Saturday, January 12, 2008

Reflections on Brandom's Woodbridge Lectures 2

The second of the Woodbridge lectures covered a lot of both Kant and Hegel. In this one, Brandom started with the familiar story about how Kant gives a positive conception of freedom arising from binding oneself by norms. I'm most interested in a fairly narrow subsection of this talk. Binding oneself by norms is part of the Kantian conception of autonomy. You bind yourself by norms by recognizing those norms as binding. The question then arises as to the source of the authority of these norms. I'm not sure I understand exactly what happens here though. The Hegelian response to the Kantian view of autonomy is to say that the force of normative statuses is instituted by the normative attitudes of the members of the community. One is part of a community in virtue of a reciprocal recognition by members of the community.

The sketch of reciprocal recognition given in the lectures made the view of community seem too tidy, the relevant people seeing all the other relevant people as being members of the same group. I wondered what Brandom/Hegel would say about situations such as this. Camus was an existentialist for a while (right?), and others took him to be one. Then he decided he wasn't but many people still took him to be one. Now he is still regarded as an existentialist, a part of that community's legacy, even though he refused to recognize this. Brandom said that the individual attitudes were necessary but not sufficient while the joint attitudes of everyone are sufficient. I guess this would mean that Camus would not be a member of the community, at least not until his attitudes ceased with death. A question was also raised about the degree to which one could opt in or out of a community. The discussion seemed to quickly move the scope of the community to the whole of concept-using humanity, but I'm not sure how it moved there so quickly.

The reciprocal recognition found in the Hegelian explanation of Kantian autonomy does a funny thing. There is no sense of the individual autonomy found in the social, reciprocal recognition picture. Brandom didn't seem to find this bothersome. The Kantian autonomy is still there, in the sense of norms binding one only when one takes the norms as binding. At least, that is how Brandom responded when I asked him about it. I'm not completely comfortable with his answer though. I'm not sure if it is the reciprocal part of the reciprocal recognition that insures that the Kantian sort of autonomy remains. It is also a little unclear to me what the bold, individual sort of autonomy is that goes missing on the Hegelian picture, once one zooms out to the level at which the community comes into view. I think it is the idea that one can get oneself into whatever normative status one wants. That sounds sort of like a normative "Humpty-Dumptyism" though.

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