Non-Linguistic Practice

December 19, 2010

Following up on my last post: if not linguistic practice, then what? I could be wrong about this, but my feeling is that the main property of normative creatures that Brandom needs for his social-perspectival account of normative and conceptual content is just the ability to inhabit multiple subject-positions. This can be done through the distinction between de dicto and de re ascriptions of commitments in linguistic practice. But it can also be done through, say, empathy. Essentially what’s needed is the ability to think counterfactually – plus the ability to perceive normative sanctions as sanctions; to engage in deontic scorekeeping, etc. – I don’t see why any of these things need be tied to specifically linguistic practice. I need to think this through more carefully, though, it goes without saying.

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6 Responses to “Non-Linguistic Practice”

  1. j. Says:

    i’ve been poking away at work on the ‘other minds’ problem that sets it in the context of social life. i gave a talk about it last year which focused heavily on the exhibition of (external) criteria for being in certain inner states (wincing, for example, as a criterion for a person’s being in pain), and an audience member very helpfully connected some stuff i said about the role of trust with the ‘exhibition’ of INNER criteria, for example, feeling a certain way oneself, and taking that as a sign of something about the other or the situation one is in.

    the temptation to externalize, or externalist-ize, everything possible, might make it hard to leave phenomena like those intact; and it might just cause one to overlook them as alternatives to solely linguistic practice, like you’re saying.

    i’m even less familiar with habermas than i am with brandom, but i wonder if some variance with respect to these alternatives might come out in a comparison with habermas, since he seems at first glance like he might at least entertain the possibility that something practical but non-linguistic might also be foundational. for one thing, his view encompasses individually and socially developmental factors that could be involved in the acquisition of full linguistic mastery.

  2. duncan Says:

    Thanks j. Yes, there’s a strange apparent motive in some of the externalist stuff – as if it wants to do away with supernatural ideas about the mind, but has accepted the idea that any aspect of our interiority must be supernatural: as if, therefore, if we are to be true naturalists we must analyse only external behaviour – the internal behaviour of the organism (including the brain-states and processes that are perfectly observable via scientific techniques, in principle and often in practice, and which, if one accepts a naturalistic view of mind, presumably to a large extent ‘just are’ our subjective states) is for some reason out of bounds. That said I never read much of the externalist stuff and it was ages ago when I did (and I liked a lot of what I read), so I don’t really have a very developed take on any of this.

    On Habermas: yes, interesting to compare his work with Brandom’s. They had an exchange in the European Journal of Philosophy which was a bit of a misfire – Habermas seems to have read too much into Brandom’s use of Hegel and Heidegger, without understanding how pragmatist is Brandom’s interpretation of those figures, so Habermas I think sees Brandom as idealist in a strong sense, which is I think a msireading. But I haven’t read Brandom’s own writing on Habermas, and I should. Myself I’m not fond of Habermas’ apparatus, but for reasons unconnected to anything we’ve been discussing (e.g. I think H has a tacitly teleological analysis of social history – Brandom’s more thorough-goingly pragmatist, in the sense that he has a stronger sense of the contingency of historical narrative, and the contingency of our present ideals – and I like this.) That said, I definitely agree that Habermas has a more expansive range in terms of the aspects of social life he discusses and incorporates into his work. So yes, an interesting topic…

  3. j. Says:

    i don’t actually have an explanatory project—i guess i might have implied so by alluding to externalists. i had in mind more that too much focus on the outer—as even wittgensteinians fixated on the publicity of criteria for telling what things mean, what people are doing, what counts as what, and so on—keeps us, as a matter of philosophical practice, from even resorting to appeals to inner criteria (the kinds which might be outwardly manifested in avowals, for example, not the kind that would be picked up by a naturalist’s brain-scanner).

    the externalists themselves, meh.

    since i’ve been thinking about it lately, for example, i’m kind of disheartened that i could go through so many years of philosophy having never given much thought to what, even roughly, various emotions are (or by what criteria they can be identified, or when they occur, or what their significance is, etc.). we’re talking, on the level of rough articulacy about them.

  4. duncan Says:

    Thanks j, sorry – wasn’t meaning to make any assumptions about your own work; just associating.

    I don’t really know the disciplinary space well enough to comment properly – but yes, in my experience the emphasis does often fall in strange places. Perhaps it’s because ‘meaning’ is so strongly associated with propositional content, in the analytic tradition at least – the kind of meaning communicated in descriptive sentences, etc. Clearly other kinds of things are meaningful – looks, touches, ways of life, friendships – but it’s hard to know how to even begin to discuss these things using the categories of many of the canonical philosophers of meaning. And this connects to emotion too, I think, probably.

    Brandom starting with normative pragmatics means that his apparatus is in principle open to a broader account of meaning-phenomena than many, I think. But it’s also true that Brandom himself doesn’tmake huge use of that possible range.

  5. j. Says:

    not at all, not at all—just didn’t want to give a misleading impression.

    i’ve been reading william james with surprise at how consciousy and feely he is. the mid-century rejection of people like james and dewey is probably one more piece of the puzzle.

  6. duncan Says:

    Yes – I’ve not read either of them, unfortunately, or only tiny tiny bits. But yes. This early pragmatist space is also interesting because of its connections to social theory & psychology – it’s recently been rehabilitated as part of the philosophical canon (more or less single-handedly by Rorty, as far as I can tell). But George Herbert Mead is still a major canonical figure in the social-theoretic space, I believe. And really this should be the case, if the theoretical positions are correct, you know? There should be considerable overlap between these kinds of philosophical questions and social-theoretic and psychological ones. It seems like parts of the recent analytic tradition have embraced, at least to some extent, the connection with psychology – a lot of philosophers trying to pay attention to neurosciency stuff, for instance (I have no idea how adequately). And I’m sure there are forms of psychological research that have received less cross-over interest, and deserve further attention. My own research-interests, though, I guess, are directed more at the social-theoretic connection.


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