Rules & Institutions; essays in meaning, speech and social ontology
View PDF Version
Institutions play a very important role in our lives. Many of our daily activities are institutional. Think of going to the office, giving a lecture, standing in line for lunch, paying for it, and attending a seminar. All of these are institutional phenomena. The underlying institutions structure our behaviour. They are social arrangements that often make our lives easier, and sometimes more difficult: they facilitate and obstruct; they enable and constrain. Institutional phenomena, however, are not exhausted by activities. They also involve, among others, objects, persons, events, and relations. Think of driver’s licences, presidents, declarations of war, and marriages. These examples reveal that institutional phenomena are very diverse. Institutions do not just structure our behaviour. They also shape our environment in many other ways. There would not be any traffic lights, mailboxes, psychiatrists, or bachelor parties, if it were not for our institutions. Institutions are often regarded as rules, and it is easy to see why. The fact that institutions structure our behaviour implies that each institution has a characteristic pattern of behaviour associated with it. Most people stop for traffic lights, use money when they are in a shop, and are silent when a professor gives a lecture. Conceptualising institutions as rules has as an advantage that this fact about institutions is readily explained. If the people involved in an institution follow the relevant rule, a pattern of behaviour ensues. Take the rule that you need a driver’s licence in order to be allowed to drive a car. This rule can be appealed to for explaining the correlation between driving a car and having a driver’s licence. Many people let their behaviour be guided by institutions, or – what might be the same – by rules, and this provides at least a partial explanation for the regularities we can observe in institutional reality. But there is more to institutional reality than patterns of behaviour. There is an important conceptual dimension to institutions as well. We conceptualise certain actions as getting married, we take certain objects to be driver’s licenses or money, and we regard certain people as presidents or police officers. And it seems plausible to say that the objects and persons really have that character at least in part because of that. This conceptual dimension of institutions plays an important role in the work of philosophers such as Wittgenstein, Rawls, Searle, and Tuomela. It is the hypothesis of this thesis that this conceptual dimension can also be accounted for in terms of rules. The notion of a constitutive rule, which plays an especially prominent role in the work of Searle, might be of help in this regard. Constitutive rules are, or our acceptance of such rules is, constitutive of the institutional phenomena to which they pertain. This implies that these phenomena would not have their institutional character if it were not for the underlying constitutive rules. Our conceptualisations of them as institutional phenomena involve these rules. The core question of this thesis is how the notion of a constitutive rule can further our understanding of institutions. The point of departure for answering it is Searle’s theory of constitutive rules. Searle’s theory of constitutive rules is the most developed theory available. Searle claims that the form, or syntax as I prefer to call it, of a constitutive rule is ‘X counts as Y in C’. A particular kind of piece of paper, for instance, counts as a driver’s licence in the Netherlands. The idea is that we impose institutional concepts such as that of a driver’s licence on other phenomena such as a piece of paper. The intuition that underlies Searle’s theory is that the way we conceptualise institutional reality matters for the way the world is. This intuition will be retained. We will find, however, that Searle’s theory is deficient in other respects. It provides some useful insights for accounting for the institutional character that many actions, objects, persons, events, and relations have. Nevertheless, we will see that the theory is underdeveloped in that respect. The main deficiency of Searle’s theory, however, is that the behavioural dimension of institutions is not integrated in his conception of constitutive rules, or so I will argue. The main contribution of this thesis is a proposal for a new theory of constitutive rules. This theory accounts for both the conceptual and the behavioural dimension that many institutional phenomena have. 18.104.22.168.1 RulesRulesRulesRules aaaannnnd Id Id Id Innnnssssttttititititutionutionutionutionssss 1.1.1 The XYZ-Conception of Constitutive Rules Someone who is familiar with Searle’s conception of constitutive rules might be surprised by my claim that it does not properly account for Introduction the behavioural dimension of institutions. After all, many of the examples that he gives concern institutional actions. Uttering certain words in a particular kind of setting counts as making a promise on his view. Similarly, going through a certain kind of ceremony counts as getting married. Finally, handing over a piece of paper in a bakery and receiving a loaf of bread in return counts as buying a loaf of bread. These examples, however, do not get to the core of the behavioural dimension of institutions. Consider buying a loaf of bread. Let us pretend for the moment that there is a single constitutive rule for buying bread and that the description of the example provides the correct formulation of that rule (in practice, buying items of a particular kind can be accounted for in more general constitutive rules concerning, among others, money, property, and bakeries). This rule then accounts for the character that handing over some money has in certain circumstances, i.e. that of buying something. It does not, however, account for the consequences of that action. Buying a loaf of bread gives one the right to use it as one sees fit. Similarly for driver’s licenses. The rule that certain pieces of paper count as driver’s licenses in the Netherlands may account for the fact that these pieces of paper are indeed driver’s licenses. The central feature of institutional phenomena such as this one, however, is that they structure our behaviour. Driver’s licenses do so because having a driver’s licence is a prerequisite for being permitted to drive a car. Even though Searle has said some things about rights and obligations (and functions as we will see shortly) involved in institutions, he has not integrated them in his theory of constitutive rules. The main task that I have set myself in this thesis is to do just this. In chapter 6, I present my theory of constitutive rules, which I call the XYZ-conception of constitutive rules. The X and the Y of ‘XYZ’ are the X and the Y of Searle’s formulation of the syntax of constitutive rules. In order to see what I add to Searle’s theory, let me first say a bit more about his ideas. Searle holds that, if something is Y it has a certain status. In other words, Y-terms are status terms. A status is the set of properties an entity has due to the fact that the entity occurs in an institutional setting. It only has that status if we consider it to have that status, or if we count it as having that status. More specifically, having that status depends on human agreement or collective acceptance. ‘Money’ is an example of a status term. What is crucial to the existence of money is that we, for instance, count certain pieces of paper or certain pieces of metal as money or collectively accept them as such. The X-term specifies what kind of entity or entities instantiate a status. When objects are concerned, a particular X-term characterises the material of which a particular status is made of. In case of our example this is a particular kind of piece of paper or a piece of metal. I add a third ingredient to this theory represented by Z-terms. Such terms represent the behavioural dimension of institutional phenomena. The behavioural dimension of money is its function. Money is a means of exchange, and, hence, particular instances of money can be used for buying and selling (I assume for simplicity that means of exchange is the only function of money). The behavioural dimension of a driver’s licence consists of an institutional right: having a driver’s licence provides one the right to drive a car. ‘Means of exchange’ and ‘being permitted to drive a car’ are examples of Z-terms. As a rough and ready indication, this is how Z-terms figure in the XYZ-conception of constitutive rules: what it means to be a Y is to be a Z. The idea is that institutional statuses can be defined in terms of the practical import they have. ‘Money is a means of exchange’, and ‘Driver’s licences give one the permission to drive a car’ should be seen as definitions of status terms. So, I agree with Searle that Y is a status and X the stuff it is made of. But I then go on to say that Z is the behavioural dimension of statuses or Ys. I call statements of the form ‘To be a Y is to be a Z’ or just ‘Y is Z’ status rules, and such rules define status terms. The XYZ-conception of constitutive rules accommodates both the insight that a certain kind of stuff (e.g. paper) has a particular kind of status (e.g. money), and the idea that having the relevant status has behavioural implications (e.g. the stuff can be used for buying and selling). It contains both statements akin to ‘X counts as Y in C’ and statements the syntax of which is ‘Y is Z’. Postponing the details of this theory to chapter 6 let me here just present the main conclusion of that chapter: the XYZ-conception of constitutive rules integrates the conceptual and the behavioural dimension of many institutional phenomena (I say ‘many’ because I will argue below that, pace Searle, not all institutional phenomena involve constitutive rules). This conclusion provides the basis for an answer to the core question of this thesis. Recall that this question was how the notion of a constitutive rule can further our understanding of institutions. Given the conclusion of chapter 6 just mentioned, we can now say the following: T1. The XYZ-conception of constitutive rules furthers our understanding of institutions by revealing how their conceptual and behavioural dimensions (can) relate to one another. Introduction This is the first central claim of this thesis. Chapter 6 presents the XYZconception in more detail.
Maki, Prof. Dr. I.U. (promotor)
- constitutive rules
- speech acts
- constitutive rule