© Maurice Weiss

Permanent Fellow

Lorraine J. Daston, Ph.D., Permanent Fellow

Direktorin des Max-Planck-Instituts für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Professorin, Committee on Social Thought

Universität Chicago

Geboren 1951 in East Lansing, Mich., USA
Studium der Geschichte, Philosophie, Mathematik und Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Cambridge und in Harvard


Rules and Regulations in Enlightenment Europe

A vague but consequential division of labor governs the relationship between laws, rules, and customs. Laws are explicit, general, and authoritative in their formulation and jurisdiction; rules, although also usually explicit, are specific, detailed, and circumscribed in both their content and application; customs, usually implicit, are still more local but also more supple than the laws and rules they complement and sometimes contradict. From the late 17th through the late 18th century, the relationships between these three categories of norms were in creative flux: in both theology and natural philosophy, the most general and inviolable regularities of nature were conceptualized as edicts - "natural laws" - promulgated by the divine legislator; absolutist monarchies promulgated laws for entire kingdoms that superseded local customs; rapidly expanding cities like Amsterdam and Paris pelted residents with thousands of rules regulating everything from traffic to trash disposal to gold buttons.
These developments are the subject of the final chapter of my book on the history of rules. Earlier chapters have traced rules in cookbooks, numerical calculation, monastic orders, the arts and crafts, games, casuistry, natural philosophy, and much else, with the aim of understanding the rule as an epistemic category: a form of regularity and instruction with its own distinctive grammar and domains of application, somewhere between the singularity and arbitrariness of the individual case and the grand generality of the law.
Against the background of newly defined universal laws, whether ordained by God for the realm of nature or by the absolute monarch for the kingdom, the inferior sort of merely local, partial regularities came to be called rules. And nowhere in early modern Europe were rules more plentiful, more maniacally detailed, and arguably more ineffectual than in the ordinances, issued with increasing frequency and urgency, meant to bring order to expanding metropolises like London, Amsterdam, and Paris.
My chapter on rules and regulations will focus on three cases of regulation mania, taken from three contexts chosen to represent differing degrees of efficacy in getting people to obey them: first, sumptuary laws in late medieval Italy, Provence, and southern Germany (close to zero efficacy, as near as I can make out - no surprise to anyone who attended a high school with a dress code); second, traffic and sanitary regulations in early modern Paris and London (moderate efficacy, especially by the latter half of the 18th century); and third, the standardization of orthography in 19th-century Germany and Italy (high efficacy, even the draconian Italian decision to sacrifice the classical "ph" in words like filosofia). Throughout, my question will be: When and how do mere rules and regulations become internalized as genuine norms?

Recommended Reading

Daston, Lorraine. Against Nature. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2019.
-. "The Coup d'Oeil: On a Mode of Understanding." Critical Inquiry 45, 2 (2019): 307-331.
-. "Calculation and the Division of Labor, 1750-1950." Bulletin of the German Historical Institute 62 (2018): 9-30.

Dienstagskolloquium , 18.06.2019

Der Traum von der vollkommenen Regel

There is no known human culture without rules, lots of them, but the immensely long, immensely varied history of rules has so far generated only two deep philosophical problems, one ancient (Aristotle) but one quite recent (Wittgenstein). Both of these problems point out that some form of intelligence must supplement the rules in order to make them workable in the world: judgment to adapt the universal to unforeseen particulars; interpretation to figure out how to follow the rule. But starting in the late seventeenth century, first municipal bureaucracies and, by the early twentieth century, later centers of Big Calculation began to dream of perfect rules that would somehow follow themselves, foreseeing all exceptions and eliminating all ambiguity. Two vignettes from the history of this dream of the self-sufficient rule, one from nascent bureaucracies in the eighteenth-century and the other from centers of mechanical calculation in the twentieth, document, in the teeth of both philosophy and experience, the tenacity of this dream - which is once again in the ascendant in the age of algorithms.

Publikationen aus der Fellowbibliothek

Daston, Lorraine J. ( Berlin, 2018)
Gegen die Natur ˜Against nature

Daston, Lorraine J. ( Chicago, 2017)
Science in the archives : pasts, presents, futures

Daston, Lorraine J. ( Jerusalem, 2015)
Before the two cultures : big science and big humanities in the nineteenth century Proceedings / The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities ; Vol. 9, No. 1

Daston, Lorraine J. ( Chicago [u.a.], 2013)
How reason almost lost its mind : the strange career of Cold War rationality

Daston, Lorraine J. ( 2012)
Wissenschaftsgeschichte und Philosophie : Hans-Jörg Rheinberger und l'esprit de la fleuve

Daston, Lorraine J. ( Berlin, 2012)
Festkolloquium für Hans-Jörg Rheinberger : Beiträge zum Symposium am 24. 1. 2011 im Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte Preprint ; 433

Daston, Lorraine J. ( 2011)
The empire of observation, 1600-1800

Daston, Lorraine J. ( Chicago, 2011)
Histories of scientific observation

Daston, Lorraine J. ( New York, N.Y., 2007)

Daston, Lorraine J. ( Frankfurt am Main, 2007)
Objektivität Objectivity <dt.>

Lectures on Film 21.11.2010

The Rule of Rules, or How Reason Became Rationality

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Köpfe und Ideen 2014

Zwei mal drei macht vier, widewidewitt und drei macht neune ...

ein Porträt über Wendy Espeland, Jahnavi Phalkey, Theodore M. Porter, Lorraine J. Daston, Tong Lam, John Carson von Jürgen Kaube

Artikel lesen


Plato's Cave Revisted: A Conversation about Education Today



Why should a contemporary biologist read history of science? Why should a historian of science read contemporary biology



The Dream of the Perfect Rule