Can a discursive pragmatism guarantee objectivity?: Habermas and Brandom on the correctness of norms

Philosophy and Social Criticism 33 (1):113-126 (2007)
Abstract
rgen Habermas both agree that all theoretical and practical determinations are normative affairs. But what grants this normative order the power to be objective ? While Brandom assumes that ever new appeals to reliable perceptual judgments and inferentialist determinations eventuate objectivity, Habermas thinks that such an objectivistic presumption fails to sustain a thoroughgoing critique of norms. He insists that Brandom’s model of the determination of norms cannot transcend the limits of the given social community the actors share. Habermas thus delimits an additional intersubjective space, internal to the structure of speech, by which discursive actors can distance themselves from the limits of a de facto system of norms and construct norms that have a universal extension. While pointing out that in a more recent work Brandom in fact has made a stronger case for objectivity, I explore a model that is distinct from each of their approaches: Davidson’s. Davidson holds onto a causal story about rationality, while appealing to an objectivity that requires neither inferentialism nor a trans-subjective discursive space. Davidson is more sparing: he requires as the basis of the rational only the existence of another interpreter and an assumption about the basic veridicality of one’s beliefs about the world. This weak naturalist move, I conclude, furnishes an adequate answer to the objectivity problem while relying upon fewer problematic assumptions about what constitutes rationality. Key Words: Robert Brandom • causation • Donald Davidson • discourse • Jürgen Habermas • inferentialism • normativity • objectivity • pragmatism • triangulation.
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