Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Making It Explicit: Norms

Chapter 1 of Making It Explicit (MIE) contains a long discussion of the rule-following considerations in the Philosophical Investigations. There is one response to the rule-following considerations that generates a regress, namely taking rules to be explicit things. This is regulism. The regress is interpreting the rules, since each interpretation is setting an explicit rule to be followed, which then can be and requires being interpreted. The next option, regularism, is taking actual patterns of behavior and finding a regularity in them. Unfortunately, actual behavior won't nail down a unique set of behaviors that constitute a rule since you can gerrymander all sorts of crazy sets of behavior. Regularism is also nonnormative, since the "rules" it yields are just patterns of behavior in a descriptive sense. There is no prescribing. Regulism at least is normative. I took these considerations to be what motivate the introduction of the idea of norms implicit in practice, which are a key feature of the rest of MIE. The implicit norms seem to emerge from the wreckage of the explicit norms on the rocks of rule-following.

The question is: how do implicit norms meet the rule-following challenge? They aren't explicit, but they are capable of being made explicit. There isn't quite enough of a difference in kind there to put the issue to rest. They seem to be sort of mysterious things that are quite like explicit rules, since they can be made explicit without remainder. Brandom mentions Kant's suggestion of the faculty of judgment to end the regress, but that is a non-starter without a story about why the faculty of judgment would not flounder on the same problem. Another possibility is that one can make some implicit norms explicit, but not all at any one time. The implicit ones then ground the explicit ones somehow. One might think this relies on a sort of superficial feature about us: we can't do an infinite number of things, which presumably is what would be required to make all our rules explicit. This is a meager rod on which to rest the weight of MIE. Alternately, one might think that it is like the Tortoise and Achilles in that we can make some instances of our inference rules into formulas, but not all on pain of not being able to infer anything. I'm not sure if that is satisfying either.

After discussing this with some people, I've managed to become completely confused about the structure of the first chapter. How do the early considerations of rule-following motivate implicit norms if those don't get around rule-following problems? If they do, how do they? Is there another argument to more directly justify or motivate implicit norms? My understanding of the first chapter depended on implicit norms fitting into the dialectic as sketched above, so I clearly must rethink things.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

I have not read MIE, but here is a thought:

The problem with explicit norms is, as you said, that they generate a regress: One needs further norms for interpreting any norm which is given to one as an explicit rule. Implicit norms are supposed to avoid this, I should think, because one does not need to interpret them. One follows them, or one fails to, but this happens quite independently of what one understands "the rules" to be.

If the above is correct, then there's no problem with what happens when one "makes explicit" one of our implicit norms. For this doesn't transform the implicit norm into a (regulist) explicit norm; one follows the norm just as one had previously, not by looking to the explicit norm newly-formulated and interpreting it. There's no need for a background of mostly inexplicit norms, on this view, since the norms which have been made explicit will remain "implicit" in the sense in which "implicit norms" got us out of the rule-following dilemma.