Pragmatism has enjoyed a major resurgence in Anglo-American philosophy over the course of the last decade or two, and Robert Brandom’s work – particularly his 1994 tome Making it Explicit (MIE) – has been at the vanguard of this resurgence (Brandom 1994).2 But pragmatism comes in several surprisingly distinct flavours. Authors such as Hubert Dreyfus find their roots in certain parts of Heidegger and in phenomenologists such as Merleau-Ponty, and they privilege embodied, preconceptual skills as opposed to discursive practices as (...) the basic sites of meaning and agency (Dreyfus 1991; Dreyfus 1992; Todes 2001). With strong inheritances from Dewey and Wittgenstein, Richard Rorty has championed a pragmatism whose core emphasis is on the rejection of transcendental truth and high metaphysical theorizing (Rorty 1982), and this anti-theoretical banner has been taken up by several prominent ethicists, among others. For his part, Brandom, who purports to offer a systematic theory of language and meaning grounded on a foundation of pragmatic normative relationships between speakers, looks back instead to Sellars and Quine for his stripe of pragmatism. Near the start of MIE, he writes: The explanatory strategy pursued here is to begin with an account of social practices, identify the particular structure they must exhibit in order to qualify as specifically linguistic practices, and then consider what different sorts of semantic contents those practices can confer on states, performances, and expressions caught up in them in suitable ways. (Brandom 1994, xiii) Despite his professed pragmatism, Brandom is no foe of high theory or metanarratives, and he is vastly more interested in language and theoretical reason than in the rest of human bodily activity. For Brandom, inferentially articulated discourse forms an autonomous domain of normativity, while our bodily encounters with the world in perception and in action serve as language entry and exit points respectively.. (shrink)
Particularism is a justly popular ‘cutting-edge’ topic in contemporary ethics across the world. Many moral philosophers do not, in fact, support particularism (instead defending "generalist" theories that rest on particular abstract moral principles), but nearly all would take it to be a position that continues to offer serious lessons and challenges that cannot be safely ignored. Given the high standard of the contributions, and that this is a subject where lively debate continues to flourish, Challenging Moral Particularism will become required (...) reading for professionals and advanced students working in the area. (shrink)
We discuss first a "stance" methodology toward the problem of personhood. This is to ask first, what it is to take something to be a person, and then to move via a notion of appropriateness to an answer to what it is to be a person. We argue that the distinctions between persons and non-persons, between agents and patients, and between subjects and mere objects are deeply connected. All three distinctions are themselves traced to a fundamental distinction within the space (...) of reasons -- between, that is, two sorts of material inferential propriety. These two structures of inference are made explicit by indicative and subjunctive conditionals. Tracing personhood to the fundamentally stereoscopic structure of material inference sheds light not only on notions of freedom, agency, and personhood, but on the nature of modal judgments, on the conceptual space of causation, and on the semantics of the explicitating conditionals. We conclude with a pragmatic argument for belief in persons. (shrink)
In this article, we present an analysis of defeasible generalizations -- generalizations which are essentially exception-laden, yet genuinely explanatory -- in terms of various notions of privileged conditions. We argue that any plausible epistemology must make essential use of defeasible generalizations so understood. We also consider the epistemic significance of the sort of understanding of context that is required for understanding of explanatory defeasible generalizations on any topic.
Curiously, though he provides in Making It Explicit (MIE) elaborate accounts of various representational idioms, of anaphora and deixis, and of quantification, Robert Brandom nowhere attempts to lay out how his understanding of content and his view of the role of logical idioms combine in even the simplest cases of what he calls paradigmatic logical vocabulary. That is, Brandom has a philosophical account of content as updating potential - as inferential potential understood in the sense of commitment or entitlement preservation (...) - and says that the point of logical vocabulary is to make available the expressive resources to make explicit such semantic structures as arise from discursive scorekeeping practice. Thus, one would expect an account of the updating or inferential potential of sentences involving logical vocabulary, an account which is such as to assign to those sentences the inferential significance necessary for this expressive job. In short, one would expect a semantics of logical vocabulary - &, ν, ∼ → - in terms of the difference an assertion of a sentence involving it makes to the atomic score of a linguistic agent, and a completeness proof for the logic generated by this semantics. Despite this, no such semantics is given in MIE. It is in the current paper. (shrink)
What is the function of concepts pertaining to meaning in socio-linguistic practice? In this study, the authors argue that we can approach a satisfactory answer by displacing the standard picture of meaning talk as a sort of description with a picture that takes seriously the similarity between meaning talk and various types of normative injunction. In their discussion of this approach, they investigate the more general question of the nature of the normative, as well as a range of important topics (...) specific to the philosophy of language. (shrink)
In "The Logical Structure of Linguistic Commitment I" (The Journal of Philosophical Logic 23 (1994), 369-400), we sketch a linguistic theory (inspired by Brandom's Making it Explicit) which includes an "expressivist" account of the implication connective, →: the role of → is to "make explicit" the inferential proprieties among possible commitments which proprieties determine, in part, the significances of sentences. This motivates reading (A → B) as "commitment to A is, in part, commitment to B". Our project is to study (...) the logic of →. LSLC I approximates (A → B) as "anyone committed to A is committed to B", ignoring issues of whether A is relevant to B. The present paper includes considerations of relevance, motivating systems of relevant commitment entailment related to the systems of commitment entailment of LSLC I. We also consider the relevance logics that result from a commitment reading of Fine's semantics for relevance logics, a reading that Fine suggests. (shrink)
What is the logic of entailment? The latter half of the twentieth century has seen, for even the simplest languages, a proliferation of distinct formal entailment systems, each having those willing to defend its status as the answer. Among those defenders, and among the most adamant and mutually critical, are the champions of strict implication and relevance logic. To an outsider, this debate must seem singularly odd. Here we have a group of philosophers who cannot agree on the validity of (...) a simple, easily comprehensible inference scheme. They seem to think that they are not talking past one another---that there is some reality each seeks to describe---for they continue to write articles declaring that the opposing view is wrong. Yet they cannot seem to convince the other side that their view is even remotely plausible, thus leading some to an instrumentalist dismissal of the whole debate.I argue that the defenders of the two systems are right to suggest that something deeper is at issue between them than mere usefulness in particular applied contexts. Once we see what this is, however, we will see that they are, after all, talking past one another. When we succeed in clarifying the crucial underlying issue, we can then succeed in clarifying the crucial distinction between two dimensions of the underlying concept. Both the classicalist and the relevantist, then, will be seen to have accurately captured one dimension of the root concept. (shrink)