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Workshop with Bob Brandom

This workshop was held at the University of Sydney on 14 October 2005.


Hegel and the Law of Non-Contradiction
Paul Redding
abstract :: sound recording (including discussion)

What are the Categories in Being and Time? Brandom's Account of Zuhandenheit and Vorhandenheit
Bruin Christensen
abstract :: sound recording (including discussion)

Pragmatism, Expressivism and the Global Challenge
Huw Price & David Macarthur
abstract :: sound recording (including discussion) :: slides

The Significance of Embodiment - the Dangers of Leaving Nature Behind
Nick Smith
abstract :: sound recording (including discussion)

Kantian Lessons about Mind, Meaning, and Rationality
Bob Brandom
abstract :: sound recording (including comments by David Macarthur, and discussion)



Kantian Lessons about Mind, Meaning, and Rationality

Bob Brandom (Pittsburgh)

Kant revolutionized our thinking about what it is to have a mind. Some of what seem to me to be among the most important lessons he taught us are often not yet sufficiently understood, however. I think this is partly because they are often not themes that Kant himself explicitly emphasized. To appreciate these ideas, one must look primarily at what he does, rather than at what he says about what he is doing. For instance, one revolutionary conceptual transformation Kant focuses on is his "Copernican Revolution": assignment of responsibility for some structural features of knowledge to the nature of the activities of knowing subjects rather than to the nature of the objects known. While this is, of course, an important aspect of his view, as I understand things it is a relatively late-coming move; it occurs significantly downstream from his most radical and important innovations, whose significance owes nothing to this subsequent, optional way of developing them. Indeed, I will say nothing at all about Kant's transcendental idealism (important as that view was to his way of setting out his achievement). For I want to focus on revolutionary moves that happen off-stage, largely before the first Critique even begins, but which seem to me to form a crucial backdrop and stage for that performance. So I will sketch here in very broad terms some Kantian lessons that it seems to me most important for us to keep in mind in our own thinking about mind, meaning, and rationality.

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What are the Categories in Being and Time? Brandom's Account of Zuhandenheit and Vorhandenheit.
Carleton B. Christensen (Sydney)

Robert Brandom reads Heidegger's categories of Zuhandenheit and Vorhandenheit as anticipations of his normatively pragmatist account of intentionality. The paper argues that this is not a plausible reading, in particular, of what Heidegger means by Zuhandenheit.

Part I presents Brandom's reading of the category of Zuhandenheit (which term is translated, in contrast both to Macquarrie and Robinson, and to Brandom, as ready-to-handedness).

Part II outlines the distinctively phenomenological, even Kantian character of the philosophical objectives which lead Heidegger to talk of Zuhandenheit at all &endash; a character of which, or so it is argued, Brandom cannot give an adequate account.

Part III outlines, via the examination of a crucial paragraph from § 15 of Being and Time, what Heidegger means by Zuhandenheit and das Zuhandene. In particular, it insists on resisting the all too easy identification of the Um-zu with equipmental (artefactual) identity. Rather, the different ways of the Um-zu or Verweisung are the positive or negative relevances entities have, and show themselves as having, in purposive engagement with them. This yields a more accurate characterisation of Zuhandenheit and its conceptual relation to equipmentality (artefactual identity). But it entails that the Zuhandenheit of equipment (Zeug, i.e., tools, artefacts) is not what Brandom claims, namely, their normative significance, i.e., their character as appropriately used for doing such and such.

Part IV examines why Heidegger insists that the encounter with entities in their capacity as zuhanden is the most basic form of encounter with the world, and thus that the distinctively interested form of sight built into it (Umsicht) is prior to disinterested 'theoretical' perceiving. Thus, what underlies Heidegger's contrast between Zuhandenheit and Vorhandenheit is not a contrast between inner, private and mental representation and outer, public and non-mental behavioural response, but rather a contrast between a perceptual experience which is, and a perceptual experience which is not, essentially interested, and essentially integrated into ongoing purposive engagement with entities.

The paper concludes in Part V by drawing out the radical implications of thus conceiving how the subject bears rationally and self-evaluatingly upon the world (sich zur Welt verhält). Brandom's interpretation misses this radicality, assimilating Heidegger's account of how the theoretical depends on the non- or pre-theoretical to a conventional account of how the cognitively representational and mental depends on the non-representational and behavioural.

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Pragmatism, Expressivism and the Global Challenge

Huw Price & David Macarthur (Sydney)

Expressivism is typically a local view. Thus an expressivist about moral or aesthetic judgments will contrast these judgments to “genuinely” descriptive claims (such as those of science, perhaps). This contrast comes under pressure from several directions, however.

• Externally, it has been thought to be threatened by minimalism about truth, which—it is argued— leaves no room for the view that ethical claims are not really truth-evaluable. (If truth is “thin”, then it seems easy for moral claims be truth-evaluable: it is sufficient that “X is good” is true iff X is good, and who disputes that?)

• Internally, it seems threatened by the quasi-realist program of explaining on expressivist foundations why non-descriptive claims “behave like” descriptive claims. If these explanations work in the hard cases, such as moral and aesthetic judgements, then surely they’ll work in the easy cases, too—in which case the idea that the easy cases are genuinely descriptive seems an idle cog, not needed to explain the use of the statements in question.

As first sight, it may seem as if these pressures push in opposite directions. Doesn’t the first threaten to make everything descriptive, and the second to make everything expressive? So a problem for a local expressivist either way, in other words, but a very different kind of problem, in each case.

On closer inspection, however, it turns out that both pressures push in the same direction, towards global expressivism. Moreover, contrary to some claims, the resulting position is not a homogeneous or quietist view of language, unable to make the substantial claims that expressivists wanted to make about the function of particular domains of discourse. What is lost is simply the idea that there is a substantial descriptive or representational function, characteristic of some domains but not others.

In this paper we explore these ideas against the background of some remarks by Simon Blackburn, and relate the discussion to a disagreement between Brandom and Rorty.

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Hegel and the Law of Non-Contradiction

Paul Redding (Sydney)

Hegel's law of contradiction states that "everything is contradictory", but according to Robert Brandom, this does not amount to a denial of the law of non-contradiction. Quite the contrary, Hegel, he says, "radicalizes" this law "and places it at the very center of his thought". In contrast, Graham Priest regards Hegel as one of the first philosophers to adopt an appropriately critical attitude to the otherwise dogmatically held belief in the truth of the law of non-contradiction. Hegel not only questioned the law of non-contradiction, he denied it, and while this would be sufficient to damn Hegel in the eyes of most logicians, Priest defends Hegel on just this count. Hegel here anticipated the existence of systems of paraconsistent logic, which allow certain propositions of the form "p and ~p" to be true.

Both Brandom and Priest interpret Hegel's thought within essentially modern, post-Fregean, and hence, propositionally-based approaches to logic, but this, I will argue, ignores the relevance of Aristotelian term logic for Hegel's own logical thought and, in particular, for his conception of contradiction. Hegel was no classical Aristotelian, but rather attempted in the realm of logic as elsewhere to reconcile what he saw as the antithetically opposed orientations of modern and ancient thought. And yet this means that he was enough of an Aristotelian to affect his conception of contradiction. I argue that it is only by understanding Hegel's appeal to two different logical systems that can one understand how his "law of contradiction" can co-exist with what we know as the law of non-contradiction.

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The Significance of Embodiment--the Dangers of Leaving Nature Behind
Nicholas Smith (Macquarie)

Following on from Price & Macarthur's discusion, I'd also like to talk about expressivism, only this time bringing into play expressivism's 'Romantic' (for want of a better term) side. Romantic expressivism, like all expressivism, is anti-representationalist. But unlike some forms of expressivism, which in Pippin's phrase 'leave nature behind', Romantic expressivism finds normativity in nature. Nature is a source of significance for it. The 're-enchantment of nature' is thus one its key tropes, as is a concern with human embodiment. But what exactly are we to make of these ideas today? Should they continue to shape expressivist philosophy? Or are they a remnant of an outdated religious-metaphysical worldview that really should be left behind?

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Further information

Enquiries to Jason Grossman.




Last updated: 12.10.05