Sunday, April 26, 2009

Shieh, Sanford. Review of Robert Brandom's BETWEEN SAYING AND DOING. NDPR (April 2009).

Brandom, Robert. Between Saying and Doing: Towards an Analytic Pragmatism. Oxford: OUP, 2008. Ever since Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, many have thought that there is a long-standing, perhaps dominant, philosophical tradition -- of which analytic philosophy is the most recent instance -- according to which the essence of language is representation of the world. On this supposed tradition, words refer to aspects of the world, and statements composed of words represent, truly or falsely, facts about the parts of the world to which words refer. Rorty also taught us that this conception of language is opposed by pragmatism, according to which the purportedly fundamental representational notions of reference and truth are in fact grounded on conceptually prior notions of the use of language, such as asserting and inferring. Brandom's monumental Making It Explicit (MIE) is usually taken to be the most influential articulation and defense of pragmatism in contemporary philosophy. We learn from Brandom's Afterword in Between Saying and Doing (BSD) that this book's project is distinct from that of MIE. In particular, in BSD, Brandom presents a new "theoretical apparatus," "meaning-use analysis," which he takes to be a way of extending, rather than opposing, the "classical project" of analytic philosophy by incorporating the insights of its pragmatist critics. Nevertheless, meaning-use analysis grew "out of [Brandom's] thinking about what [he] was doing in" MIE (234), and many of the main examples of meaning-use analysis recount arguments and doctrines from MIE. Thus, not only is this new style of analysis significant in its own right, it helps us understand better both the views of MIE and the nature of its philosophical project. I will accordingly do two things in this review. First, I will give an account of meaning-use analysis, raising a few questions along the way. Second, I will, by focusing on Brandom's analysis of modality, discuss his conception of the enterprise of meaning-use analysis and its consequences for the metaphilosophical status of MIE. The project of BSD is motivated by a particular conception of analytic philosophy and its history. On Brandom's reading, the central concern of analytic philosophy is with semantic reduction or reconstruction relations among "vocabularies." This concern manifests itself in two core programs: empiricism and naturalism. Both seek to show how the meanings expressed by philosophically problematic vocabularies can be reconstructed from the meanings expressed by philosophically privileged vocabularies with the help of logical vocabulary, the use of which is always taken to be legitimate. These programs differ over which vocabularies are privileged, the former going for phenomenal or observational vocabulary, the latter for the vocabulary of physics or of the natural sciences. They differ to a lesser extent on what kinds of talk are problematic. Empiricism, for instance, tends to attempt to reduce objective vocabulary, talk of how things are, to phenomenal vocabulary, talk of how things seem; while naturalism tends to take objective vocabulary for granted. But both programs tend to treat modal, normative, semantic, and intentional vocabularies as targets for reconstruction. Like Rorty, Brandom takes this classical analytic project to be decisively challenged by pragmatism, which urged a "displacement from the center of philosophical attention of the notion of meaning in favor of that of use . . . , replacing concern with semantics by concern with pragmatics" (3). . . . Read the whole review here:

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