noted and their effects are reflected upon.

As noted elswhere, the behavioural patterns we actually display are neither completely arbitrary nor completely determined by external constraints: they are (contingent) actualisations within a wider range of possibilities. It is the awareness of this fact, and the (cognitive and non-cognitive) exploration of other, non-actual possibilities, that lead to normative practises. Once we are aware of the fact that we behave in a certain way but could also behave differently, the need for normative determination of our behaviour becomes imperative: this is where regularities turn into rules.

Martin Stokhof
from: Interpretation
date: fall 1992