‘What it makes sense to say’: Wittgenstein, rule‐following and the nature of education

Nicholas C. Burbules, Richard Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In his writings Jim Marshall has helpfully emphasized such Wittgensteinian themes as the multiplicity of language games, the deconstruction of ‘certainty,’ and the contexts of power that underlie discursive systems. Here we focus on another important legacy of Wittgenstein's thinking: his insistence that human activity is rule‐governed. This idea foregrounds looking carefully at the world of education and learning, as against the empirical search for new psychological or other facts. It reminds us that we need to consider, in Peter Winch's words, ‘what it makes sense to say’ about certain educational phenomena, and how these meanings stand against understanding a wider form of life. This insight has important implications for doing educational research, and we examine some of these.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-430
Number of pages6
JournalEducational Philosophy and Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Language games
  • Meaning
  • Research
  • Rule‐governedness
  • Winch
  • Wittgenstein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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