Rule Following and Tacit Knowledge

  • Kjell S Johannessen
Part of the Human-Computer Interaction Series book series (HCIS)


This paper discusses the interrelationship between wisdom, science and craft from the perspective of the Wittgenstein concept of tacit knowledge. It challenges the notion of the ‘rules-model’ as put forward by Logical Positivists, and shows the limitation of this model for describing the tacit dimension of knowledge. The paper demonstrates the crucial role of practice in ‘rule-following’ in the real world. It is held that ‘to follow a rule’ is to practice a custom, a usage or an institutional practice. Hence, rules can only exist as a link in social life.

The dream of the ‘precise’ language can only be realised in a closed scientific world. It is inadequate for reflecting the user’s relationship to language and its content and practice in varied ‘use situations’. It is only through examples that we learn to deal with, describe, interpret and learn from the new situations.

The rule-based models which are used to acquire and describe human knowledge in syntactic and propositional forms are, in effect, an impoverishment of the description of reality. It is argued that expert knowledge and linguistic knowledge are linked together and emerge as two sides of the same subject as the pragmatic perspective of reality. The tacit dimension of expert knowledge is, in many cases, more significant than the linguistic knowledge, especially in the case of the vocational and aesthetic world.

The challenge to AI researchers, therefore, is to recognise that knowledge based systems which ignore the tacit dimension of expert knowledge not only distance the user from reality but also impoverish the learning process itself.


logical positivism rule-following tacit knowledge expert knowledge linguistic knowledge scientific knowledge practice 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kjell S Johannessen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of BergenNorway

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