Is Brandom's account of history satisfactory to justify itself against doubts?

2

Brandom's idealism is multi-faceted and complicated. A rough summary of it might be as follows:

Rationality is a conceptual normality, a typical way we do things. Specifically, it is a practical status denoting a subject that seeks reasons. A 'reason' is also a normality. All such normalities are determined in our application of them, in our using them. In this way, rationality is absolute, and does not stand in need of explanation.

A paradox arises however. If what counts as a 'reason' is determined by the application of said reason by a subject, then what makes the subject really bound to the reason?

Here Brandom, borrowing from Hegel, clarifies that the individual's application of the concept is not a sufficient condition for determining the content of the concept. Rather, what is required is a reciprocity relationship with other people.

Brandom gives the example of chess. You might identify certain groups of people as being 'good' chess players, but you yourself won't actually be a part of that group unless they identify you as being a good chess player as well. In the same way, the 'correct' use of a concept depends upon the socio-linguistic relations of use between you and the community.

Yet another question arises though. In Brandom's own words, "How does what we actually do with the terms, the judgement we have actually made, settle what we ought to do with it in novel cases?"

In answer to this question, Brandom, maintaining his expressivism, contends that we must look to the past rather than to some fact. What justifies how one ought to apply any given concept is a matter of how that concept has been applied in the past, by the socio-linguistic communities that have used the concept.

Given this brief rundown of Brandom's idealism, we can return to the OG question.

If what justifies how one ought to apply concepts is a matter of how the concept has socio-historically been used, then this leaves no room for justified change. But this leads to the paradox that even if Brandom is right about the use of the concept 'history', 'reason', etc., it would be wrong for someone who disagreed with him to change their minds and agree. On the greater extreme, any sort of change in concept-use would be wrong.

Another way of putting the problem is to say that Brandom can adequately account for how a concept-use binds an individual in a given tradition, but not how an individual is justified in becoming a member of a new tradition.

Is this a real problem? How would/does Brandom answer it?

Goob

Posted 2016-10-02T00:44:58.857

Reputation: 313

1Could you give the source for the quote (unless it is yours?) I am somewhat lost on the question, but I do not see a problem with an individual jumping traditions if she is dissatisfied with her current one. This is how say Peirce or Quine argued for switching from foundationalism to anti-foundationalism in epistemology, by reciting a litany of historical failures of the former by its own lights, and offering an alternative to try instead. It is similar in semantics, and for anti-foundationalists a switch does not have to be justified in advance, it is try and see if it works better. – Conifold – 2016-10-02T01:40:58.977

@Conifold Yeah, the quote is my own. The question is how Brandom reconciles what he says about how we ought to apply concepts (by applying it the same way as the tradition we are a part of has) with how a critical dialogue can occur between two disagreeing traditions. To what standard should appeal be made in trying to convince someone of a different tradition of why they should change traditions? Why should someone of a different tradition see any value in Brandom's tradition in a critical sense? – Goob – 2016-10-02T16:24:36.223

@Conifold The key being, how does Brandom convince someone who is satisfied with their own tradition of the value of his (Brandom's) tradition? It seems like Brandom leaves no room for a meaningful occurrence of critical argumentation. – Goob – 2016-10-02T16:26:16.577

Brandom's "idealism"??? I don't think so. – None – 2016-10-02T20:26:31.080

No offense but I think you're misreading Brandom. in fact, one of the strong points of his approach is that it easily accommodates change. after all, pragmatism has always whole-heartedly embraced evolution and B is no exception. the notion that his model does not allow for changing of minds, concepts, terms, etc. is plainly wrong, on the contrary it offers a better explanation of change than do competing philosophies, inho. – None – 2016-10-02T20:34:37.077

as I recall, Brandom explicitly rejects "justification" for his project, in favor of "commitment" and "entitlement". of course he *uses" the term "justification ", but only to discuss traditional vocabulary that he rejects. commitments and entitlements are always contingent, defeasibile - they are never iron-clad, inviolable rules. there is no such thing as an unimpeachable justification. – None – 2016-10-02T20:53:14.483

@mobileink Brandom borrows from idealist ideas in Kant and Hegel, i.e. the idea that concepts derive their meaning by our using them. We are the makers of meaning. In that sense Brandom is an idealist. I'm not talking about whether Brandom's account can account for change. I'm talking about how Brandom's account accounts for change in a setting where reasons are sought by people who are not already committed to those reasons, and indeed are staunchly opposed to those reasons. Put in another way, I wonder how Brandom can say we ought to be a member of his tradition by his own account of what – Goob – 2016-10-02T21:09:24.220

dictates the correct use of concepts, which is simply to use the concepts in the way the tradition you wish to be a part of uses them. Why should anyone wish to be a part of Brandom's tradition to begin with? – Goob – 2016-10-02T21:12:12.813

Hi. Where does Brandom say the things that you attribute to him (novel cases, past uses)? – Ram Tobolski – 2016-10-02T21:46:25.153

It's from Brandom's Tales of the Mighty Dead. – Goob – 2016-10-02T22:26:44.080

Where in Tales of the Mighty Dead? – Ram Tobolski – 2016-10-03T14:08:45.137

pg. 13 I believe. – Goob – 2016-10-03T15:08:33.493

I wish this question had broader scope. I think I figured out the point behind your line of questioning in general, and the justification/doubt part in particular. I am not sure if Brandom himself dealt with this issue specifically but if not it is because it was addressed at length by his predecessors, especially Peirce, Quine and Sellars. The break with realism is deeper than may be expected, pragmatists do not see Cartesian doubt or "neutral" positions as valid starting points for "critical dialogue" either. Maybe next time :) – Conifold – 2016-10-03T23:18:01.643

@Conifold I'm not arguing for beginning with a Cartesian doubt nor a 'neutral' position. I'm observing that Brandom's account of history is not the only account of history, and that his account of history, his tradition, leaves no room for any critical discussion to take place between itself and other traditions. The point is figuring out how and why anyone should be a part of a tradition considering a concern about what is correct. Brandom speaks a great deal about that standard already considering cases where someone identifies a virtual tradition they want to be a part of. Little is said of – Goob – 2016-10-04T15:37:05.957

how and why someone should identify himself with one tradition over another. Indeed, Brandom seems to imply that this process is relative. I contend that if this is so, then Brandom has nothing to say to anyone who disagrees with him, and thus he is altogether uninteresting. Unless of course we say that there is in fact a real standard against which we can judge the correctness of traditions. – Goob – 2016-10-04T15:38:37.253

Yes, this is what I thought your concerns were, but explaining it properly is beyond this comment thread. There is no "real" standard (in your sense), pragmatists do have a lot to say to those disagreeing with them (Hegel called it immanent criticism). The more interesting discussion only begins after person's position is undermined enough for them to provisionally adopt an alternative (and not just pretend to for argument's sake). – Conifold – 2016-10-04T21:15:44.237

Answers

1

If what justifies how one ought to apply concepts is a matter of how the concept has socio-historically been used, then this leaves no room for justified change.

That seems to depend on the specific tradition in question. If the said tradition has internalized (or is willing to internalize) norms of conceptual change, then conceptual change is possible, to that extent. Nothing in Brandom's system prevents it. There is also always the possibility of starting or maintaining a new tradition-branch. Brandom's view requires a social structure, but it does not require a unified consensus.

Notice also that there is a kind of (intended) circularity about this idea that you look at previous uses of a concept, in order to judge its correct use in a novel case. Because what does it mean that the new case is novel, except that there are no precedents for it? That is, until one "re-interprets" past cases as precedents. By re-interpreting past cases as relevant precedents, one is not merely continuing the tradition. One is then actively participating in making the tradition.

It is insofar as one takes the tradition to be rational . . . that one makes the tradition be, and have been, rational.

Judgments that show up first as adventitious products of accidental circumstances . . . are exhibited as correct application of a conceptual norm, retrospectively discerned as already implicit in previous judgments. (emph. mine)

(Brandom, Tales of the Mighty Dead, Introduction p.14)

But this leads to the paradox that even if Brandom is right about the use of the concept 'history', 'reason', etc., it would be wrong for someone who disagreed with him to change their minds and agree.

Brandom is not concerned with changes of mind. This is not a level that concerns Brandom.

Another way of putting the problem is to say that Brandom can adequately account for how a concept-use binds an individual in a given tradition, but not how an individual is justified in becoming a member of a new tradition.

Why should anyone wish to be a part of Brandom's tradition to begin with?

These questions are outside the scope of Brandom's system. He leaves open the (meta) questions related to choosing among traditions. He concerns himself only with how things work inside any tradition (that is, any tradition which has a specified "inferential" structure).

Ram Tobolski

Posted 2016-10-02T00:44:58.857

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