The ontology of rules

Arie Verhagen Arie.Verhagen at
Fri Jun 14 17:50:41 UTC 2013

Other worthwile philosophy reading on the notion of rules are 
Wittgenstein (on what it means to "follow a rule") and David Lewis. In 
his 1969 book /Convention/, Lewis discusses a cluster of related 
notions, and 'rule' turns out to be one of the most tricky and elusive; 
cf. this on page 104: "it is  hard to show that there is /any/ 
regularity that could not be called a rule in /some/ context".


On 14-6-2013 10:19, Everett, Daniel wrote:

> John Searle has written extensively (and very critically) of "rule
> following" analyses in linguistics and this has been discussed at
> length in the philosophical literature.
> Dan
> On Jun 14, 2013, at 5:15 AM, Tahir Wood wrote:
>> This is just what it is:
>> the habitus is an infinite capacity for generating products –
>> thoughts, perceptions, expressions and actions – whose limits are set
>> by the historically and socially situated conditions of its production,
>> the conditioned and conditional freedom it provides is as remote from
>> creation of unpredictable novelty as it is from simple mechanical
>> reproduction of the original conditioning. (Bourdieu 1990: 55)
>> And also:
>> … the process of acquisition – a practical mimesis (or mimeticism)
>> which implies an overall relation of identification and has nothing in
>> common with an imitation that would presuppose a conscious effort to
>> reproduce a gesture, an utterance or an object explicitly constituted as
>> a model – and the process of reproduction – a practical reactivation
>> which is opposed to both memory and knowledge – tend to take place
>> below the level of consciousness, expression and the reflexive distance
>> which these presuppose. (Bourdieu 1990:72-73)
>> Tahir
>>>>> Wallace Chafe <chafe at> 6/14/2013 6:24 am >>>
>> These messages have lifted my spirits. I’ve always felt this way
>> about
>> “rules”, and I still remember futile discussions about them during
>> the
>> 1960s when people were especially rule happy.
>> The issue has arisen for me lately with respect to “phonological
>> rules”,
>> which are nothing more than statements of sound changes that give a
>> fusional language the shape it has. I’ve been struggling in vain to
>> keep
>> people from calling them rules, and it’s hard not to feel like giving
>> up.
>> Wally
>> O n 6/13/2013 10:03 AM, Ellen Contini-Morava wrote:
>>> I confess that convincing a public audience that (even) non-standard
>>> varieties have "rules" itself panders to the hegemonic language
>>> ideology that having reified "rules" is a badge of legitimacy. But
>> one
>>> has to pick one's battles; there's only so much that can be done in
>> an
>>> hour. (See Michael Silverstein, 1996. “Monoglot ‘Standard’ in
>> America:
>>> Standardization and Metaphors of Linguistic Hegemony.” In D.
>> Brenneis
>>> and R. Macauley, eds. The Matrix of Language: Contemporary Linguistic
>>> Anthropology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Pp. 284-306.)
>>> Ellen
>>> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
>>> Ellen Contini-Morava
>>> Professor, Department of Anthropology
>>> University of Virginia
>>> P.O. Box 400120
>>> Charlottesville, VA 22904-4120
>>> USA
>>> phone:  +1 (434) 924-6825
>>> fax:    +1 (434) 924-1350
>>> On 6/13/2013 8:12 AM, Ellen Contini-Morava wrote:
>>>> Oh dear, to be accused of believing in determinative rules! I'm glad
>>>> you noticed the scare quotes, which were there exactly to place the
>>>> word in others' mouths (such as those of the likely audience of
>>>> Shannon's talk). My point was that people find it illuminating to
>>>> discover that there are indeed regularities that they may be aware
>>>> of, in some sense, without being conscious of, and simultaneously
>>>> that nonstandard varieties are not chaotic. Right now we're awaiting
>>>> some major thunderstorms with threat of tornados so I'll limit this
>>>> post to referring you to my response to Wally Reid's paper debunking
>>>> the English verb "agreement rule" (Reid: "The communicative function
>>>> of English verb number", Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 29,
>>>> 2011: 1087-1146); Ellen C-M: "And now for something completely
>>>> different: Reid on English verb number", pp. 1147-1162 of the same
>>>> issue).
>>>> Ellen
>>>> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
>>>> Ellen Contini-Morava
>>>> Professor, Department of Anthropology
>>>> University of Virginia
>>>> P.O. Box 400120
>>>> Charlottesville, VA 22904-4120
>>>> USA
>>>> phone: +1 (434) 924-6825
>>>> fax: +1 (434) 924-1350
>>>> On 6/13/2013 3:41 AM, Tahir Wood wrote:
>>>>>>>> Ellen Contini-Morava <elc9j at> 6/12/7:42 pm >>>
>>>>> People also find it cool to discover that they know "rules" that
>>>>> they're
>>>>> not aware of knowing, and that these even apply to nonstandard
>>>>> varieties.
>>>>> Ooh! You've hit right on my current favourite debating topic. You
>>>>> may just be referring to something called 'constitutive rules'. I
>>>>> don't believe that any such things exist and I would really like to
>>>>> canvass other opinions. I'm working at producing a comprehensive
>>>>> manuscript on this soon, but let me just make the main point
>> briefly.
>>>>> I would say that the only sorts of rules that exist in language
>>>>> apart from 'regulative rules' (prescriptions basically) are
>>>>> descriptions of regularities. If that's what you mean then I'm with
>>>>> you. But if you mean Searlean constitutive rules then you must be
>>>>> committed to rules as causal or 'creative'. The rules in that case
>>>>> create the regularities, don't just describe them. If so, than I
>>>>> think this is dead wrong. The approach is unscientific because it
>>>>> formulates a rule after having observed a regularity and then it
>>>>> backtracks to say the rule caused the regularity. At best one has a
>>>>> Humean causality in that case: X behaves in manner Y in context C,
>>>>> just because all Xs do. Oops. Constant conjunction redux.
>>>>> OK then, one may ask, what about Searle's linguistic example (his
>>>>> only real one as far as I know) around the nasal consonants in
>>>>> 'finger' and 'singer' respectively? The rule is that the velar stop
>>>>> occurs after the nasal whenever the word is not a noun formed from
>> a
>>>>> verb. Isn't this a clincher? Actually, no, it's not. All the rule
>>>>> has done is describe a pattern not 'created' (Searle's word) it. So
>>>>> what does create it? That is precisely the true scientific
>> question.
>>>>> I think what is at stake is something like Bourdieu's habitus,
>> which
>>>>> I would like to draw into linguistics and then explore further. I
>>>>> wonder if anyone else is interested in this?
>>>>> You see, what I have admired in cognitive linguistics is that it
>> has
>>>>> dispensed with Chomskyan rules in explanations of syntax and
>>>>> semantics. That is still very far from a reality in pragmatics
>>>>> unfortunately, which still tends to suffer under the weight of
>>>>> Searlean and Gricean philosophy, but a change is surely gonna
>> come.
>>>>> If no-one objects I might just take this debate onto cogling as
>>>>> well. But let me say I appreciate the scare quotes around 'rules'
>>>>> and the important reference to nonstandard varieties, where Searle
>>>>> sees only mispronunciation.
>>>>> Best
>>>>> Tahir

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