A Note on Theory of Practices

I spent over an hour today trying to dismiss the theory of practices as a useful theory. Someone remarked that the idea of “practices” is not a theory, it’s just a descriptive concept to denote a kind of social phenomenon, which (I suppose) could also be called a tradition, a convention, a cultural ritual — any number of terms, all of which just means “something people do.”

But the idea of practices is not so simple. As it was pointed out, this was a concept advanced by Wittgenstein and others of the Ordinary Language Philosophy group, and it was meant, originally, to perform a philosophical function. It has been taken up by pragmatists as a resolution to the “problem” of theory, which is repugnant to pragmatists because theories aren’t tangible and don’t have a proper place to reside. A theory-less sytem would supposedly be much more realistic.

The theory of practices is a theory, though, and not a very attractive one. Searle, in his book, “The Construction of Social Reality,” takes another path by analyzing the nature of social consensus, its emergence, operation, and effects. It’s evident from the way Mr. Searle describes the operation of institutional practices (he uses the example of a football game, but we could cite any number of conventions such as “rules of the road”), that institutions must perforce set up some theory that has a normative role. This theory might be the rules of the road, or the rules of a game of chess, or the rules of football, but in any case, we can’t just allow people to play the game any way they want. So you can’t get away from theory.

And as I recall, Wittgenstein’s description of language games suggested that there has to be some agreement about the game being played, and how can you do that if there’s no abstract understanding of the rules and parameters of the game?

At any rate, I’m afraid I wasn’t very receptive to process theory.

About John Valley

Born in Michigan, USA, in 1948, I've since lived all over the US, but back here again. I've worked as operating systems developer, consultant, and published three books on Unix and programming back in the 90's. My interests include philosophy and cooking chili. I can usually be found online in the mornings, on Undernet, chatting with people in the #Philosophical channel.
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