Picking up on Brandom again

February 8, 2012

[Still insufficient time and/or focus to blog in a sustained way – but a few quick remarks on Brandom]

When I left off discussing Brandom, I think I’d basically given a decent account of his normative pragmatics. This pragmatics is the main thing that interests me in Brandom’s work. However, I haven’t yet given here, I don’t think, an adequate account of Brandom’s inferentialist semantics – elaboration of which occupies the bulk of Brandom’s corpus.

The rhetorical and work-allocation situations here are both somewhat delicate.

To recapitulate (apologies to readers who have seen this a thousand times already here…):

My interest in Brandom is in the repurposing of his broad pragmatist and practice-theoretic insights into more overtly social-theoretic intellectual terrain. I want, in the longer run, to make contributions to social scientific research, rather than to semantics or the philosophy of language. I therefore simply am not going to attempt to acquire the mastery of the analytic logistic tradition that would be required to do Brandom’s contribution to that tradition justice. Doing so would require something close to a life-project level of commitment, I think – time measured in decades rather than years. If I were one of those immortals who populate popular culture (some sort of vampire or Highlander figure…) this might be worthwhile; but give the average human life span this project just isn’t compatible with my other intellectual goals.

I also, as regular readers will know, hold an opinion (sufficiently under-justified to possess at present an epistemic status only slightly higher than that of prejudice) that the broad structure of Brandom’s argument could be replicated by an apparatus that does not require Brandom’s specific linguistic-philosophical commitments. [This is a stronger claim than the one I have advanced at length elsewhere on the blog – that Brandom cannot justify the transcendental status he ascribes to some of his truth-claims. I consider this latter claim to be quite strongly warranted; but even if I’m right there, that doesn’t speak to whether an alternative apparatus would in fact be possible.]

[NB: At one level Brandom is comfortable with this. He writes in the Preface to MIE that “Particularly in matters of detail (but by no means there alone), a myriad of choices have had to be made at the cost of spurning attractive, perhaps ultimately superior, alternatives. The approach seldom dictates just one way of doing things. Yet the choice of which large limb to follow off the trunk of the tradition must be made on the basis of the tempting fruit to be seen on the smaller branches it supports. It can only be hoped that where upon closer inspection some of them are found wanting, the fundamental soundness of the tree is not impugned, but only the judgement of the gardener, who pruned the better and nurtured the worse.” I find this thematisation of fallibility to be both moving, and in the spirit of the larger pragmatist and scientific intellectual enterprise.]

This belief is independent of the fact that I don’t myself plan to make use of Brandom’s detailed inferentialist apparatus in my own future work – but it provides another motive for de-emphasising, relatively speaking, Brandom’s philosophy of language, as I deploy that apparatus for non-philosophical purposes. [Non-philosophical here meaning ‘not philosophical’ – nothing to do with Laruelle et al.]

Nevertheless, I want to know what I’m talking about; to possess some degree of competence in Brandom’s philosophy of language. In the coming series of posts I plan to explore Brandom’s inferentialist apparatus, and aim for a fuller – though I’m sure not a comprehensive – understanding of it.

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