Friday, September 28, 2007

Making It Explicit: Brandom's problem with commitment

Near the start of chapter 3 of MIE, Brandom tells us that the primary normative concept for inferential articulation is commitment. When we move to the social picture involving more than one agent, there is a shift to multiple primary concepts. They are commitment and entitlement. These are two sides of one coin, to use a phrase that Brandom likes a lot. Surprisingly, he thinks that commitment can be understood entirely in terms of entitlement. In what sense is commitment needed then? Commitments have a sort of double life. Not only are they undertaken, but they are also what one is entitled to. To put it awkwardly, one can be committed and entitled to commitments. There is a status sense and a content sense of commitment it seems. (I think this point is one that MacFarlane hammers on in his excellent "Inferentialism and Pragmatism", available on his homepage.)

If commitment, in the status sense, is fully understandable in terms of entitlement, then it would stand to reason that incompatibility should be too. Incompatibility is defined as commitment that precludes an entitlement to something else. This would go something like: p is incompatible with q just in case p authorizes the removal of or the preclusion of entitlement to q. That doesn't sound that bad. Brandom should probably have said that the fundamental normative status for the game of giving and asking for reasons is entitlement and commitment takes on its content role. There are two problems with this that I don't have responses to. The first is that I'm not sure he's allowed to appeal to the idea of content at this point in the book. The second problem is that if commitment isn't a fundamental normative status, then it is difficult to see why inference must be the bridge to semantics. Any sort of doing should work to connect the praxis to the semantics.

(The people that are in the Brandom seminar are probably tired of the joke in the title in its various incarnations, but I find it funny nonetheless.)

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