Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Inference and pragmatics, again

[This post is rather speculative and the waters may get a little choppy. Please be gentle.] It occurred to me that there are some further consequences to the criticism of Brandom that MacFarlane puts forward. In his Locke Lectures "Between Doing and Saying" (BDS), Brandom talks about some of the consequences of inference as a kind of doing. In particular, he highlights the relationship between the conditional and inference, the former saying what one does in the latter. This idea is generalized to a discussion of what expressive tools one needs to be able to say explicitly what is left implicit in practice. This a theme from Making It Explicit (MIE) that sees a formal working through in BDS.

It has been too long since I read either BDS or MIE, and I only read each once through so some (lots) of the details are getting fuzzy. But, the role of score-keeping is toned down in BDS. The emphasis is placed on the deployment of different vocabularies to express what is done in practice. This is tightly connected to inference, but if MacFarlane is right then the inference is not the proper concept to bridge the practice and its semantic expression. That is deontic score-keeping. I don't remember any discussion tying the use of different vocabularies together with deontic score-keeping. That could be an aspect of BDS that needs to be worked out. The role of inference in BDS is a bit different from that of MIE, so MacFarlane's point is not directly applicable. BDS does build on the MIE account though, and inference is the paradigmatic kind of doing in both MIE and BDS. Probably the clearest place at which the semantic role of inference comes into play is when Brandom discusses modal notions and how certain inferences are counterfactually robust.

It seems a little odd that there wasn't any talk (to my memory at least) of the explicitating-explicating (technical Brandomese, left unexplained here; see BDS lectures 1 & 2) role of score-keeping vocabulary, namely commitment and the various kinds of entitlement. I don't think that was mentioned at all, when it is starting to seem to me like it should have been. [edit: I have been corrected in the comments. Brandom does talk about the vocabulary of score-keeping. He says in lecture 4 that it is explicitating-explicating for all vocabularies. That roughly vindicates the intuition behind this paragraph. It also seems to support some of MacFarlane's idea. Tip of my hat to eccecattus for pointing this out.] This could turn into a summer project...


eccecattus said...

You wrote: "It seems a little odd that there wasn't any talk (to my memory at least) of the [LX] role of score-keeping vocabulary, namely commitment and the various kinds of entitlement."

See BSD Lecture 4, Section 4 on the Normative Kant-Sellars Thesis, where B argues that normative vocab -- paradigmatically 'commitment' and 'entitlement' -- stand LX w/ respect to every autonomous vocab.

BTW, will you be in Prague come April 28th? (

Shawn said...

Brilliant! I'm glad to see that it is in there and I just forgot about it. I suppose that is what I get for writing about something I read a while ago without double checking it. That does seem to line up with MacFarlane's idea. The MacFarlane paper is forthcoming in a volume called Reading Brandom: On Making It Explicit. It is supposed to have a response by Brandom. I am very curious to see what it is.

I would love to go to the Brandomfest in Prague at the end of April. The department doesn't fund grad students to travel unless they are presenting, and I am not presenting anything. I hope someone blogs about it, but I am not holding my breath.