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A fragment of the Background
Bruno Celano
Translated by Marco Segatti
p. 9–32


In this paper I argue that there exist conventions of a peculiar sort which are neither norms nor regularities of behaviour, partaking of both. I proceed as follows. After a brief analysis of the meaning of ‘convention’, I give some examples of the kind of phenomena I have in mind: bodily skills, know-how, taste and style, habitus (P. Bourdieu), “disciplines” (M. Foucault). Then I group some arguments supporting my claim: (i) considerations about the identity conditions of precedents (D. Lewis) and about the projectibility of predicates in inductive inference generally (N. Goodman); (ii) thoughts about rule-following (L. Wittgenstein); (iii) an examination of some of J. R. Searle’s ideas about the “Background” of intentionality. I conclude with some remarks about the time-honoured antithesis ‘nature’ v. ‘convention’. The Italian original of this text was published in: Ragion Pratica (2014) 2: 605–632.

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In open access from December 2018.


1 Introduction
2 The word ‘convention’: some meanings
3 Convention: a family of concepts
4 Pre-conventions: some examples
5 Arguments (I): induction, salience and projection
6 Arguments (II): to follow a rule
7 Arguments (III): the Background of intentionality
8 Conclusion: nature and convention

First lines

“… because in every one habit [ethos; Bekker: consuetudo]
is a matter of importance, since it soon becomes a second nature [
Problemata, XXVIII

1 Introduction

I will argue that there are entities that can be plausibly called ‘conventions’, which are neither mere de facto regularities, nor rules (norms), but that – in a sense to be specified – have both the character of de facto regularities, as well as a normative character: they are, literally, ‘normative facts’. This paper attempts to isolate these entities.

The matter is delicate. Philosophers usually distinguish, and with good reason, between rules and regularities, between facts and norms. In each pair, the two concepts are thought of as mutually exclusive. The distinction is intuitive, and it appears, at first sight at least, incontrovertible. The entities that we are trying to isolate are, mostly, at the edge of our visual field – and delimit it. For this reason, they usually go unnoticed, and to see them we ne...

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Bibliographical reference

Bruno Celano, « Pre-conventions », Revus, 30 | 2016, 9–32.

Electronic reference

Bruno Celano, « Pre-conventions », Revus [Online], 30 | 2016, Online since 01 December 2018, connection on 18 January 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/revus.3386

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About the author

Bruno Celano

Professor of Legal Philosophy at the University of Palermo (Italy)

Dipartimento di Giurisprudenza
Piazza Bologni 8
90134 Palermo

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