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Before getting to the post proper, it will help to lay out a distinction drawn, I believe, by Sellars. The distinction is between three sorts of transitions one could make in relation to propositions, for example if one is playing a language game of some sort. They are language-entry moves, language-language moves, and language-exit moves. The first is made through perception and conceptualization. Perceiving the crumb cake entitles me to say that there is crumb cake there. The second is paradigmatic inferential or consequential relations among propositions. Inferring from p&q to p is a language-language move. The third is moving from a practical commitment or explicit desire to action. Borrowing Perry’s example, it is the move from thinking that I have to be at the meeting and that the meeting is starting now to me getting up and rushing off to the meeting.

In Making It Explicit, Brandom distinguishes three things that could be meant by inferentialism. These are the necessity of inferential relations, the sufficiency of inferential relations, and hyperinferentialism. The first is the claim that inferential articulation is necessary for meaning. Representation might also be necessary, but at the least inference is necessary. The second is the claim that inferential articulation is sufficient for meaning. In both of these, inference is taken broadly so as not to collapse into hyperinferentialism, which is the thesis that inference narrowly construed is sufficient for meaning. The narrow construal is that inferences are language-language moves. What does this make the broad construal? According to Brandom, it includes the language-entry and -exit moves. In MIE, Brandom defends, I believe, the necessity of inferential relations, although he says some things that sound like he likes the idea of the sufficiency claim. He doesn’t think that hyperinferentialism will work. This is because he thinks that for some words, the content of the word depends on causal/perceptual connections. I think that color terms are examples. Additionally, the content of some words exhibits itself in what practical consequences it has in our action and this exhibition is an essential part of the meaning of the word. My beliefs about crumb cake will influence how I act around crumb cake. Hyperinferentialism cannot account for these because the language-entry and -exit moves essential to their meaning are not things hyperinferentialism has access to.

Brandom’s claim then, once things have been unpacked a bit, amounts to saying that the narrowly inferential connections, perceptual input, and practical output are necessary for meaning. This seems to undercut the charge that inferentialism loses the world in a froth of words, which charge is mentioned at the end of ch. 4 of MIE, I think. It is also a somewhat looser version of inferentialism since things that are not traditionally inferential get counted as inferential. The inferentialist could probably make a case that that the language-language moves are particularly important to meaning, but I think Brandom’s inferentialism stretches the bounds of inference a bit. I’m not sure an inferentialist of the Prawitz-Dummett sort would be entirely comfortable with the Brandomian version of it. By the end of MIE, Brandom’s broad notion of inference encompasses a lot. Granted, it is fairly plausible that much of that is important to or essential for meaning. However, I wonder if it doesn’t move a bit away from the motivating idea of inferentialism, namely that inference is what is central.


Throughout MIE, we are told what incompatibility is. Two claims are incompatible when commitment to one precludes entitlement to the other. We are also told that incompatibility is a modal notion. In fact, it plays are rather central and rather modal role in the later part of MIE and Brandom’s later work. Now, my problem is I don’t understand where the modality comes from. Commitment and entitlement are normative but they aren’t, at least at this point in the story, modal. The preclusion isn’t modal either; it is just straightforward non-modal precluding.

There is a modal sense of incompatibility that is used in other philosophical papers. This is, I think, a sense in which two propositions are not jointly possible; non-compossible is the term I think. This is clearly modal. If that is what Brandom means, then there should be some demonstration that this sort of incompatibility and the kind defined in MIE coincide. There isn’t any such demonstration, which makes me think that this is not on the right track. However, if it isn’t on the right track, then I don’t know how in the world incompatibility is modal. If it is on the right track though, then I’m also not sure how the argument is supposed to run since these two notions don’t seem coextensional. I’m doubtful that the latter implies the former either, but then this is just denying that I’m on the right track.

I want to write some in depth posts about the material in chapter 4, but I have precious little background in the philosophies of action or of perception. Instead, I will try to sort out a few things about the structure, mostly in an expository vein, mostly sketching some of the major themes. The chapter covers a lot of ground; in particular, action, perception, and epistemology. Most of the epistemological background in the book is in the chapter, preceding the perception stuff. The perception and action sections are supposed to present the theories of the book on those topics. It seems like neither is entirely satisfactory and a lot more could be said about all three parts.

The perception section bears most of the weight. Conceptually, action is identified with (I think that is right) language-exit moves while perception is identified with language-entry moves. Perception bears most of the weight because the model for perception is reused for action. The order of things is just, in a sense, reversed.

The model of perception is what Brandom calls the two-ply account. It consists of having an appropriate reliable differential responsive disposition and applying the appropriate concept. There is a two part structure here to reflect the interactions of the causal order of things and the rational order of things, with dispositions for the former and concepts for the latter. For action, instead of passively accepting a stimulus, the causal side of things is motivational. There is a further story to tell on the action side about practical reasoning and practical commitments, but this leans heavily on the established ideas of doxastic commitments, theoretical reasoning, and the two-ply model for perception.

Brandom is primarily concerned with materially good practical reasoning, like theoretical reasoning. This means that the inferences will in general be non-monotonic. Similarly to his views on material inference in the theoretical case, the practical case features multiple sorts of formal goodness. Whereas the different sorts of conditionals express different sorts of endorsements of inference on the theoretical side, the different sorts of oughts (instrumental, unconditional, etc.) express different sorts of endorsements of practical reasoning on the practical side. In a big way, the account of action is what you get if you take the structure for the theoretical side, i.e. inference, logic, perception and the rest, and change as few bits as possible to make it about action. The symmetry is both lovely and kind of creepy.

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.)

One of the novel features of MIE is Brandom’s philosophy of logic. He calls this the expressive theory of logic. On this view, the primary purpose of logic is to express certain things. It privileges the conditional and negation. The conditional expresses the acceptance of an inference from premises which form the antecedent to the conclusion which forms consequent. The conditional lets you say that a certain inference is acceptable. Of course, conditionals in different logical systems express different sorts of acceptance. Classical conditionals express a weak form of acceptance, intuitionistic conditionals a stronger acceptance in the form of saying there is a general method of transforming justification for the premises into justification for the consequence, and so on. Negation expresses incompatibilities, generally in the presence of a conditional so as to allow one to say that certain inferences are not kosher. Incompatibility can be used to create an entailment relation defined as inclusion on sets of incompatibles. Brandom suggests taking conjunction and disjunction as set operations on those sets of incompatibilities. This would work for languages with a conditional and negation. If one does not have negation, then, I suppose, come up with the sets of incompatibilities although one couldn’t say that the incompatibilities were such. Barring defining conjunction and disjunction in terms of incompatibilities, I’m not sure exactly what they would be accepting. Conjunction might express the acceptance of both conjuncts. Intuitionistic disjunction might express the acceptance or ability to demonstrate one of the disjuncts and you know which one. I’m not sure what classical disjunction would express exactly; possibly that one accepts one of the disjuncts although no further information is given about which.

There is nothing in Ch. 2, where logical expressivism is introduced, about quantifiers. At this point in the book, nothing has been said about objects, so I’m not sure what the quantifiers express since it is likely to be tied in with theoretical claims about objects. Modal operators aren’t addressed in MIE, although they are tackled in the Locke Lectures. I don’t remember that terribly well, although I think for the most part Brandom sticks to alethic modalities in S4 and S5. I could be wrong on this. I am almost positive he doesn’t get to non-normal modal operators (to use Restall’s terminology) such as the Kleene star. I currently have no idea what the Kleene star would express. I’m similarly unsure about intensional connectives as in relevant logic’s fusion. It might be an interpretation similar to Restall’s of application of data in the form of propositions to other data, although this is really speculative. There might be something in this.

Something that I’m a little more immediately curious about is the status of translations of formulas. There are certain systems of logic that can be translated into others, e.g. S4 into intuitionistic logic. The conditional in S4 is classical, but the translation (in Goedel’s translation at least) of the intuitionistic A->B looks like [](A’->B’) where A’ and B’ are the translations of A and B. The classical conditional then will express a weaker acceptance of an inference but it will be modified in some way by the necessity operator in front. If the view of logic is right, one would expect the translation to preserve what is expressed in some form. I will have to track down the relevant part of the Locke Lectures in order to further test this idea.

The comments on the last post were helpful, so I’m going to take another stab at figuring out how implicit norms are supposed to get around the rule-following problems that are supposed to undermine explicit rules. I think I was wrong to attribute the thesis that implicit rules are too much like explicit norms. Looking back at Ch.1, a difference emerges. Implicit rules are supposed to be exemplifications of a practical ability, applying practical rules and standards. They are a form of know-how. Explicit rules are linguistic, propositional things. They are a form of know-that.

Brandom denies that know-how is reducible to know-that. Instead, I think he thinks the converse is true, know-that is reducible to or at least depends on know-how. Consequently, I’m doubtful that it is correct to say that implicit rules can be made explicit without remainder. The reason is that there is a change in kind, from know-how to know-that. Since implicit rules are exemplified in the normative attitudes held by and sanctions performed by the critters in question, there is not the threat of a regress developing. This is because there is nowhere for the interpretive regress to get started.

This is, at least, the start of the answer. It is much like the previously suggested Kantian strategy of using the faculty of judgment. Something different in kind than the explicit rules is brought in to ground the explicit rules and prevent the regress. More details need to be supplied, but I think that is roughly how the start of the story goes. The rest of Ch. 1 supplies some of the details. Brandom leans on the idea of sanctions quite a bit and more needs to be said about them. They are important and in some cases non-normative, but I don’t have much to say about them at this point.

Chapter 1 of Making It Explicit (MIE) contains a long discussion of the rule-following considerations in the Philosophical Investigations. There is one response to the rule-following considerations that generates a regress, namely taking rules to be explicit things. This is regulism. The regress is interpreting the rules, since each interpretation is setting an explicit rule to be followed, which then can be and requires being interpreted. The next option, regularism, is taking actual patterns of behavior and finding a regularity in them. Unfortunately, actual behavior won’t nail down a unique set of behaviors that constitute a rule since you can gerrymander all sorts of crazy sets of behavior. Regularism is also nonnormative, since the “rules” it yields are just patterns of behavior in a descriptive sense. There is no prescribing. Regulism at least is normative. I took these considerations to be what motivate the introduction of the idea of norms implicit in practice, which are a key feature of the rest of MIE. The implicit norms seem to emerge from the wreckage of the explicit norms on the rocks of rule-following.

The question is: how do implicit norms meet the rule-following challenge? They aren’t explicit, but they are capable of being made explicit. There isn’t quite enough of a difference in kind there to put the issue to rest. They seem to be sort of mysterious things that are quite like explicit rules, since they can be made explicit without remainder. Brandom mentions Kant’s suggestion of the faculty of judgment to end the regress, but that is a non-starter without a story about why the faculty of judgment would not flounder on the same problem. Another possibility is that one can make some implicit norms explicit, but not all at any one time. The implicit ones then ground the explicit ones somehow. One might think this relies on a sort of superficial feature about us: we can’t do an infinite number of things, which presumably is what would be required to make all our rules explicit. This is a meager rod on which to rest the weight of MIE. Alternately, one might think that it is like the Tortoise and Achilles in that we can make some instances of our inference rules into formulas, but not all on pain of not being able to infer anything. I’m not sure if that is satisfying either.

After discussing this with some people, I’ve managed to become completely confused about the structure of the first chapter. How do the early considerations of rule-following motivate implicit norms if those don’t get around rule-following problems? If they do, how do they? Is there another argument to more directly justify or motivate implicit norms? My understanding of the first chapter depended on implicit norms fitting into the dialectic as sketched above, so I clearly must rethink things.

Just a short note directing readers to some recent comments on some things in the archive that would likely be missed. There is a new comment on “Why do semantics?” and one on “Dummet and Davidson on translation”, both by Brad. Interesting reading for those who are interested in Davidson. New content from the author to follow soon, I promise.

I’m rather pleased to offer my readers a link to the freshly unveiled recordings of Bob Brandom’s Locke Lectures, “Between Saying and Doing,” as presented in Prague in April 2007. The original lectures are available here, including an updated technical appendix to lecture 5. The program is available here. There was quite a line up of commentators. The real treat is the audio of the lectures, comments, replies, and Q&A. The Locke Lectures didn’t seem to get that much attention online for some reason, so it is nice that they might get a bit more attention with these resources going up. I haven’t gotten to listen to the comments yet, but I’ve heard that they were insightful. The audio is being hosted at the U. of Chicago and might be available via their podcast service in the near future. Thanks to Jason Voigt for the links.

[edit: There is some commentary on the first lecture at SOH-Dan.]
[edit: Some commentary on the second lecture, also at SOH-Dan.]

In chapter 4 of Articulating Reasons, Brandom argues that singular terms must exhibit a certain sort of inferential behavior, namely symmetric. He argues that asymmetric substitution inferences for terms are impossible. I will present that argument in detail soon in another post, but I wanted to comment on an odd thing about the conclusion. Assuming the argument works, we find that if the language has certain expressive resources, namely either a conditional or a negation, then terms must lisence symmetric substitution. That is a fairly minimal condition, but it is still a non-trivial condition. If we have an impoverished langauge without either of those bits of logical vocabulary, the argument doesn’t get off the ground. Why does Brandom try to draw the stronger conclusion that singular terms must behave symmetrically with respect to substitution? Is there supposed to be something about inferentially articulated languages that require them to have at least one of those bits of logical vocabulary? Based on what he says in chapter 1, there doesn’t seem to be any such requirement. Is there some further condition that for any language that would be used by a group, that language must have such logical vocabulary? Again, there is no indication from any of the chapters in Articulating Reasons that there is such a condition. I’m not sure why the expresively impoverished langauges drop out of the picture. One guess is that for any inferentially articulated language, it is always possible to enrich it to include conditionals. Then the argument in ch. 4 would apply. However, this seems to leave open the possibility that in adding such vocabulary the singular terms are changed such that they act symmetrically rather than asymmetrically. Were this the case, then new conditional/negation-free conclusions could be drawn, meaning the conditional/negation were not actually conservative over the previous inferences. If the claim from the first chapter, that conditional/negation are conservative over any field (Brandom keeps calling collections of material inferences “fields”; I don’t know why, nor do I know why they aren’t just sets.) of material inferences is correct, then the result from ch. 4 would be that singular terms must behave symmetrically. Offhand, I don’t know what exactly the status of the conservativity claim is. This line of thought might call it into question, or, if it is solidly established, it might go a ways towards explaining why Brandom draws the conclusion that he does.


Shawn Standefer, recent Ph.D. in philosophy from Pitt. (More about me)