Overruling rules?

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This paper discusses issues relating to the normativity of prescriptive rules: what does it mean for a rule to be able to direct action, and what are the implications for the desirability of rule-based decision-making? It is argued that: (a) cognitively, one must allow for more than a single answer to the first question (the two interpretations of rules discussed here are based alternately on the concepts of exclusion and presumption); and (b) normatively, these different structures typically serve for different purposes in allocation of power and discretion. The next issue is the connection between rule-based decision-making and semantic theories of language. On a meta-discursive level, the paper makes a twofold claim: that normative discourse is possible only on the basis of a sound cognitive inquiry, while cognitive inquiry alone is not sufficient to explain social action and interaction, lacking tools to deal with the contingent normative demands from decision-making systems, such as adjudication. The discussion of prescriptive rules serves as a case-study for this claim. These and related topics have been dealt with by Frederick Schauer(1991a, 1991b). His model of rules as entrenched generalizations and mediators between “justifications” and action is the starting point of the present discussion, which, on most of the issues mentioned above, results in conclusions quite different from Schauer’s.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-366
Number of pages20
JournalPragmatics and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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