Robert Brandom

Robert Brandom

Jeremy Wanderer
Copyright Date: 2008
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  • Book Info
    Robert Brandom
    Book Description:

    Jeremy Wanderer offers students a clear introduction to the philosophy of Robert Brandom, in particular his monumental work Making It Explicit, one of the most significant and daunting philosophical works of recent years. The book provides a clear sense of Brandom's project, motivates a close reading of the core text, and offers a context for an initial assessment and critique of Brandom's thinking. It highlights some of the philosophical problems that Brandom seeks to solve and explores the wider implications of his account. The first book to place Brandom's work squarely within contemporary Anglo-American philosophy and the broader history of philosophy, it will be a valuable resource for advanced students and philosophers tackling this challenging body of work.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9493-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Robert Brandom was born in New York in 1950. He completed undergraduate studies at Yale, and wrote his doctoral thesis at Princeton University under the direction of Richard Rorty. He is currently the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, where he has been a member of the philosophy faculty since 1976. Brandom is the author of four books, most notablyMaking It Explicit(henceforth MIE), and recently delivered the John Locke Lectures at the University of Oxford, entitled “Between Saying and Doing” (BSD). This book aims to provide a lucid introduction to Brandom’s philosophy to date.


  6. Part I: Sapience
    • Introduction
      (pp. 7-10)

      Despite the many differences between you, the reader of this book, and me, its author, there is one thing that, necessarily, we both share. We, you and me, both belong to a community whose members all have cognitive capacities, in the broad sense of being able to reason and understand. There may also be other features and capacities that we share. We may, for example, both be mammals, and we may both be capable of some form of self-propulsion of parts of ourselves through space. While this may well be the case, the kind of interaction that is going on...

    • Chapter 1 Parrots
      (pp. 11-33)

      On a number of occasions, Brandom introduces his particular conception of mind and language with the following question:

      What is the difference between a parrot who is disposed reliably to respond differentially to the presence of red things by saying “Raawk, that’s red,” and a human reporter who makes the same noise under the same circumstances?

      (KSOR: 897)¹

      In so doing, he forces the reader to focus on a purported discontinuity between the abilities of human adults and of parrots. Despite the similarity in the given descriptions of the behaviours, the vocal responses of the human adult and parrot reporter...

    • Chapter 2 Rational beings
      (pp. 34-57)

      It is possible to distinguish between three different questions that can be asked about the notion of a linguistic practice:

      1. What are the criteria that must be satisfied for a social practice to be a linguistic one?

      2. What structure must a set of performances within a social practice have to fulfill those criteria?

      3. When should an interpreter treat a specific set of performances as having that structure?

      Chapter 1 focused on the first of these questions, claiming that a social practice is a linguistic one when the practice includes the speech act of asserting. This chapter considers in detail Brandom’s...

    • Chapter 3 Logical beings
      (pp. 58-77)

      It is possible to be able to do something, yet not be able to say exactly what it is that one is able to do. You may, for example, have bicycle-riding abilities, but not have mastered the vocabulary that a technical writer would need in order to describe precisely what is being done. The converse is also possible. You may be able to say what is required to be able to do something, without having the ability to do that thing yourself. A skilled golf coach may be able to tell his charge precisely what she needs to do to...

    • Chapter 4 Us
      (pp. 78-94)

      Our discussion of linguistic practice has identified three types of being with regard to the gameplaying practice: simple, rational and logical beings. Simple practitioners, exemplified by the parrots of Chapter 1, are outsiders to the practice, although some of their performances can be treated by practitioners as having significance within the practice. Rational beings, the gameplayers-cum-scorekeepers of Chapter 2, are insiders to the practice, as they are able to practically treat both their own performances and the performances of others as significant moves within the practice. Logical beings, considered in Chapter 3, are rational beings who have additionally mastered the...

  7. Part II: Inferentialism
    • Introduction
      (pp. 95-100)

      Although semantic issues have been hovering in the background of the discussion in Part I, we have done our best to leave them there, focusing primarily on pragmatic issues. In Part 11, the focus will be reversed, with semantic issues to the fore, discussed against the pragmatic background already considered.

      Semantics, here, should be thought of as the theoretical study of the meaning or content of linguistic expressions. It is to be contrasted with pragmatics, which, here, should be thought of as the theoretical study of the practical doings specific to linguistic beings.¹ Semantics, in this sense, concerns itself with...

    • Chapter 5 Sentential semantics
      (pp. 101-125)

      Brandom’s inferentialist semantic theory has three levels, which together comprise what he terms the “ISA approach”. The first is theinferentiallevel which invokes inferential relations among repeatable sentence types (such as the sentence type: “Mandela is a lawyer”). The second is thesubstitutionallevel, which invokes indirect inferential relations between subsentential repeatable expression types (such as the singular term type: “Mandela”). The third is theanaphoric level, which invokes indirect inferential relations between unrepeatable tokenings (such as the demonstrative tokening “that”) and repeatable expression types.

      The basic level is the inferential one. At this level, the semantic content of...

    • Chapter 6 Subsentential semantics
      (pp. 126-145)

      In Chapter 5 we considered the first level in Brandom’s three-tiered ISA inferentialist semantic structure, that ofinference. In this chapter, this inferentialist semantics will be extended to incorporate the other two subsentential tiers,substitutionandanaphora. The reason for extending an inferentialist semantics in this manner stems, in part, from the need to respond to two challenges facing the account developed thus far. We shall call these:the challenge of token repeatabilityandthe challenge of subsentential structure.

      The first challenge can be illustrated by comparing the counters used in the game as described in Part I with the...

    • Chapter 7 Communication
      (pp. 146-173)

      A common challenge facing the family of views that think of semantic content in terms of inferential role stems from their seeming failure to allow for the possibility of communication between conversational partners.¹ The challenge is particularly strong for Brandom’s version, since he openly endorses those features of inferentialism that are taken to lead to the problem, and he eschews most of the moves that have been suggested as ways of solving it.

      Here is a preliminary statement of the problem, using only commitments explicitly undertaken by Brandom. On the one hand, understanding the claim of another involves “tracing out”...

    • Chapter 8 sLosing the worldss?
      (pp. 174-200)

      The headline “Card-carrying Pragmatist Rejects Representationalist Totalitarianism”¹ is unlikely to generate much surprise in a philosophically aware audience. Ever since Dewey, the rejection of a representationalist conception of the function of language, and its influence into other areas (including the conception of philosophy itself), has been taken to be the hallmark of the pragmatist tradition.²

      It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Brandom portrays his inferentialist approach to semantics in contrast “to the representationalist idiom for thinking and talking about thinking that has been so well worked out over the last three centuries” (MIE: xxii). His first published paper...

  8. Conclusion: Towards a historical conception of rationality
    (pp. 201-208)

    In the introduction to TOMD, Brandom lays out five different conceptions of rationality in a progressive sequence, so that each subsequent conception incorporates the insights of the previous one, while amending or advancing it in some way (TOMD: 1–17). Since one of the five conceptions is Brandom’s own inferentialist one, one would expect it to be the fifth and final in the sequence, thereby portraying it as the most complete conception of rationality available. Surprisingly, inferentialism is the fourth of the conceptions presented, and is incorporated into and improved upon by a fifth, a historical conception of rationality.


  9. Notes
    (pp. 209-229)
  10. References
    (pp. 230-235)
  11. Index
    (pp. 236-242)