NDPR: Review of “Reading Brandom: On Making it Explicit”

NDPR has published a review — written by James R. O’Shea (University College Dublin) — of Reading Brandom: On Making it Explicit (Routledge 2010; Bernhard Weiss and Jeremy Wanderer, eds.). To read the whole review, please click here.

Here is how it begins:

Anyone interested in Robert Brandom’s influential magnum opus in the philosophy of language, Making It Explicit: Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment (Harvard, 1994), will want to own this fine collection of new critical essays on Brandom’s work by prominent philosophers along with clarifying replies by Brandom. By now most philosophers are aware, at least in general terms, of why Brandom’s work is as controversial as it is important. Making It Explicit (hereafter ‘MIE‘) is arguably the first fully systematic and technically rigorous attempt to explain the meaning of linguistic items in terms of their socially norm-governed use (‘meaning as use’, to cite the Wittgensteinian slogan), thereby also giving a non-representationalist account of the intentionality of thought and the rationality of action as well. Brandom attempts to accomplish these goals by providing a fully worked out inferentialist as opposed to classical representationalist or truth-conditional semantics for natural languages, and then providing on that inferentialist basis an explanation of the expressive and explicitating role of logic and of traditional semantic vocabulary such as ‘true’, ‘refers’ and ‘represents’. So, beginning with practical normative attitudes and corresponding statuses of commitment and entitlement to claims — norms that are implicit in our practices of giving and asking for reasons — Brandom’s thick book attempts to chart a “Social Route from Reasoning to Representing” (chapter eight of MIE).

Bernhard Weiss and Jeremy Wanderer have assembled an outstanding group of philosophers to probe and criticize or amend and extend Brandom’s project. Part I on “Normative Pragmatics” includes chapters by Allan Gibbard (reprinted from 1996), Charles Taylor, Daniel Dennett, Sebastian Rödl, John MacFarlane, Wanderer, Mark Lance and Rebecca Kukla (co-authors), John McDowell, and Rowland Stout. Part II, “The Challenge of Inferentialism”, reprints an important exchange from 2007 between Brandom and his sharp critics Jerry Fodor and Ernie Lepore (co-authors). Part III on “Inferentialist Semantics” features Danielle Macbeth, Michael Dummett, Michael Kremer, Weiss, Kevin Scharp, and Bob Hale and Crispin Wright (co-authors). Brandom’s responses in Part IV then occupy a substantial sixty-eight pages. This organization nicely recapitulates the logical development of MIE, from issues concerning Brandom’s normative pragmatics, through the inferentialist and expressivist semantics, to the culminating issues pertaining to representation and objectivity. In their helpful introduction to the volume (pp. 1-11), Weiss and Wanderer appropriately highlight four central themes from Brandom’s MIE: 1. linguistic rationalism, 2. the sociality of norms, 3. inferentialism and representationalism, and 4. language entries and exits (i.e., perceptual observations and intentional actions). Here the editors do not shirk the hard work of providing useful overview commentaries relating substantial themes from each of the chapters to one or more of those four topics. Overall I think it would be hard to improve upon the organization and execution of the book, which fulfils its aims admirably.

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