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.
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