More Brandom Preliminaries

February 15, 2011

In my last series of posts on Brandom I gave an extremely abstract and schematic account of the form of his account of the creation of norms and normativity in social practice. In the coming series of posts, I aim to begin to flesh out this argument, by starting to look – still at a very high level of abstraction – at the kinds of social practices Brandom sees as establishing normative demands. These are the social practices of deontic scorekeeping, attributing and acknowledging commitments, and asking for and giving reasons (as we will see, these categories need to be understood in quite broad terms). This coming series of posts therefore forms, as it were, the next ‘level’ of my account of Brandom’s argument – more detailed than the previous set of posts, we will here nonetheless mostly be ‘black-boxing’ the question of what specific social practices generate or compose the kinds of practice here analysed. There are two reasons for this black-boxing. In the first place, I think presenting the argument this way is sensible in expository terms – the main problem in Brandom’s reception, as far as I can tell from the reading I’ve done so far, is that people have failed to see the wood of his general practice-theoretic argument for the trees of his detailed analyses of specific social practices. I therefore think it is useful in making sense of Brandom’s system to begin with the architectonic before moving into progressively greater levels of detail. Secondly, however, and as I’ve already briefly discussed, I also happen to disagree with Brandom about the necessity of the specific (linguistic) practices he analyses to his argument as a whole. I don’t have a quarrel with Brandom’s philosophy of language. I do, however, feel that Brandom over-reaches in suggesting that only linguistic practice is capable of fulfilling the role demanded of the specific social practices analysed in the architectonic of his system. I don’t have any particular ambition to provide an alternative detailed analysis of non-linguistic practices, on the model of Making It Explicit – though that would be an interesting project to attempt – but since I ultimately wish to contest this aspect of Brandom’s system, I think it makes sense to present my exposition in a way that postpones that discussion until more of the many things on which I believe Brandom is correct have been worked through.

I don’t have the time to devote to a new series of Brandom posts now, and won’t for quite a while. I thought I’d put this throat-clearing post up anyway, to reorient to the next stage of the argument, and in case it proves possible to pursue that argument in piecemeal and intermittent fashion, through a series of similarly short posts.