Why We Do What We Do: Part One

5:00am: Wake up. Go for a run. Return for a shower. Meditate, pray and spend time with the daily devotional. Eat breakfast. Don’t forget that Christmas is in three weeks. Have you arranged the decorations? Sent the Christmas cards? Those will need to wait. Must shave, brush teeth, suit up and get the 7:35am train into the city for work in preparation for the first meeting of the day. Attend meeting. Determine which investments to make for clients. Remember, it is better to save up for one’s future. Once you clock off for the day, stop by the gym and pick up some Japanese on the way home. See if Julia is available for a social drink. If not, I can catch up on some reading. Make sure you get an early night, since tomorrow will be a big day.

Why do we do what we do? How are our days, our months, our lives structured? What determines our practices? If we think back, how much of our daily patterns were determined by the practices we acquired as a child? It is well known that “as part and parcel of our early socialization in life, we each learn ways of being in the world, of acting and interacting, thinking and valuing, and using language, objects, and tools that crucially shape our early sense of self.” (Gee, 2008, pg 100) What practices were acquired later on? And were there certain practices that were challenged or which fell by the wayside when we moved location or when we met a new circle of friends, colleagues, mentors, acquaintances, etc? Do you recall a grandparent talking about the practices of the past (e.g. butter churning) as you stare into the fridge or order a pizza from your smartphone? What has changed? As Wittgenstein once stated, “A language game [and a practice] does change with time.” (OC, #256) Have you ever had a crisis and have discarded certain practices - like prayer or meditation or exercise or dancing - as arbitrary (i.e. based on shifting sand) only to find yourself a bit out of sorts without these practices giving shape to your life? 

The audio sample below is the lecture entitled, " Context is Everything: Wittgenstein on Meaning as Use" delivered by Dr James K. A. Smith as part of the 2013 H. Orton Wiley Lecture Series in Theology.

The audio sample below is the lecture entitled, "Context is Everything: Wittgenstein on Meaning as Use" delivered by Dr James K. A. Smith as part of the 2013 H. Orton Wiley Lecture Series in Theology.

These and many more questions draw our attention to the concept of practices, which is a concept that I feel is at the core of human existence. A practice “is something people do, not just once, but on a regular basis.” (Stern, 2004, pg 166). For some reason, people pray, brush their teeth, complete their tax, hike in National Parks, long for the next dance, etc. Each “activity” is part of - let’s says - religious practices, hygienic practices, economic practices, artistic practices, social practices and more. Each practice is much more than the sum of its parts. For instance, the combination of prayer, worship, scripture, and stewardship amounts to more than a collection of disparate activities. They amount to a form of life, and they rely upon resources, other participants, a sense of attachment, cultural artefacts and a history. Therefore, a practice is “more than just a disposition to behave in a certain way; the identity of a practice depends not only on what people do, but also on the significance of those actions and the surroundings in which they occur.” (Stern, 2004, pg 166). Put another way, our human existence is “not based on knowledge but on practice.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 107) It is not what we know that gives life its shape. It is what we do.

Welcome to the exploration. This is the first entry in a series of entries that will reflect on those activities that give shape to the way in which we live and the condition under which those activity form and change. In the end, we must ask ourselves to reflect upon the following question, “how successfully are we at finding peace and a home with what we do in a culturally, economically, and politically diverse world?”


  • Gee, J. P. (2008) A sociocultural perspective on opportunity to learn. In P. Moss, D. Pullin, J.P. Gee, E. Haertel, and L. Young (Eds). Assessment, equity, and opportunity to learn (pp. 76-108). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sluga, H. (2011). Wittgenstein. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Smith, J. K. A. (2013). Context is Everything: Wittgenstein on Meaning as Use. In H. Orton Wiley Lecture Series in Theology. Point Loma, CA: Point Loma Nazarene University. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/lecture-2-context-is-everything/id416200490?i=132712463&mt=2
  • Stern, D. (2004). Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On Certainty. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright. Translated by D. Paul and G.E.M. Anscombe. New York: Harper Torchbooks.