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Norms, Constitutive and Social, and Assertion Elizabeth Fricker Forthcoming 2017 in American Philosophical Quarterly, special issue on social norms.
ABSTRACT I define a social norm as a regularity in behavior whose persistence is causally explained by the existence of sanctioning attitudes of participants to violations – without these sanctions individuals have motive to violate the norm. I show how a universal precept “When in circumstances S, do action F” can be sustained by the conditional preference of each to conform given that others do of a convention, and also reinforced by the sanctions of a norm. I observe that a precept with moral force can be reinforced by a social norm. I then consider constitutive norms and show by means of an example, competitive figure skating, how a type of activity or practise G can have a constitutive norm NG. An ongoing activity in a community is engagement in that practice only if NG is reinforced as a social norm by participants. I apply this to the case of assertion: the speech act type assertion has a constitutive norm NA, and a practice of making speech acts in a community is one of making assertions only if it is controlled by NA enforced by the sanctions of a social norm.
1.Constitutive and Social Norms, and Assertion There has been much interest in recent years in the speech act of assertion, particularly in the issue of what norm, if any, governs it.1 With a few exceptions (Cappelen 2011), contributors to the debate accept that there is a theoretically significant speech act type of assertion that is norm-‐governed, though some argue there is not a single norm, rather the norm in play varies according to context. (See (Goldberg 2015), (Gerken 2014). Assertion is an important topic for epistemology, since the speech act of assertion is at the heart of how knowledge is spread through testimony – a recipient’s acceptance of the spoken or written word of another on some matter of fact. (See (Fricker 2015, Goldberg 2015) Regarding this norm governing assertion, two issues have each been the focus of a spate of literature: What precisely is the norm? -‐ What is its status? The norm is conceived in the form of a prohibition on asserting P in the absence of fulfilment of a certain condition, which condition is a function of P, and maybe also of the asserter’s relation to P. Using M to stand in for whatever this condition may be, it is represented schematically thus: ‘One must: Assert that P only if M.’ Candidates recently proposed for M include: P is true; the asserting speaker S believes P; S is justified in believing P; it would be reasonable for S to believe ; S knows P.2 This paper is focussed on the issue of the norm’s status. The considerations canvassed and arguments I make in sections 2-‐5 are orthogonal to the issue of what precisely the content of the norm is, and do not depend on a choice on that other issue. In my final section I propose my own account of assertion and what its norm is, to argue for the thesis that its norm is constitutive. The bulk of the paper investigates a more general issue about norms. In my final section I apply my findings to the question of the status of the norm governing assertion. Here’s the general issue:
A norm can be of more than one kind. More precisely, a given norm-‐content can hold in a community as more than one kind of norm – a norm with that content of each kind in question applies to that community.3 In this paper I investigate whether a particular norm-‐content can hold both as a constitutive norm of a certain type of activity -‐ for instance games or competitive sports -‐ and also as a social norm governing the practice of or engagement in this activity in a community. I first spell out why there seems to be a tension between these two things. But further investigation shows that this is entirely possible, and is widely instanced. My particular interest in this question is its application to the norm of assertion. I think it is plausible that assertion is distinguished amongst speech act types by a certain norm that is constitutive of it. But the speech act type assertion is of interest to worthwhile philosophical enquiries – explaining the nature of linguistic communication; how knowledge is spread by means of speech acts – only because people make assertions, and others listen and respond in characteristic ways to them. So a philosophical account of assertion should equip us to describe and explain the practice in human societies of making and responding to assertions. And when we turn to consider this practice, I maintain this thesis: a norm that is relevant to the ongoing conduct4 of participants in the practice, the articulation of which aids our description and understanding of the practise, must be one that controls participants’ actions and reactions5 -‐ that is to say, it must be a social norm controlling the practice.6 If a norm relevant to our understanding of assertoric practice, including its role in the spread of knowledge, is a social norm, then what of the thesis that assertion has a norm that is constitutive? In this paper I avert a crisis by showing we can maintain both theses. Assertion is governed by a certain norm-‐content that is constitutive of the type; and the same norm-‐content obtains as a social norm controlling the practice of making assertions in a community. The constitutive-‐norm thesis and the social-‐norm thesis are not merely consistent, they are necessarily connected. The main conclusion argued for in this paper is this: necessarily, a practice of making and receiving a certain distinguishable7 type of speech acts in a community is one of making and receiving assertions just if the constitutive norm for assertion controls this practice through the mechanism of a social norm enforcing it. In section 2 I explain the idea of a social norm. In section 3 I compare it to that of a convention. We see that a given regularity can be enforced in a community both by the motivational structure of a convention, and also that of a social norm. I observe that social norms and moral norms are entities of different categories: the first are regularities with a certain kind of motivational enforcing mechanism, the second are abstract objects, categorical imperatives. It is quickly evident that a moral norm can be reinforced in a community by a social norm. It is less easy to see how a norm-‐content that is a constitutive norm of some type of activity can also be a social norm. In sections 4 and 5 I explore this, through considering a competitive sport, figure skating, and then a competitive game, football. Our findings from these examples are applied in section 6 to the case of interest, the norm of assertion.
2. The Idea of a Social Norm The notion of a social norm is, in the first instance, a theoretical category of social psychology or anthropology. In what follows I formulate the notion in the fashion most relevant to present concerns. This diverges in some details from earlier formulations,
but preserves the broad idea.8 A social norm in a community is a regularity in behavior in the community, one that is accompanied by prescriptive sanctions – violations are punished by attitudes of disapproval and other sanctions; and where the persistence of this regularity is causally explained by the existence of these prescriptive sanctions. More exactly: Definition of Existence of a Social Norm in C: There exists a social norm in community C that ‘When in situation S, one should do F’,9 where S is some recurring type of situation, and F some repeatable type of action, just if: (SN1) There is in C a regularity R in behavior to which members of C extensionally conform on at least nearly all relevant occasions, R = When in S, do F ; and (SN2) R is in C surrounded by attitudes and actions of prescriptive and evaluative sanctioning on the part of members of C, namely attitudes of disapproval plus other sanctions to instances of violation, and approval plus other rewards to instances of conformity; and (SN3) The persistence of R in C is causally explained by (SN2), that is by R’s being surrounded by persisting sanctions. For instance, it is a social norm amongst the male members of a certain golf club that “When at the clubhouse, one sho...