Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Constitutive Rules, Normativity, and A Priori Truth. [Special Issue]

Topics: History of Analytic Philosophy, Philosophy of language, Theoretical philosophy
Keywords: A Priori, Constitutive, Experience, Kant, Normative, Rules, Searle


This paper develops an argument which seems to yield a set of a priori rules—rules which are constitutive of, but not normative for, thought and experience. I contrast the resulting Kantian sense of a priori truth as independent of all experience, because presupposed by it, with the use Searle makes of a priori truth by stipulation or definition. By focusing on the a priori rules of thought and experience we can make good on the sense of constitutivity that Searle had in mind in his early work. By virtue of their apriority, the Kantian rules are able to do what the constitutive rules of football and chess cannot: they are able to define the nature of the activity they govern, namely, thinking or cognizing that thus-and-so. They tell us, independently of their cultural or social context, what kind of activity results from our compliance with them.

It is now almost fifty years since John Searle began calling attention to the relationship between “constitutive” rules and forms of behavior. He writes, in 1969,  that “constitutive rules […] create or define new forms of behaviour. The rules of football or chess, for example, do not merely regulate playing football or chess, but as it were they create the very possibility of playing such games” (Searle 1969: 33). Over the years, Searle’s discussion of constitutive rules has been influential, and rightly so, in philosophy of language, social ontology, and elsewhere.


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