Norms and Practices

Norms and Practices

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    Norms and Practices
    Book Description:

    We spend a great deal of time learning our vocations and avocations as we work at jobs, participate in home life, and take part in civic activities and politics. In doing so, we engage in practices that consist of complex bodies of norms. These practices themselves are bodies of knowledge-often acquired from others-about what we take to be good ways or right ways to do certain things. As we learn how to solve problems and act on this knowledge, the practice itself changes.

    In Norms and Practices, James D. Wallace shows that norms of all kinds, including ethical norms, are intensely social constructs learned through constant interaction with others. Wallace suggests that ethical norms have long been misunderstood as practice-independent prescriptions for behavior; he regards them instead as items of practical knowledge that are constituents of practices. We are given the luxury of learning from others' mistakes and successes, often in a very informal way. Such lessons from collective or individual experience often carry more weight than do pronouncements from an external source. Wallace shows that practices and norms, including ethical norms within such spheres as biomedical research, family life, and politics, continually change as practitioners face novel problems.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5991-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Much of our lives is taken up with activity that can be described as participating in practices. We work at jobs, participate in family life, take part in civic activities and politics as citizens, and so on. Little reflection is necessary to realize that these practices we participate in are complex bodies of practical knowledge. The knowledge is know-how, what we take to be good ways or right ways to do certain things. The knowledge is thus normative. The practices are complexes of norms. Further, we acquire this knowledge from others. The practices in which we participate are social in...

  5. ONE Challenging the Paradigm in Ethics
    (pp. 8-31)

    Two assumptions are deeply entrenched in Anglo-American philosophical ethics. The first assumption is that ethical norms have an origin, existence, and authority independent from actual historical social practice. The second assumption is that each individual could, in principle, gain knowledge of such norms independently of other individuals. Both assumptions have very long histories. We could call the first assumption the Platonic assumption about ethics and the second the Cartesian. There are at present competing, sharply contested accounts of what these timeless norms independent from practices are and how we know of them. We gain access to ethical norms that are...

  6. TWO The Spirit of the Enterprise
    (pp. 32-54)

    Frederick L. Will’s views about the phenomena that he calls the governance of norms of thought and action grew out of his work on skepticism, truth, and the problem of induction. The professional activities of scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers—theoreticians—are the focus of his attention as he seeks to provide a basis for a critical understanding of their activities. The account he offers in his later work of how theorists properly proceed in cultivating and expanding an understanding of various phenomena, however, is an application of a more general conception of what it is for any human activity to...

  7. THREE Social Artifacts and Ethical Criticism
    (pp. 55-82)

    It is difficult for many philosophers to accept the idea that norms, including ethical norms, are fundamentally constituents of actual practices. The view seems to them to conceive norms in such a way that the norms cannot perform effectively their most important function—providing standards for the rigorous criticism of actual practice. The view is thought, at best, to engender an unacceptably conservative posture toward existing social and political arrangements, a bias toward the status quo. At the very worst, the view will seem to provide a superabundance of conflicting norms with no way to adjudicate among them.

    In fact,...

  8. FOUR General and Particular in Practical Knowledge
    (pp. 83-111)

    Practical knowledge, knowledge of better and worse ways of doing things, arises from people’s encounters with the world and their sharing with others what they learn on these occasions. The encounters are particular events, but what is learned is general. What is learned is also normative. The knowledge provides guidance for action and standards for evaluation and criticism. The use of the practical knowledge so acquired is to enable people to cope with the next particular problem—and the next.

    If we wish to gain a critical understanding of an existing item of practical knowledge, a norm, then we can...

  9. FIVE Virtues of Benevolence and Justice
    (pp. 112-130)

    Among the norms that constitute practices, I have maintained, are ethical norms. The ethical norms are components of practices, standards of acting that are exemplified in better rather than worse ways of doing things. A good person, though, is not merely someone who is concerned to do things correctly. Kindness, sympathy, and compassion invariably appear on contemporary lists of ethical virtues, and these traits consist in more than a concern to do things the right way. How are we to understand the relationship between ethical norms that are components of practices and such ethical phenomena as “other-regarding” virtues?

    People are...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 131-136)
  11. Index
    (pp. 137-140)