“Practical holism ... is the view that [any theory of language] can only be meaningful in specific contexts and against a background of shared practices’. ... Background practices, equipment, locations, and broader horizons ... are part and parcel of our ability to engage in conversation and find our way about.” (Stern, 2004, pg 163 - 164)
To sum up, Hans Sluga once wrote that “human language games are not based on knowledge but on practice.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 107) I have applied this observation to the broad notion of existence or practice. It is not what we know that gives shape to our existence. It is what we do. Our knowledge comes to serve and - in fact - justify why we do what we do and the standards of excellence that we expect from these endeavours. If I am to conclude, then I would say that a practice is something that we do not just once but on a regular basis. Unlike an activity, the participant in a practice attaches a certain level of significance or commitment to the action. In the practice, one comes to acquire certain rules that give shape to the practice. The participant comes to act in accordance with the rules, some which are explicitly stated and others which are acquired through experience and understood as conventions of the practice.
To be fully immersed in a practice requires an understanding of the standards and expectations, the intention behind the activities, and the motivation and significance that underpins the practice. One becomes adept in the practice through experience, and this is assisted through instruction (or guidance) by those who are more experienced. These “masters” set the stage for engagement and they scaffold subsequent engagement and development. This is done in the hope that the practice will be internalised and the participant will “go on” in accordance with the rule. By “going on”, the learner is committed to the practice by adhering to the practice, contributing to the practice and being part of the practice’s evolution. Collectively, one’s practices give shape to one’s form of life within the stream of living. One’s practices provide one with a habitus (or culture), and one’s habitus (or culture) gives rise from one’s practices.
At the same time, we should never forget any single practice or set of practices is open to disintegration or entropy. Entropy is formally defined as "the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder." Any system must have energy placed into it so that the system is maintained or preserved. If the practices of a cultural system are not reinforced, then the system and the form of life to which that system is attached will suffer and decay. According to the concept of entropy, the natural state of any system is decay unless efforts are made to maintain it.
Sluga, H. (2011). Wittgenstein. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Stern, D. (2004). Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.