John MacFarlane’s “Pragmatism and Inferentialism” is, in large part, about Brandom’s claim that inferring is a kind of doing and how that claim fits into the larger picture of Brandom’s project. Brandom also thinks that semantics must answer to pragmatics, that the meaning of a term is its role in a practice. This commitment means that representation can’t be one of the semantic primitives since representation is not an action, whereas inference is. Norms and proprieties can be brought to bear on actions and are less naturally brought to bear on states. But, as MacFarlane points out, even if representation isn’t an action, asserting is and we can see truth as a norm of assertion. This is not a completely unproblematic response (have there been any in philosophy?), but it is a line that Davidson, who MacFarlane characterizes as a pragmatist in the sense of emphasizing use, takes. Davidson is a pragmatist in this sense since the truth-conditional theories he promotes are tested in the field by how well they allow us to interpret agents as rational beings.

Brandom sees inference as bridging the gap between pragmatics and semantics. The notion of (material and formal) validity supplies proprieties for inferences. MacFarlane asks what makes validity an unproblematic norm where truth fails the test. He give an explicit answer to that question, but he points to analogs of the reasons why truth fails. There are times when evidence supports asserting something that is false and there are times when it is improper to assert something that is true, e.g. due to redundancy or to lack of evidence. Going a bit further, when we look at Brandom’s primary semantic notions (incompatibility, entitlement-preservation, commitment-preservation) we find that they do not have anything to do with validity. They are all norms for deontic score-keeping. Deontic score-keeping is what connects use to meaning. (This is really what makes MacFarlane’s paper interesting.) The score-keeping is a kind of Davidsonian interpretation, so it looks like this lends some support to someone that wants to be a representationalist, i.e. use truth-conditional semantics, while being a pragmatist. Additionally it leaves it somewhat open what the role of inference in meaning is. Inferential role is how Brandom cashes out meaning, but it is no longer the concept bringing together meaning and use. That concept is score-keeping, and inference shows up there in what inferences the score-keepers are disposed to make, not the ones the asserting agent is disposed to make. Also, it opens the door as to what sorts of use meaning could consist in (if it so consists). The candidates on the table are inference and score-keeping (maybe assertion?), but there is no argument (that I know of) to the effect that this exhausts the possibilities. I don’t have anything to offer as a candidate, although it seems like there could be possibilities out there.

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