Understanding social norms and constitutive rules: Perspectives from developmental psychology and philosophy

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 14 (4):699-718 (2015)
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An experimental paradigm that purports to test young children’s understanding of social norms is examined. The paradigm models norms on Searle’s notion of a constitutive rule. The experiments and the reasons provided for their design are discussed. It is argued that the experiments do not provide direct evidence about the development of social norms and that the concepts of a social norm and constitutive rule are distinct. The experimental data are re-interpreted, and suggestions for how to deal with the present criticism are presented that do not require abandoning the paradigm as such. Then the conception of normativity that underlies the experimental paradigm is rejected and an alternative view is put forward. It is argued that normativity emerges from interaction and engagement, and that learning to comply with social norms involves understanding the distinction between their content, enforcement, and acceptance. As opposed to rule-based accounts that picture the development of an understanding of social norms as one-directional and based in enforcement, the present view emphasizes that normativity is situated, reciprocal, and interactive

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Ingar Brinck
Lund University


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