Saturday, January 12, 2008

Reflections on Brandom's Woodbridge Lectures 1

Brandom finished giving his Woodbridge lectures "Animating Ideas of Idealism" here at Pitt, so I thought I'd write up some brief reflections on them. The other places I've seen comments on the Woodbridge lectures are on blogs that are more informed about German idealism than I am. I won't let that stop me though. I'm just going to comment on some of the things I found most interesting. The first lecture was primarily on Kant. A lot of the philosophical vocabulary used in this lecture was Brandomian, not Kantian, as with all his historical work.

One of the points he emphasized was the contribution to semantics that Kant made. This was in large part his rejection of the traditional view of predication. This story has been told by Brandom in a few places, and it seems like an accurate one. A novel feature of the lecture was the three-part process of synthesizing judgments. These three steps are critical, ampliative, and justificatory. The first is the rejection of some claims when incompatibilities arise. The second is drawing conceptual consequences from what is believed. The third is, well, justifying things believed in terms of other things. The process of synthesizing judgments into a unity is integrating the judgment into a unity of apperception. This has a distinctively Brandomian flavor to it since the three-part process involves incompatibilities, commitments, and entitlements, to use a slightly different philosophical vocabulary. This, and other bits of the lecture, made his Kant sound a lot like his Hegel, which in turn sounds a lot like him. He says he found his views in Hegel though. I think someone pressed him on this at one point in the questions and he admitted that he was looking at things through Hegelian spectacles. He said he was going to justify this sort of historical enterprise in the third lecture but it turned out to be a repetition of the stuff on "bebop history" from the opening sections of Tales of the Mighty Dead.

One more troubling thing for his account was brought out during the questions. He views objects as things that "repel" incompatible properties with alethic modal force. He uses the notion of incompatibility to arrive at the objects via a kind of triangulation, that is, "A is a fox" and "A is a dog" are only incompatible if they are about the same object; "A is a fox" and "B is a dog" need not be incompatible. This way of putting things seems to presuppose the object/property distinction already to make sense of incompatibilities. If one starts with incompatibilities and judgments with no structure, one can work out structure that breaks into something like this form. This point was pushed since it isn't clear that one can always work out a way of breaking things up into subsentential bits that results in enough, unique, objects. The inferential "equations" might not yield a unique solution in terms of objets. This seems like a big problem. Brandom has a paper where he gives some necessary and sufficient conditions on taking a bunch of inferences with incompatible propositions labeled, and working out which are talking about the same things. [Edit: The paper is, I believe, "Singular terms and sentential sign designs" in Philosophical Topics 15.] However, this requires some big assumptions that he was hesitant to attribute to Kant and Hegel. There currently isn't a weaker set of conditions that would guarantee the success of this sort of process although Brandom seemed to think it could be done. This seemed like an interesting project to work out. If this problem could be solved one way or the other it could provide a lot of support for or arguments against a sort of inferentialism.


Matti said...

"Brandom has a paper where he gives some necessary and sufficient conditions on..."

What paper do you mean, is it Singular terms and sentential sign designs?

Chapters 6 and 7 in MIE haven't really received too much commentary.

Shawn said...

I believe that is the article. I was being a bit lazy in writing the post by not checking what the article was called. I haven't read it yet but Brandom described it in the lectures on the relevant bits of MIE. There hasn't been much discussion of chapter 7 of MIE as far as I know. There are a few articles on the main argument of chapter 6, but that includes some articles that address it in the context of the Articulating Reasons presentation. But, again, not a lot.