Brandom-related Reading List

January 27, 2011

In my last post I finally got far enough into my discussion of Making It Explicit to give a first-pass articulation of what I take to be the core of Brandom’s argument about the origins of normativity. There’s a lot of exegesis still to do, but this seems like a good point to take a breather.

In case it isn’t obvious, all this Brandom stuff is meant to contribute to Part One of my megalomaniacal larger intellectual project – that is, this is meant to be part of an empirically adequate theory of social practice. Before I started writing on Brandom at length, I had the (in retrospect rather overoptimistic) idea that I could articulate my interpretation of Brandom in the format of an academic paper. Since it’s taken me circa 20,000 words just to get to the main argument, that may not be realistic. So I’m now thinking that I’ll try to get a scholarship at some point, and write this thing up as a doctoral thesis if at all possible. It may very well prove not
be possible, of course – but even if it isn’t that’s roughly the length of the piece of writing I think I need to be aiming for here, and so I want to start thinking about the end result in something like those terms.

The purpose of this post is just to serve as a repository for a list of texts that I probably ought to read if I really want to write this up in a long-form and academic way. I’ll drop more texts in as I run across them or they occur to me. If anyone has any suggestions, those would of course be more than welcome.


A list of Brandom’s publications is available at Brandom’s website here:

Books about Brandom:

Weiss, Bernhard & Wanderer, Jeremy (eds.) Reading Brandom: On Making It Explicit, Routledge, 2010.

Wanderer, Jeremy, Robert Brandom, McGill Queens University Press, 2008.

More Heath:

Heath, Joseph, Following the Rules: Practical Reasoning and Deontic Constraint, Oxford University Press, 2008.

I see that Jon Cogburn is teaching a course that involves a bunch of Brandom and the following two works:

Okrent, Mark. 2007. Rational Animals: The Teleological Roots of Intentionality. Columbus: Ohio University Press.

Macdonald, Graham and David Papieau. Editors. 2006. Teleosemantics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Much more to follow I’m sure.


24 Responses to “Brandom-related Reading List”

  1. duncan Says:

    Paper by Tadeusz Szubka, ‘On the Very Idea of Brandom’s Pragmatism’, here:

    The same very common failure to understand the legitimacy of certain kinds of circular argument, which results in missing the structure of Brandom’s argument, and its point.

    It is often claimed that Brandom is a systematic philosopher whose views form a tight theoretical package of mutually connected conceptions. But even in such a package some conceptions must be more basic than others, some views must underpin and support other views, and not the other way round (dependence and interdependence in this respect cannot be perfectly symmetrical on pain of circularity).

  2. duncan Says:

    Baert, Patrick, Philosophy of the Social Sciences: Towards Pragmatism, Polity Press, 2005.

  3. deontologistics Says:

    Glad you’re considering a PhD on all of this. Sorry I haven’t been responding, but it’s made for some interesting reading.

    I recommend this:

    It’s another collection of essays along the lines of Reading Brandom, with responses from Brandom. It covers some different topics than those seen in the latter though. Of particular interest is the paper on the distinction between ordinary and fundamental norms, and the paper on Brandom’s account of perception.

    There’s also an issue of Pragmatics and Cognition dedicated to Brandom, edited by Permin Stekeler-Weithofer, with a bunch of interesting papers in it (not that I’ve read them all). I can’t find a link for it right now, unfortunately.

    However, I can find a link to Bernd Prien’s paper ‘Brandom on Communication, Reference and Objectivity’ , which is really interesting:

  4. duncan Says:

    Many thanks Pete – this is great stuff. Sorry your comment got held in moderation – I think the links got it caught by the spam filter, I’ll try to make it stop doing that.

    The PhD of course may not happen. But I’d definitely like to do something thesis-length on Brandom if I at all can. As is obvious from the blog, I’ve been just blown away by how rich and dense and well-thought through his work is. I was saying the other day IRL – I think MIE is the cleverest book I’ve ever read. In terms of range of resources drawn on, ingenuity of argument, and complexity (and unity) of architectonic structure, I think it beats Kant (for instance). Now I realise we have a tendency to overestimate the works of our peers – at least those that speak to our own concerns, and therefore seem richer to us than comparable works from other social spaces, because they are more resonant. But even so – it’s a hugely impressive thing.

    I hope your own work is going well. Best…

  5. duncan Says:

    Note for self: I’m reading the symposium on MIE in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Mar., 1997). McDowell, like many people I think, has failed to understand what Brandom means by ‘material inference’, not understanding that it includes perceptual dispositions, and that this is how Brandom incorporates experience into his apparatus. This is something I need to address – Brandom’s use of the concept of ‘material inference’ stretches the category of ‘inference’ way beyond the term’s normal usage, and this is part of why Brandom feels entitled to call his system an ‘inferentialist’ one. If one doesn’t understand the capaciousness of the category of ‘inference’ in Brandom, his system will indeed appear to lose the capacity to give an adequate account of reference (as it does to McDowell). But it isn’t so.

  6. duncan Says:

    In his introduction to Sellars’ Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind Rorty recommends the following work as “a good account of the development of American pragmatism” – I should check it out:

    Murphy, John P., Pragmatism: From Peirce to Davidson, 1990, Westview Press: Boulder, Colo.

  7. duncan Says:

    I should look at the debate here:


    Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory, 2011, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Volume 34, Issue 02, pp 57 – 74

  8. duncan Says:

    Probably worth following up a lot of the links here (including comment thread):

  9. duncan Says:

    Maybe this:

    Taking Stances: Toward a Performative Conception of Political Legitimacy, by Thomas Fossen

  10. duncan Says:

    I’ve decided to use Durkheim and Bourdieu as my two social-theoretic counterpoints to the Brandomian apparatus I’ll be advocating. Durkheim and Bourdieu both advocate foundational theories of practice, and explain normative content as formed in practice. They represent (I’ll be arguing) two different ways in which this kind of argument can fall short. Bourdieu is too fixated on the micro, and psychologises ‘structure’ (through the concept of habitus) – a social form for Bourdieu is basically a bodily/psychological set of dispositions that self-replicates through the practices it generates – there’s no sense of norms as emergent out of complexes of divergent practices. Durkheim, by contrast, focuses on the macro, but falls short on a) explaining how the macro-social structures he regards as generative of norms are instituted in concrete small-scale practices, and b) accounting for how a macro-social structure can itself be taken to be normatively misguided (i.e. he has problems with what Brandom calls ‘regularism’). There’s a lot more that could be said (with a lot more detail and nuance) about both of these figures – and I’ll try to say a lot of it in the document. But this is my basic idea for bringing out what’s social-theoretically novel and important about Brandom’s apparatus.

    Which is by way of saying – I should focus on this intention in my reading. I’ve already read the major works of Bourdieu and Durkheim – but I should at some point look at some of their more minor works, and I should also try to get a sense of the (very large) secondary literature.

  11. duncan Says:

    Book of papers here: The Pragmatics of ‘Making It Explicit’

    This volume was originally published as a Special Issue of Pragmatics & Cognition (13:1, 2005)

  12. duncan Says:

    Stephen P. Turner, Brains/practices/relativism: social theory after cognitive science

  13. Nick Srnicek Says:

    Hey Duncan, I’m writing up a paper on Brandom and social science in International Relations right now and just wanted to say this list of links was really helpful – so thanks!


  14. duncan Says:

    No worries 🙂

    Will be very interested to read your piece when it’s all done…

  15. duncan Says:

    William A. Woods, “What’s in a Link: Foundations for Semantic Networks”. In D. Bobrow and A. Collins (eds.), Representation and Understanding: Studies in Cognitive Science, New York: Academic Press, 1975.

  16. duncan Says:

    “The Implications of Robert Brandom’s Inferentialism for Intellectual History” – David L. Marshall

  17. duncan Says:

    This dude has put up a bunch of very interesting-looking philosophy videos on YouTube – including quite a few lectures by Brandom that I haven’t seen elsewhere:

  18. duncan Says:

    More viewing: a lecture by Brandom against genealogy and the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’: (I’m sure to disagree with some of this – but very relevant to the ways I’d like to apply Brandom’s work.)

  19. duncan Says:


    David L. Marshall

  20. duncan Says:

    Archiving the link to this useful thread on social justification at NewAPPS:

  21. T Rollo Says:

    Duncan, do you have an email I could reach you at? I’d like to discuss your approach to Brandom.

  22. Duncan, can I put in a plea that whatever T Rollo has to say be said on this site so that we can all have the benefit of your exchanges.

  23. duncan Says:

    Hi T Rollo – hi Christopher. Yes – as Christopher says, all else equal my preference is to discuss these matters in a public space, so others can read and contribute.

    I’m afraid, though, that I’m drowning in other obligations at the moment – and I don’t expect to have time for serious conversations (even casual ones here, alas) until maybe late May (?). Not that I’m trying to bow of of discussion – T Rollo, I’d be very interested in your thoughts, if you’d be willing to share them publicly. Just explaining that I probably can’t reply properly for some time.

    On that note, Christopher – I’m so sorry not to have replied to your very cogent comments elsewhere on the site. I’ve sat down several times to reply, but other things are always intervening, and I’ve found it hard to get back into the headspace of the Brandom material without a little more free time. I do intend to reply properly. Apologies again for leaving your comments hanging for so long.

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