Etica E Politica 11 (1):203-259 (2009)

Richard Evans
Cambridge University
We are able to participate in countless different sorts of social practice. This indefinite set of capacities must be explainable in terms of a finite stock of capacities. This paper compares and contrasts two different explanations. A standard decomposition of the capacity to participate in social practices goes something like this: the interpreter arrives on the scene with a stock of generic practice-types. He looks at the current scene to fill-in the current tokens of these types. He looks at the current state of these practice tokens to see what actions are available to him. He uses his current desires to choose between these various possible actions. I argue that this standard explanation is defective, drawing on arguments by Searle and Wittgenstein and Garfinkel. I propose an alternative explanation, in which the participants must continually show each other the state of the scene in order to maintain the scene’s intelligibility. I provide a simple formal language in which to describe this alternative approach, in which we can state quite precisely what someone is doing when they participate in a practice. This language is related to both deontic and epistemic logics, but it is much simpler – it does not include the classic propositional connectives, and it is driven by a very different set of assumptions. The inspirations for this formal language are Searle’s analysis of directions of fit, Wittgenstein’s remarks on rule-following and Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology.
Keywords ethnomethodology  deontic logic
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