In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rule-Following

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Anthologies
  • Wittgenstein’s Concept of Rule-Following
  • Early Contributions to the Debate
  • Kripke’s Interpretation of Wittgenstein
  • McDowell’s Interpretation of Wittgenstein
  • Wright’s Interpretation of Wittgenstein
  • Rule-Following in Other Philosophical and Nonphilosophical Disciplines
  • Rule-Following and the Philosophical Tradition

Philosophy Rule-Following
Martin Kusch
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0106


“Rule-following” is best thought of as a title for a number of closely intertwined philosophical questions: What is a rule? Can a rule compel or guide its user, and if so, how? What is it to be committed to following a rule? How can rules be learned? Is it possible to understand rule-following without referring to communities? Is to mean something by a word, and to have a concept, tantamount to being committed to following a rule? Precursors of these questions have always been asked by philosophers in some form or other. But it is primarily due to the work of Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations) that rule-following has come to be regarded as a distinct philosophical issue. This is reflected in the fact that much of the contemporary literature on rule-following is concerned with the interpretation of Wittgenstein’s writings. The literature on rule-following is immense and cuts across all areas of philosophy.

Introductory Works

Two very helpful introductions to the Philosophical Investigations in general and the rule-following considerations in particular are McGinn 1997 and Stern 2004. An indispensable tool for every student of Wittgenstein is Glock 1996. The four-volume commentary on the Philosophical Investigations in Baker and Hacker 1985 and Hacker 1993 contains a wealth of information. It is a crucial resource even for readers who disagree with Baker and Hacker’s interpretation of Wittgenstein.

  • Baker, Gordon, and Peter Hacker. An Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations. Vol. 2, Wittgenstein: Rules, Grammar and Necessity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1985.

    Indispensable commentary on Philosophical Investigations. Volume 1 was published in 1980. The second volume is particularly relevant for the rule-following considerations. See especially “Accord with a Rule” (pp. 81–105) and “Following Rules, Mastery of Techniques and Practices” (pp. 154–178).

  • Glock, Hans-Johann. A Wittgenstein Dictionary. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631185376.1996.x

    An indispensable tool for finding one’s way around Wittgenstein’s work. Useful entries on “rule-following” and “private language.”

  • Hacker, Peter. An Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations. Vol. 3, Wittgenstein: Meaning and Mind. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.

    Indispensable commentary on Philosophical Investigations. Volume 4 was published in 1996.

  • McGinn, Marie. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations. London: Routledge, 1997.

    A very clear introduction to the Philosophical Investigations and particularly good in explaining the rule-following paragraphs.

  • Stern, David. Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139167185

    A clear introduction to the Philosophical Investigations, focusing in particular on the style of writing and the use of dialogues.

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