That we obey rules blindly does not mean that we are blindly subservient to rules

Wes Sharrock, Alex Dennis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wittgenstein's remarks on rule-following are rightly understood to be corrosive of the project of cognitive science. They do not, however, therefore privilege sociology as a competitor discipline ' despite the protestations of some sociologists. Rules are invoked as explanatory devices in social theory, and Wittgenstein is criticized for failing to offer a conception of rule-following amenable to such uses. This reveals a misconception of how rules work, and a misunderstanding of what Wittgenstein's philosophy was meant to achieve. Using Wittgenstein's own arguments about rule-following activities, in particular those concerning mathematics, we demonstrate that, first, rules do not indicate the existence of a realm independent of or superior to the mundane, everyday world, and so cannot be used to 'explain' activities with regard to such a realm. Wittgenstein's remark that rules are followed 'blindly',therefore, cannot arbitrate between different social-theoretical understandings of what it means to follow a rule, but deals in very different debates and in very different terms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-162
Number of pages129
JournalTheory, Culture & Society: explorations in critical social science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2008


  • Athority
  • Cgnitivism
  • Community agreement
  • Iterpretation
  • Private language


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