Perception, language, and the first person

Rebecca Kukla
Georgetown University
Mark Lance
Georgetown University
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..
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