Rules, society and evolution

Within human communities, the phenomenon of rules is ubiquitous. We have the allimportant rules that are codified by our law; we have rules that are not authoritatively written down, but are usually followed (like the rule that if somebody helps me, I should be prepared to help him in turn); we have traffic rules; and the rules of various games and sports. Yet, from the scientific viewpoint, rules are not easy to account for. How is their emergence to be explained (in a way compatible with evolution), and how is their existence to be construed, especially in cases when they are not written down? Are we to consider a rule as primarily a linguistic object; or are we to reduce it to some regularity of behavior? Neither of these two forms of existence holds much allure. Firstly, insofar as some rules clearly exist without being recorded, there is no linguistic object with which they can be identified. (After all, we talk about the encoding of the law, which seems to suggest that the law articulates something existing independently of the code.) And secondly, reducing the existence of a rule to a plain regularity of behavior would extinguish any distinction between billiard balls 'following the rules' of mechanics and human subjects following the rules of their society. Hence it would seem that, though there must be more to rules than regularities, at least some rules must be capable of existing exclusively 'within' human conduct – being, as Willfrid Sellars (1949, 299) put it, written "in flesh and blood, or nerve and sinew, rather than in pen and ink".
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