May 29, 2011

All right, so, I think it’s quite a task to give any kind of proper account of the structure of the argument around asking for and giving reasons. I don’t have that amount of time at the moment. I ought to get back to work. But as a preliminary, schematic, superficial and telegraphic gesture: we do what we do. Because we are sapient, and the things we do are normative practices, the things we do can be judged right or wrong by others. Those judgements are, themselves, practices, and can themselves be judged right or wrong by others. The principles by which such judgements are made are themselves normative practices, which can, again, be judged right or wrong. And the whole thing cycles round. I’ve already explained, albeit briefly, how Brandom precipitates normative and conceptual objectivity out of this structure. It should also be at least broadly clear how one acquires a stable set of commitments within the system mapped out by this framework. As a participant in this social structure, I believe that a certain set of things are right because this belief is validated by the other social-perspectival locations that I take to be legitimate sources of correct judgement. These judgements of mine, about those other social-perspectival locations, are themselves in turn validated by a similar process. Until, on Brandom’s schema, we get to a material inference – an inference that is just good… but any material inference can become non-material the moment it is subject to contestation, and needs itself to be justified by reference to some further principle, or judgement. So the whole process will always in practice stop somewhere, but need never in theory.

All one needs, then, is a basic positive-feedback loop for a stable set of validated convictions to emerge from this kind of social-perspectival system. And this is how normative conviction is established.

The most common philosophical response to this kind of picture is something along the lines of “but how do you know that you’re really right?” – i.e. how, if all you’ve got is a positive-feedback loop between different social-perspectival locations, do you know that the output of this feedback loop is a good one, a true one? I have, at present, absolutely no interest in this question as a general question – i.e. as a sceptical critique of the entire picture being presented here. That’s because I take myself already to have answered it, in my earlier discussions of Brandom’s concept of objectivity. I refer you to my earlier posts on Brandom if this is your reaction to the broad picture being discussed.

As a specific question, however – a question asked from within the social-perspectival system, about a specific stance adopted within that system – this needs to be addressed. Or, rather, metatheoretically, I need to address how this question is addressed – I need to discuss the social practice of asking for and giving reasons. [Of course, from my point of view the ‘general’ question imagined above has the same status as the ‘specific’ question – it is a specific question articulated within this sytem – because I’m right about the fact that we do in fact all inhabit a system of this kind, and that this is in fact the only way any of our beliefs are ever legitimated.] I’ll aim to discuss all this in future posts. For now I’ve just got too many other things that need to be attended to. I need to spend some time away from the blog. Hopefully I’ll be able to return to these questions in a while. (I may, in the interim, throw up somewhat random passages of text without a whole lot of discussion. Again, hopefully I’ll be able to integrate all of this stuff when time permits.)


One Response to “Loops”

  1. Matthias Says:

    There is a helpful analogy here to Ronald Dworkin’s distinction between “internal” and “external” (or “archimedean”) skepticism. The latter, he argues, is incoherent, while the former doesn’t come as cheap as some of its proponents seem to think. Why not? Because it must be shown to hold, and how else could one do that than by relying on other commitments to which one already holds oneself to be entitled. (Great blog BTW!!)

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