Practice and Sociality

In Georg W. Bertram, Stefan Blank, Christophe Laudou & David Lauer (eds.), Intersubjectivité et pratique: Contributions à l’étude des pragmatismes dans la philosophie contemporaine. L'Harmattan. pp. 57-74 (2005)
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In recent years a growing number of philosophers in the analytic tradition have focused their attention on the significance of human sociality. An older point of departure of analysis, which actually precedes this current tide of accounts of sociality, has revolved around the debate between “holism” and “individualism” in the philosophy of the human or social sciences and social theory. The more recent point of departure for various accounts of sociality has centered on the nature of conventions, social groups, shared intentions, or collective intentionality. Putting aside the disagreements among these accounts, they all take for granted an antecedently intelligible notion of individual agency as explanatorily primitive and seek to explain the possibility of plural or collective agency in terms of the former. By contrast, other philosophers who have worked at the intersection of analytic and "continental" philosophy have emphasized the primacy of practice as the proper starting point for philosophical reflections on the nature of human sociality. In the analytic tradition this emphasis is typically framed in terms of the possibility of rule-following, a topic put on the philosophical agenda by the later Wittgenstein. Peter Winch’s and Saul Kripke’s influential but controversial readings of Wittgenstein explicitly thematize the issue of rule-following, readings which have in turn generated critical reflection in various disciplines for which this issue is relevant. I begin by briefly explicating the positions of Pettit and Brandom on the issue of rule-following (putting aside any specific differences between them for the moment). Next I connect Pettit’s and Brandom’s views on rule-following, and more generally on normativity and its necessarily social basis, with the views of Theodore Schatzki and Joseph Rouse, whose conceptions of the significance of practice and its inherent sociality are indebted as much to the early Heidegger as well as the later Wittgenstein. I suggest that Pettit’s and Brandom’s views of the necessarily social nature of rule-following (i.e., practice) ought to acknowledge and integrate the shared insight of Schatzki and Rouse that practices are not only modes of activity, but constitute more basically the concrete setting or world within which practices qua modes of activity are intelligible (verständlich) at all. I conclude the paper by suggesting how an integrated account of the significance of the necessarily social nature of practice undermines the assumptions of those philosophers who seek to analyze human sociality solely on the basis of modes of interactions among individual agents.


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