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Borna Jalšenjak, Kristijan Krkač, Ivan Spajić Zagreb School of Economics and Management Philosophical Faculty of the Society of Jesus in Zagreb “In practice, however, it is the rule–and–exemption approach that is usually followed.” Barry 2002:39 Rules and exceptions While writing on several philosophers who are experts in something else besides philosophy Richard Posner in section “What are philosophers good for?” in his book “Overcoming Law” mentioned few of them and said that they are exceptions that prove the rule. In the footnote with reference to the word “prove” he says, • “That is, probe. The notion that a rule is confirmed by showing that it has exceptions – the usual modern meaning of “exception that proves the rule” – is plain nonsense.” (Posner 2002:447). Now, what we have here is the distinction between “to probe” and “to prove” with addition that “to prove” means “to confirm”. Posner obviously thinks that exception cannot prove the rule, and that it can probe the rule in terms of “to put to trial or to test”, “to check out”, “to look into”, “to explore”, and “to investigate”. Regarding the first part of his claim, it is easy to see that it is correct, but only partially, and the second part raises its own issue, as it will be argued in the present paper.1 From time to time, we can hear that something is “an exception to the rule” and that as such “it proves the rule”, or the idiom that something is “the exception [that] proves the rule”. However, if “to prove the rule,” means, “to confirm the rule”, then it is plain nonsense as Posner claims. Namely, one can read the idiom (1) “the exception [that] proves the rule” as (2) “if there is a rule and one can find a counter–example to it, then the rule is proved to be true by counter–example” which is obviously nonsense, (in fact a contradiction between propositions “All S are P” and “Some S are not P”). Regarding the reading (2), if examined rule is for instance, “all birds can fly”, then the existence of flightless bird, i.e. “some birds cannot fly”, hardly proves the rule. In fact, it proves just the opposite, namely, “It is not true that all birds can fly”. Now, the cause of confusion is established by two somewhat different meanings of the expression “to prove”. “To prove” can mean “to establish as true” and “to test”. This difference is obvious enough. If one says, “It is raining outside” and the other one asks “Really?”, then the first one can say, “Yes, I am by my window while I am speaking to you” and this establishes the truth regarding rain (at least based on an eye-witness testimony). • Say that the rule is “All birds can fly”, and that we have another claim, namely, “Penguins are flightless birds”.2 If the second claim is true, then surely it is an exception to the rule in strong sense meaning that these propositions are in relation of inconsistency. Namely, they cannot be both true. However, let us turn the issue other way around. • Now if one has a proposition “Only a few kinds of birds are flightless, for instance penguins”, then one can reasonably assume that there is a general rule such as “Most kinds of birds can fly”. Now, there is no inconsistency here since the first proposition became an exception via explicating the rule from it (one could say that the first proposition points to the second, or that the rule is assumed), and as such it “demonstrates” that the rule exists, that there is a rule (perhaps that there “must” be a rule).3
In addition, by “a rule” we will presuppose “any rule-like phenomenon” including formal, physical, biological, social, legal, cultural, and similar laws, regularity, and uniformity. 2 One must be aware that the proposition “that penguins are birds” is a matter of convention in the sense that one must count features of birds and then recognize the same features in penguins. However, some features are conventionally regarded as more important, and other as less important. Namely, it is obviously more important, biologically speaking, to have wings then to be able to use them for flying (perhaps one can imagine a verse in a poem, “While we ridiculously walk around the bottom of the sea, penguins sublimely fly above us”, titled “A crab song”). Now, if the rule is “All birds have wings”, then “Penguins have wings” does not contradict the rule. In other words, or if the convention would be different from the accepted one, then penguins would not be regarded as birds at all, running bird likewise, perhaps; but then we would have problems with bats for example, since bats can fly but they are not birds. 3 It is commonly assumed that if for instance a sign says “On Saturdays the shop is open from 10:00 until 12:00”, then one assumes that there is a rule that during a week the shop is opened regularly, say from 09:00 until 17:00, and that working hours on Saturday is an exception to the rule. However, it is possible that there is no regularity
Nevertheless, the issue seems to be precisely in the difference between universal and non-universal rules, and of course in the level of universality. Namely, the difference is between: (a) a rule being universally applied (“All S are P”), and (b) a rule being usually applied, or applied to a vast majority of cases, but not to all (“Most S are P”).4 If one considers the proposition “Birds can fly” in the sense of (b), then there is possibility of an exception. On the other hand, if one also considers the proposition “Penguins are flightless birds” in sense of exception to the rule that birds can fly, then one can assume the proposition “Birds can fly” is a rule to which the proposition “Penguins are flightless birds” is an exception which maybe confirms its existence, but not its validity. Original and scientific meaning Additional confusion can be caused by incompleteness of the proposition (1). Originally, Cicero proposed (1) in his defence of Lucius Cornelius Balbus (in “Pro Balbo”). Now, if (1) “the exception [that] proves the rule” is cited completely, namely as (3) “the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted” (Latin: exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis, Fowler 1998),5 then it is clear that it says (4) the fact that an exception stated serves to establish the existence of a rule that applies to cases not covered by the very exception. Now, (1) and (2) are still inconsistent. However, (2) should be slightly changed in the following manner, (2a) if there is a rule and one can find a counter–example to it, then the rule must exist. Consequently, (3) rendered as (4) and (2a) are consistent. What we have here is considered original meaning, that is to say, confirming only the existence of a rule, nothing more or less. However, the relation of a rule and its exception is odd one in this case, since what one counts as exception is claimed to be an exception that is not covered by the rule, and how then one can count such “exception not covered by the rule” as “an exception which confirms the rule” not just its existence, but its validity as well? Leaving this question aside, let us turn to the next one, which is also interesting concerning a scientific meaning of the idiom in question. Say that there is a case of a critic Jones (this is F. W. Fowler’s case from his dictionary “Modern English Usage”, in Quinion 2009). The case goes as follows. • Jones never writes a favourable review. Therefore, we are surprised when he writes a favourable review of a novel by an unknown author. Then we discover that the novel is his own, written under a pseudonym. Obviously, the rule (rule “Jones never writes a favourable review”) does not apply to this case (case “there is a favourable review written by Jones”). In other words, the rule is still valid, but the exception does not apply to the rule, or in other words, the rule does not cover particular exception. It is somewhat questionable does it show that “the rule is shown to be valid” since what is shown is only that the rule does not apply to the particular case, not that the rule is valid via any case to which the rule apply. In this sense, the word “proves” means “tests”, and “the exception proves the rule” means “an unusual case can be used to test whether or not a rule is valid”. If the rule stands up to the unusual case then it reinforces its truth; if not then it is disproved. Adherents of the original (Cicero’s) literal meaning maintain that an “exception” here is not “extreme, unusual case”, rather merely any case that is not covered by the rule, and that “proves” means “demonstrates the existence of”, not “tests the validity of” (Quinion 2009). Is it possible that there is only one rule which is its own sole exception? or rule at all, that there are only exceptions, for instance on Monday from 08:00 – 10:00, Tuesday 14:00 – 16:00… or even that the sign is the only regular working time in a week, while from Monday to Friday the shop is open depending on mood of the owner. 4 The point with (a) is that it is the only available position at least regarding the rule of simple induction which says: if your data consists of evidence that a series of objects of some kind has some property or characteristic, and you know of no object of that kind that does not have that property, then conclude that all objects of that kind have that property. However, conclusions of inductive reasoning can always be false, and more to that, many of our beliefs could be false, given that many of our beliefs are based on inductive reasoning. On the other hand perhaps the point is rhetorical, namely, as A. Schopenhauer claims “(b) The instance, or the example to the contrary. – This consists in refuting the general proposition by direct reference to particular cases which are included in it in the way in which it is stated, but to which it does not apply, and by which it is therefore shown to be necessarily false.” (Schopenhauer, 2005:14) Similar procedure is explicated in stratagem XXV (ibid. 28). 5 The dictionary says the following: “exception. The proverb the exception proves the rule is an abbreviated, commonly misconstrued version of the medL maxim exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis 'the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted'. In the context of the proverb, proves means 'tests the genuineness or qualities of, no more no less.“ (Fowler, 1998:273)
Let us take another example. One of the rules that one should consider is the hygiene rule, which is common and easy to follow. This rule states • that one should wash hands properly before meal (the rule). This rule is known and followed in our Western culture. We teach are children to wash their hands properly before meal, etc.6 One could add that this rule is almost universally followed, that is to say, if circumstances are ordinary, then the all humans will wash their hands before meal. However, there are cases in which • humans do not wash their hands before meal (exception to the rule) • if one is starving to death, or if one is very hungry, or if there is just enough time to eat something quickly, then one does not wash hands before meal (possible reasons for exception to the rule). This is in fact standard procedure of so to speak “default practical reasoning” in a sense that even exceptions are rule–like or standardised, and of “default practice” which says that humans will follow the rule almost blindly if they recognise that the circumstances of an action or a practice are ordinary or usual. However, if one recognises that there is something of equal value or more valuable then the regular practice itself namely that circumstances are not ordinary but “exceptional”, then one should break the rule. Cases of breaking a rule for various (standard) reasons are considered (also standard) exceptions. This seems to be obvious, namely, • if a person P is engaged in an activity A, which is a clear-cut example of following the rule R, and if P intentionally does not follow R (as well as following any other rule whatsoever), and circumstances are not exceptional, then P's A could be considered as breaking the rule. In such circumstances A goes against the rule. Therefore, an exception cannot be considered to confirm, or to prove the rule. However, if something is an exception to the rule, then surely it presupposes the rule. Namely, (5) if there is an exception, there must be a rule also, however, (6) if a rule is universally applied (a), then any exception presupposes its existence, and proves its invalidity, but (7) if a rule is usually applied (b), then any exception presupposes its existence, and some exceptions can prove its validity. This can mean that exception confirms or proves an existence of a rule, since there cannot be exceptions without rules. On the other hand, if a rule is regarded as being universal (i.e. that it should be followed always, i.e. “without exception” and this particular synonymity being an issue in its own right), and if this is its essential feature, then any exception, no matter how minor or insignificant, should be considered as a violation of a rule, and therefore the rule is invalid, or even that a rule does not exist at all. Consequently, an exception can be considered to violate the rule, and to confirm or prove that the rule does not exist at all if the rule is universally applied, (a), but it can be considered to confirm the existence of the rule and more to that its validity as well if it is only usually applied (b). Via this distinction applied one can escape the paradox, namely if an exception confirms that there is no rule, then there is no exception as well, since (5) i.e. no rule, no exception applies. Now, consider the following rule (8) “Any rule has at least one exception”, if this rule is true, then the following is true as well, (9) “Any rule can be usually applied only.” and (10) “There is no rule that can be universally applied.” However, if the last proposition (10) is considered a rule, then it must be only usually applied (9), namely, (11) (10) (9). Furthermore, if it is usually applied (9), then it must have at least one exception (8), namely, (12) (9) (8), and consequently (13) (10) (8). Now, is it impossible that (10) is its own sole exception? Namely, the rule (10) that there is no rule that can be universally applied can be only usually applied (9) which means that (10) it has at least one exception, and exception says, (14) that there is a rule that says that there is rule that can be universally applied. Now, if this is not the case, then it is possible that there is at least one rule that is universally applied, namely the negation of 10, or (¬10). Say, that the rule “All birds can fly” is the only rule, and therefore it must be universally applied. If it is so, then the proposition “Penguins are flightless birds” cannot be its exception. If it is
More to that, one can consider the proposition “Humans wash their hand before meal” as a “grammatical proposition” regarding particular cultural institution or custom in Wittgenstein’s terms, namely that it describes rule–like activity or practice, or particular and quite common pattern of action, no matter how culturally relative it may be, (see Baker, Hacker 1985, Forster 2004, Krkač, Lukin 2008). However, one must be aware that at least for Wittgenstein experiential and grammatical propositions can switch places, and merge occasionally (see his river–image “On Certainty” §: 94–9).
not its exception, then flightless birds are not birds. However, flightless birds are birds, and therefore “Penguins are flightless birds” is exception to the rule “All birds can fly”. On the other hand, if the rule “All birds can fly” is universally applied, then any exception disproves its validity. Therefore, the only rule is not a rule at all. In fact, there are no (universally applied) rules. Now, consider “All birds can fly” as a rule. Suppose that there are two new cases, one of a blackbird, and another of a penguin, or of a running bird. According to the previous analysis, the rule would apply to the first case (blackbirds are not exception to the rule), but not to the second one (penguins are an exception to the rule). If this were so, then the second case would be an exception to the rule, but only if penguins are birds (if they are not birds, one could assume that there is another rule that applies to this case, for instance a rule “Some fishes are quite bizarre”). In short, if penguins are not birds, then the second case could not be counted as exception, and more to that, as confirming the rule (namely, if flightless birds are exception, then the exception confirms existence of the rule regarding birds that can fly). However, penguins are birds, in fact minority of birds, and they are counted as exception, but if something is counted as exception that goes against the rule, then the rule, if it was universally applied, it cannot be anymore. In other words, the rule “All birds can fly” should be reformulated as “Birds usually (meaning “the vast majority of”) can fly”. If this were not the case, then it would be possible to have an exception without the rule that applies to it, and that would contradict previously mentioned the most important rule (15) “no rule, no exception”, or “if there is an exception, there must be a rule also” (however, one should differentiate between a particular case and a particular case being regarded as an exception, since “a particular case (or several cases similar to it) may exist whether or not there is a rule covering that case” (Rawls 2001:34, however, this solution does not imply his “practice view”). Clash rules: On the relation of actions and their rules or reason calling! Phenomena behave according to rules. Depending on the nature of phenomena their rules may take various forms, for instance a form of formal (mathematical, logical, or linguistic) law, a form of natural law, a law–like form of organic, social, cultural pattern, etc. Particular behaviour of a particular phenomenon can be understood as a particular event, or if a series of such events is given, then as a sequences of a particular process. Among phenomena there are humans. Humans perform various actions. These actions can be particular events such as a particular action, or processes as standard routines, practices, customs, traditions, or even cultural patterns. Now, the issue here is – what is the nature of rules according to which humans perform their actions. The proposition to be tested here is the one which says that in any given action there is a rule according to which a particular practice is performed, and that therefore there is a real distinction between a rule and an action (as shown in Figure 1).
Figure 1: the distinction between a rule and a practice This issue will be investigated here by means of a series of examples of this particular relation, namely: a teaching and learning a particular rule, an application of a rule in any standard situation, the correction of a rule, an abandonment of a rule, and an invention of a new rule and its standardisation. The first example will be an example of teaching and learning of a particular rule, say of a rule how to wash ones hands properly before meal. Given that the basic mode of teaching is “giving an example by a trainer” and the basic mode of learning is “a trainee imitating the trainer's action”, in the process of teaching of how to wash hands the very rule will never emerge. A trainee will simply observe trainers action and try to imitate. If a trainer observes that the trainee imitates sufficiently enough, then it will be commented as “OK”, or “Now you know how to do it” (how to wash your hands properly), or similar. The issue of a rule of the practice never pops up, in fact it completely implicit to the very practice which a trainee acquires (as shown in Figure 2). This may be so since the practice is quite simple or should we say that it consists of few quite simple steps (surely there is no need for manual).
Figure 2: a rule being implicit in practice
More to that, then a trainee will acquire the practice for any given standard situation, for instance before meal, after using a toilette, after coming home from school, and in many other typical situations. A trainee will acquire such know-how by observation and imitation as well. If a trainee washes his/hers hands properly before every meal, then it can be claimed that a trainee acquired the practice of washing hands properly before meal (and in all other standard situations). In addition, it can be said that the rule “hands ought/should be washed properly before meal” is followed by a trainee without exception in all standard or typical situations, or in other words, a trainee recognises a pattern of all standard situations in which he or she should apply the practice. Now, there is a third situation that we previously called the correction of a rule. In other words this would be any case of an exception to the rule. There are various standard situations like for example the one in which a person forgets to wash hands before meal, or washes them incorrectly or insufficiently for particular purpose (namely, having a meal). Such situations may occur if a trainee is still inexperienced. However, there are different kinds of exceptions. Now, any of such exception may occur for various reasons, for instance, (a) if he or she is very hungry or starving, if there is a shortage in water supply (so they should use water only for drinking), (b) or if a person is a guest in different culture where its members do not wash their hands before meal, but say, sponge them carefully with vinegar (imagine that their main courses are various salads eaten with bare hands). In any such situation a rule is explicated from the practice in order to test it regarding the particular situation in order for one to see does the situation applies to the rule or not. It would be almost like dissention of a rule from its natural practice to some different and strange surroundings (as shown in Figure 3).
Figure 3: explication of a rule from its standard practice Now, there is some difference between exception (a) and exception (b). Namely, situations under (a) are such that the very rule obviously does not apply to them. These situations constitute reasons on the basis of which such situations should be considered as exceptions to the rule contrary to the previously mentioned case of forgetting the rule which is obviously a case in which one goes against the rule without a good reason. Now case of (b) is obviously not just an exception to the rule, or perhaps it is from the point of view of the rule itself. However, in (b) there are to different rules, namely one which says that one should wash hand properly before meal using water and soap if available, and the other which says that one should sponge hand carefully with vinegar. Therefore, what we have here are two practices and two rules which are quite different for various reasons (as shown in Figure 4).
Figure 4: Rules and practices clash These practices and their rules obviously clash. Something should be done, especially if the matter in question is serious one concerning both sides. Rules should be explicated, and reasons for these rules and their exceptions as well. There are various possibilities here. Namely, any side could abandon its practice and adopt the practice of the other side. This could be the case if both sides differ between hygiene and food preparation for instance. It could be the case that no one abandons their practices, and therefore it could end with a quarrel and a conflict or with a compromise, say that both sides when they meet will practice both practice and that the first one practiced would have to be the practice of guests. In other words they invented a new practice. However, the point is sufficiently described in order to claim that in majority of cases rules are implicit in our standard practices and that there is no need for their explication. On the other hand, even exceptions to this particular rule are also standard, namely such cases as mentioned under (a), or (b). Concluding remarks – no rule, no exception, just practice speaking for itself
Instead of conclusion, let us consider the rule “no rule, no exception” once again. Firstly, if it applied, it does not look as foolish as it may seem, since we humans in fact do not have particular rule regarding washing hands before meal as well as regarding majority of daily routines. We simply wash our hands before meal if it is possible to wash them (for instance if water and soap are available). Sometimes we do not wash them if it is important “to grab a bite” and move on to something which is at the moment more important then maintaining hygiene (based on some further reason). More to that, we do necessarily have to teach our younglings the rule itself (say, “Hands should be washed properly before meal always”). In most cases, we simply wash our hands before meal, and our younglings (more or less successfully) imitate us and finally they acquire the practice. By acquiring a practice, they acquire so to speak “regular circumstances” as well as some kind of pattern, or a context, which they recognise unmistakably. This does not mean that there are no rules, just that rules are implicit in our practices, they manifest themselves via them, and they can be explicated for various practical reasons.7 Another case, revealing this so to say “pragmatic (dis)solution” of the issue in question, could be an ethical rule that considers the value of private property, namely well known rule, • that a borrowed thing should be returned to its rightful owner. Now, imagine a case in which a person P borrows a special knife to person Q in order to prepare a portion of meat for lunch. While preparing meat for roasting Q overhears a serious quarrel and sounds of argument between P and her husband. Few minutes later P, deeply upset, is at Q's door asking Q to return the knife. • Now, in one situation, Q returns the knife, and P few moments later kills her husband with it. • In the other situation, Q does not return the knife, and asks P to calm down. In the first situation, Q follows the rule, and her action falls under it. However, in the second situation, Q does not follow the rule, i.e. she violates it. Now, some ethical justifications are quite known (see Rawls 2001 for issues of punishments and promises). One of these could be the following; Q does not follow the rule because she is afraid that P would harm herself or her husband with the knife, and that protection of life is more valuable then protection of private property if they collide. However, ethical (normative) justification is of no importance here, rather the nature (the description) of the second situation. The second situation is an exception to the rule. This is so in the following manner. The particular action obviously presupposes the rule, and since it goes against it, or does not fall under it, it is obviously an exception to it. • The action in the first situation is included in the rule (the rule applies to it, it falls under the rule), • while the action in the second situation is excluded from the rule (the rule does not apply to it, it does not fall under it). This in short means that the action in the second situation is an exception to the rule. Now, the particular action in the second situation as being an exception to the rule surely does not prove the rule, or the rule is not being confirmed as morally correct (or some other rule being true) via this exception. In addition, the exception does not prove the existence of the rule rather it presupposes it. Finally, what this exception does is only testing the rule, and the result of the test is that the rule does not apply in this case. Therefore, we have the distinction between: • proving the rule as true / morally correct (exception cannon do that), • proving the existence of the rule (exception cannot do that either; it presupposes it), and • testing (probe) the rule (this is what exception does) in two ways, namely o successful check (in the first situation the test was successful, in other words, the result was that the particular action falls under the rule or that the rule applies in this situation), o failed check (in the second situation the test was failure, in other words, the result was that the particular action do not fall under the particular rule or that the rule do not apply in this situation; however it may fall under completely different rule). Let us return to the issue of quantity and quality of exceptions once again in order to understand better the previously mentioned difference between success and failure. • Regarding quantity, rules are considered if not universal (a), then at least that they are followed in vast majority of situations (“usually applied” (b)). This simple fact constitutes good, if not sufficient, reason for the distinction between a rule and its exception. Exceptions are always assumed to be the minority of cases.
A world without rules (mo matter are they discovered, created, or imagined) would have to be an odd one. J. Hospers describes such humours situation in his classic “An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis” by describing the following ruleless world. “Suppose one time you let go of your pencil and it drops to the floor; you do it again, but the second time it flies in to the air; the third time it changes into an elephant; the fourth time it disappears completely without a trace; the fifth time it hits you in the nose and rebukes you for letting it go, and so on.” (Hospers 1995:222)
If running birds and penguins would be majority and if flying birds would be minority, then flying birds would be considered exceptions to the rule say “Birds usually do not fly”.8 • Finally, there is an issue of quality of exceptions as well. Namely, in order to break the rule, one needs a good reason, and such reason, generally speaking, should include the value, which is the same or even higher, then the value exemplified by the rule itself. In other words, “a good exception” of “a good rule” is such that it falls under some different rule, as it was the case with the second situation in the previous example with a knife. Now, if this is the case, then one could say that justified exceptions are not exceptions at all, that in fact they are guided by different or sometimes sub–rules. However, they are sub–rule guided only in the context of a particular case where they are considered as standard exception to the particular rule. In other words, a rule and its exception could switch places. This means that what is considered as a rule and its exception in one case, or a whole practices as a pattern of action, could be regarded as the exception and its rule in the other one. In conclusion, it could be claimed that this elucidations show that we humans do not possess our rules separated from our practices (in one way or the other), and that therefore there are no exceptions as well, there are only “standard situations” to which “standard procedures” apply, and “exceptional circumstances” where “to break the rule” is acceptable. • In other words, there are only practices for various occasions, usual or exceptional, more or less similar to prototypical ones regarding prototypical occasions. If such occasions are more prototypical and more frequent we can call them rules, and if they are of lesser frequency and far from prototype, we can call them exceptions. However, the border is not clear, and why should it be after all. Even ordinary speech confirms precisely that and the science as well, namely, that “The usual rule in lexicography is that sayings progress towards corruption and decay, never the reverse. Unless this one proves to be an exception.” (Quinion 2009)9 References Baker M., Hacker P. M. S. 1985 “Wittgenstein, Rules, Grammar, and Necessity”, Vol. 2, Blackwell, Oxford Barry B 2002 “Culture and Equality”, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Cicero 2000 “Pro Balbo”, Internet: http://www.latinovivo.com/testintegrali/Latin_English_translations1.htm (accessed 6. 5. 2009) Forster M. N. 2004 “Wittgenstein on the Arbitrariness of Grammar”, Princeton University Press, Princeton Fowler F. W. (rev. ed. R. W. Burchfield) 1998 “The New Fowlers Modern English Usage”, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Perhaps what we have here is a grammatical proposition, namely “if the rule is of any good, then it must have only few exceptions”, or “more/less restrictive the rule is, more/less exceptions it has”. Regarding routines, habits, and customs of humans there is additional feature, namely that exceptions are known and standardised as well, is the exception a simple one, or does it fall under a different rule. Such cases are known from legal practice. One such known case was the case of collision of right to religious liberty and need for safety on the roads regarding turbaned Sikhs in England. In 1976 Parliament enacted a special exemption for turbaned Sikhs from the statutory requirement that all motorcyclists must wear crash helmets.” (Poulter 1987:612, quoted in Barry 2002:44) For the opposite case of Rastafarian sacramental use of ganja (cannabis), see also Barry 1987:39–40. However, other social and political uses of the idiom are by no means ridiculous. For instance, two states may have dispute over state border both claiming certain small part of the territory. Now, there are rules, which are applied at International Court (and some further instances such as sea rights). Now, if these rules are followed, then one state would win the dispute, and the other one would lose it. However, one, which would lose at previously mentioned court, tries to solve the dispute “on political grounds” presupposing that it is on international level politically stronger then the other state. In addition, the solution of the stronger state would include violation of rules that are applied at the court without exception. Now, is this an exception to the rule? Yes and no. Namely, yes if the solution is considered to be contrary to the rule, but rule does not apply since the solution is political and not legal, and because of that the solution is not an exception to the rule, since the rule is still valid, however it is not applied in the particular case in which, needless to say, it should be applied. 9 Perhaps these conclusions and the previous analysis implies some relevance regarding all of our universal statements, propositions describing laws of nature, human conduct, etc. especially in philosophy (regarding issues in philosophy of science for instance regarding scientific determinism, or psychological determinism, or regarding the topic of freedom and determinism). For instance, in philosophy of science the issues of confirmation, verification, and falsification are quite close to the present topic. Consider the ordinary empirical generalisation like “All crows are black”. If one discovers only one albino crow, this refutes the generalisation, or not if no empirical discoveries counts against the generalisation. Likewise, it could be of some significance regarding the very nature of rule in law, ethics, and political philosophy (see Rawls 2001).
Hospers J. 1995 “An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis”, 3rd edition, Routledge, London Krkač K., Lukin J. 2008 “Wittgenstein the Morphologist I”, Synthesis Philosophica, 46, (2/2008), 427–438. Martin G. 2009 “The exception that proves the rule”, The Phrase Finder, http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings Posner R. A. 2002 “Overcoming Law”, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Poulter S. 1987 “Ethnic Minority Customs, English Law and Human Rights”, International and Comparative Law Quarterly 36 (1987), 589–615 Quinion M. 2009 “Exception that proves the rule”, World Wide Words, http://www.worldwidewords.org Rawls J 2001 “Two Concepts of Rules”, in Rawls J. “Collected Papers”, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Schopenhauer A. 2005 “The Art of Controversy”, Pennsylvania State University Wittgenstein L. 1969 “On Certainty”, Blackwell, Oxford Summary In the paper, the idiom “an exception that proves the rule” is examined. In the first section the contradiction is stated and the distinction introduced, namely between a rule being universally applied and a rule being usually applied. Next section resolves basic inconsistency by reference to original Cicero’s phrase and its meaning. Third section formulates a paradox, which says that if there is at least one exception to any rule whatsoever, then every rule is being usually applied only. However, the previous sentence is precisely the rule that is universally applied. The authors suggest that it should be considered as its own exception, but if it is so, then it is not a rule at all, and consequently it cannot be its own exception. In the final section, it is suggested that there are no rules and exceptions separated from our practices. Our practices simply manifest rules that we follow by practicing these practices. In other words, there are only practices for various occasions, usual or exceptional, more or less similar to prototypical ones regarding prototypical occasions. If such occasions are more prototypical and more frequent we can call them rules, and if they are of lesser frequency and far from prototype, we can call them exceptions. Key words: a rule which is its own sole exception, Cicero, exceptions, failed check, Fowler, rules, successful checking, to check, to probe, to prove. Contact: email@example.com
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