I also wanted to toss up one quotation from the concluding passages to Hegel’s Introduction to the Phenomenology – with apologies that I’m too tired to explain right now why I think this quote is interesting in relation to the discussion that has been taking place between myself, L Magee, and Andrew Montin, over how Brandom conceptualises “objectivity” (or, perhaps, how Habermas takes Brandom to conceptualise “objectivity”). To avoid possible misunderstandings, I will note briefly, that, in saying the quote is “interesting” in relation to these ongoing discussions, I don’t mean to imply that I think the quote resolves any aspect of this discussion in anyone’s favour. What caught my attention was more that I think Hegel gestures here toward a certain terrain on which Habermas is likely positioning at least some of Brandom’s statements. To me, at least, this leaves standing our open question as to how valid it might be to read Brandom as “Hegelian” in this respect. Since this is likely a somewhat internalist discussion to many readers (even LM and Andrew may wonder why I’m reproducing this quotation, given that I’m not explaining my reasoning), and this quotation is long and will be reproduced without background or commentary, I’ll tuck the quote below the fold.
But the nature of the object which we are examining surmounts this separation, or semblance of separation, and presupposition. Consciousness furnishes its own criterion in itself, and the inquiry will thereby be a comparison of itself with its own self; for the distinction, just made, falls inside itself. In consciousness there is one element for an other, or, in general, consciousness implicates the specific character of the moment of knowledge. At the same time this “other” is to consciousness not merely for it, but also outside this relation, or has a being in itself, i.e. there is the moment of truth. Thus in what consciousness inside itself declares to be the essence or truth we have the standard which itself sets up, and by which we are to measure its knowledge. Suppose we call knowledge the notion, and the essence or truth “being” or the object, then the examination consists in seeing whether the notion corresponds with the object. But if we call the inner nature of the object, or what it is in itself, the notion, and, on the other side, understand by object the notion qua object, i.e. the way the notion is for an other, then the examination consists in our seeing whether the object corresponds to its own notion. It is clear, of course, that both of these processes are the same. The essential fact, however, to be borne in mind throughout the whole inquiry is that both these moments, notion and object, “being for another” and “being in itself”, themselves fall within that knowledge which we are examining. Consequently we do not require to bring standards with us, nor to apply our fancies and thoughts in the inquire; and just by our leaving these aside we are enabled to treat and discuss the subject as it actually is in itself and for itself, as it is in its complete reality.
85. But not only in this respect, that notion and object, the criterion and what is to be tested, are ready to hand in consciousness itself, is any addition of ours superfluous, but we are also spared the trouble of comparing these two and of making an examination in the strict sense of the term; so that in this respect, too, since consciousness tests and examines itself, all we are left to do is simply and solely to look on. For consciousness is, on the one hand, consciousness of the object, on the other, consciousness of itself; consciousness of what to it is true, and consciousness of its knowledge of that truth. Since both are for the same consciousness, it is itself their comparison; it is the same consciousness that decides and knows whether its knowledge of the object corresponds with this object or not. The object, it is true, appears only to be in such wise for consciousness as consciousness knows it. Consciousness does not seem able to get, so to say, behind it as it is, not for consciousness, but in itself, and consequently seems also unable to test knowledge by it. But just because consciousness has, in general, knowledge of an object, there is already present the distinction that the inherent nature, what the object is in itself, is one thing to consciousness, while knowledge, or the being of the object for consciousness, is another moment. Upon this distinction, which is present as a fact, the examination turns. Should both, when thus compared, not correspond, consciousness seems bound to alter its knowledge, in order to make it fit the object. But in the alteration of the knowledge, the object itself also, in point of fact, is altered; for the knowledge which existed was essentially a knowledge of the object; with change in the knowledge, the object also becomes different, since it belonged essentially to this knowledge. Hence consciousness comes to find that what formerly to it was the essence is not what is per se, or what was per se was only per se for consciousness. Since, then, in the case of its object consciousness finds its knowledge not corresponding with this object, the object likewise fails to hold out; or the standard for examining is altered when that, whose criterion this standard was to be, does not hold its ground in the course of the examination; and the examination is not only an examination of knowledge, but also of the criterion used in the process.
86. This dialectic process which consciousness executes on itself-on its knowledge as well as on its object–in the sense that out of it the new and true object arises, is precisely, what is termed Experience. In this connection, there is a moment in the process just mentioned which should be brought into more decided prominence, and by which a new light is cast on the scientific aspect of the following exposition. Consciousness knows something; this something is the essence or is per se. This object, however, is also the per se, the inherent reality, for consciousness. Hence comes ambiguity of this truth. Consciousness, as we see, has now two objects: one is the first per se, the second is the existence for consciousness of this per se. The last object appears at first sight to be merely the reflection of consciousness into itself, i.e. an idea not of an object, but solely of its knowledge of that first object. But, as was already indicated, by that very process the first object is altered; it ceases to be what is per se, and becomes consciously something which is per se only for consciousness. Consequently, then, what this real per se is for consciousness is truth: which, however, means that this is the essential reality, or the object which consciousness has. This new object contains the nothingness of the first; the new object is the experience concerning that first object.
87. In this treatment of the course of experience, there is an element in virtue of which it does not seem to be in agreement with what is ordinarily understood by experience. The transition from the first object and the knowledge of it to the other object, in regard to which we say we have had experience, was so stated that the knowledge of the first object, the existence for consciousness of the first ens per se, is itself to be the second object. But it usually seems that we learn by experience the untruth of our first notion by appealing to some other object which we may happen to find casually and externally; so that, in general, what we have is merely the bare and simple apprehension of what is in and for itself. On the view above given, however, the new object is seen to have come about by a transformation or conversion of consciousness itself. This way of looking at the matter is our doing, what we contribute; by its means the series of experiences through which consciousness passes is lifted into a scientifically constituted sequence, but this does not exist for the consciousness we contemplate and consider. We have here, however, the same sort of circumstance, again, of which we spoke a short time ago when dealing with the relation of this exposition to scepticism, viz. that the result which at any time comes about in the case of an untrue mode of knowledge cannot possibly collapse into an empty nothing, but must necessarily be taken as the negation of that of which it is a result-a result which contains what truth the preceding mode of knowledge has in it. In the present instance the position takes this form: since what at first appeared as object is reduced, when it passes into consciousness, to what knowledge takes it to be, and the implicit nature, the real in itself, becomes what this entity per se, is for consciousness; this latter is the new object, whereupon there appears also a new mode or embodiment of consciousness, of which the essence is something other than that of the preceding mode. It is this circumstance which carries forward the whole succession of the modes or attitudes of consciousness in their own necessity. It is only this necessity, this origination of the new object-which offers itself to consciousness without consciousness knowing how it comes by it-that to us, who watch the process, is to be seen going on, so to say, behind its back. Thereby there enters into its process a moment of being per se, or of being for us, which is not expressly presented to that consciousness which is in the grip of experience itself. The content, however, of what we see arising, exists for it, and we lay hold of and comprehend merely its formal character, i.e. its bare origination; for it, what has thus arisen has merely the character of object, while, for us, it appears at the same time as a process and coming into being.
88. In virtue of that necessity this pathway to science is itself eo ipso science, and is, moreover, as regards its content, Science of the Experience of Consciousness.
89. The experience which consciousness has concerning itself can, by its essential principle, embrace nothing less than the entire system of consciousness, the whole realm of the truth of mind, and in such wise that the moments of truth are set forth in the specific and peculiar character they here possess- i.e. not as abstract pure moments, but as they are for consciousness, or as consciousness itself appears in its relation to them, and in virtue of which they are moments of the whole, are embodiments or modes of consciousness. In pressing forward to its true form of existence, consciousness will come to a point at which it lays aside its semblance of being hampered with what is foreign to it, with what is only for it and exists as an other; it will reach a position where appearance becomes identified with essence, where, in consequence, its exposition coincides with just this very point, this very stage of the science proper of mind. And, finally, when it grasps this its own essence, it will connote the nature of absolute knowledge itself. (84-89)
I’ve only been skimming and I’m out of my depth here so no comments. Just wanted to point this out to you in case you haven’t seen it –
Analytic Philosophy and the Return of Hegelian Thought
Hey Nate – Thanks for this – it looks very interesting in terms of what we’ve been trying to get our heads around, and I haven’t looked at it. I’ll try to pick up a copy tomorrow at the Baillieu (my own uni library won’t have it ;-P). Definitely relevant.
It’s weird, actually, going back to read Hegel after reading Brandom-reading-Hegel. I find my eye drawn to all these elements in the text that just wouldn’t have struck me before.
I think we’re all out of our depth here, though, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that 🙂
Could you dumb it down a little? 🙂
lol – sorry Andrew – I was so tired when I posted this, that I just basically wanted to make sure I didn’t forget the quote, but wasn’t up to explaining why it caught my eye. I should have just created a private post – but I was too tired to think of that, too… ;-P
The reason the quote struck me, in the context of the Habermas-Brandom discussion, was that Habermas is, in part, accusing Brandom of being “Hegelian” in a couple of problematic senses – among them, being a conceptual realist/objective idealist in the sense of attributing to nonhuman nature a conceptually articulated structure and, following from this, offering an inadequate theoretical basis for understanding how we might learn from experience, aside from the mediation of practices of giving and asking for reasons.
The passage above struck me because it’s one of Hegel’s stabs at talking about what “experience” is – and therefore may express something like what Habermas is worried that Brandom might be doing. So I put the passage up, in part, as a reminder to myself to work out what Brandom thinks he’s doing, and where it differs or aligns with the sort of perspective expressed above. (Not that this is Hegel’s only stab at this question – it’s just one stab, in what I happened to be reading the other night. My goal wasn’t to try to be definitive on Hegel, but just to toss out a potentially useful point of contrast or comparison with Brandom.)
At some point today or tomorrow, I’ll try finally to write something on the section on Force and Understanding, where Hegel unpacks some of these issues at greater length (although, from my point of view, not necessarily with greater clarity – I find the voicing in the Force and Understanding section maddeningly difficult to follow, in spite of feeling like I understand what Hegel is trying to achive in that section overall…). The quoted passage above provides a sort of abbreviated precis, arguing (against a kind of empiricism and against Kant) that consciousness is its own object – that what it recognises in its “object” is a moment of its own dynamic movement, and that standards of judgement can therefore be understood as immanent to consciousness, rather than as something that must come to consciousness externally, thus carrying with them a risk of failure (a position Hegel associates with a kind of bottomless sceptical spiral).
Hegel then asks here what “experience” might mean, within this kind of framework – what happens when the “object” (and our consciousness of that object) changes? He suggests here that, on the one hand, the experience of change renders visible the way in which consciousness was always consciousness of itself – when we look back at prior or superseded understandings of the “object”, it’s not difficult for us to see “ourselves” in those superseded understandings (a much simpler version of this argument can be found in, say, the strong programme of the sociology of scientific knowledge, where Bloor will point out that it’s very easy for us to recognise the “cultural” or “historical” nature of older forms of science that we no longer share). We still struggle, however, to recognise ourselves in the “object” as we currently understand it – even though, Hegel is suggesting, what consciousness recognises in the object is still consciousness itself, even if consciousness takes what it recognises to exist outside itself. (Again, an analogy can be made here to Marx’s criticism of the political economists – that they believe that there used to be history, but there is no longer any: that it is much easier for us to grasp, for Marx, social and historical determinations, when we are looking back over our shoulders into the past – but the trick is to learn to do this for the present moment in time.)
So, on one level, the argument here is that transformations in objectivity and subjectivity coincide, because what we experience as objectivity, is simply a moment in the dynamic unfolding of a self-transforming consciousness. “Learning” or experience can still happen, however, through a process of determinate negation, whereby new objects are built from the negation of the old, and therefore continue to carry the echoes or traces of the old within themselves, even while superseding that object. So all objects/shapes of consciousness aren’t equivalent – this is not a relativist position that undermines the potential for critical judgement – but judgements don’t unfold from outside the process of consciousness itself.
I’m not phrasing this particularly clearly – apologies. I’ll try to do this more adequately over the summer – at the moment, I’m just now getting back into thinking about Hegel. But, getting back to the Habermas-Brandom debate, I would take it that Habermas takes Hegel to be (1) making strong claims about the conceptual structuration of the nonhuman world (I think there are other ways of reading what Hegel is doing, but I’ll leave that aside for the moment), and (2) positing that the transformation of consciousness is the driving force for learning or experience in a strong sense, and therefore ruling out a central role for other experiential potentials. Habermas is then suggesting that Brandom, among other problematic moves, is engaging in a similar approach.
I don’t want to push this passage too far – I’m not claiming that Habermas is literally thinking about this bit of Hegel when he’s talking to Brandom, and I’m not claiming that this bit of Hegel is important to Brandom. I was just struck, re-reading the text in light of the recent discussion, by the ways in which Hegel walks over this ground – again with the caveat that I don’t want to be making a strong claim even for the gloss I’ve placed on this passage above. So, tentative all around – I meant it when I said I was posting this because I found it “interesting” – as open-ended as that. 🙂
Thanks Nicole. But in terms of the Habermas-Brandom debate, in what respect are the “inferential commitments” which constitute the meaning of the “object” intersubjectively constituted? I think that is why Habermas raises Brandom’s “conceptual realism” as a problem – despite the claim that it’s “norms all the way down”, Brandom ultimately seems to rely on a non-normative or de facto foundation for the inferential relations between concepts.
Andrew – I’d probably need you to develop this a bit for me to be sure how to respond – on a quick glance, it sounds to me as though two criticisms, which in Habermas’ account are somewhat distinct (the criticism relating to conceptual realism/objective idealism, and the criticism relating to Brandoms’ recourse to a third person standpoint) are perhaps being collapsed here? But I say this tentatively, as your comment is very brief, and I need a clearer sense of what you have in mind.
The charge of “conceptual realism/objective idealism”, though, I do think refers back to Brandom’s “Hegelianism” – which is why the association to this quotation above: Habermas is pushing Brandom to be clearer (and I think both LM and I agree that Brandom is a bit unclear on this issue) about what lets him “cash out” claims to the effect that “facts” might preexist beings like ourselves who might make claims about them. Habermas offers one suggestion for what Brandom might mean by comments like this – LM and I tend to think Habermas’ suggestion here probably isn’t on target, but we agree that there’s something a bit fuzzy (at least to us, at this point) about what Brandom is doing here.
I would expect, though, that Habermas would not be challenging Brandom to be more consistent with his notion that it’s “norms all the way down” – from Habermas’ theoretical commitments, I would think that Habermas would be concerned that Brandom is collapsing too much into an undifferentiated normativity, where Habermas is trying to maintain stronger distinctions between normative, factual, and subjective experience.
But this may be beside your point – apologies if it is. It’s just a bit difficult for me to unpack the short summary you’ve given above.
I think the objection re. the third person is intertwined with Habermas’ other objections to Brandom – it is not, as Liam put it, merely a technical dispute. What lies at the basis of such an objection is that Brandom cannot account for the performative attitude that interlocutors take up with respect to one another – and for that reason, communication in Brandom lacks illocutionary force. In Habermas’ opinion, that makes it impossible to establish a coherent pragmatic account of objectivity via “the pragmatist explanation of semantically relevant learning processes.” Habermas recognizes that Brandom offers something which looks like such an explanation, but Brandom fails to distinguish the instrumental and communicative levels – as I’ve discussed previously.
I disagree with you when you write: “I would expect, though, that Habermas would not be challenging Brandom to be more consistent with his notion that it’s “norms all the way down” – from Habermas’ theoretical commitments, I would think that Habermas would be concerned that Brandom is collapsing too much into an undifferentiated normativity…” Actually, I think Habermas is concerned that Brandom only avoids this last charge by way of a conceptual realism which violates the assumption that our discursive practices are normatively grounded. Consider the following passage from Habermas’ essay:
“[Brandom] does not conceive of the world we encounter in any way nominalistically but rather… “realistically”… in the sense of a metaphysical conceptual realism. For Brandom sees the objectivity of our concepts and material rules of inference as anchored in a world that is in itself conceptually structured.” (155f.)
As for Habermas’ own theoretical commitments, the distinctions between the morally normative, factual and subjective is itself grounded in the semantically normative distinction between the three formal world concepts.
Andrew – Thanks for that – this makes it clearer where you’re coming from. That specific quote from Habermas is also what I had in mind, in associating to Hegel: Habermas is accusing Brandom of a Hegelian metaphysics. Neither LM nor I think this accusation is accurate – at least, we don’t see how to support this from Making It Explicit and other things of Brandom’s we’ve read to this point. We do, though, think that Habermas correctly hits on a certain ambiguity in Brandom’s work around this issue – in other words, we don’t think that Brandom is making claims about the intrinsic conceptual structure of some nonhuman reality, and I think it’s possible to show that some of the specific meanings or interpretations Habermas seems to be placing on the quoted passages from Making It Explicit, off of which Habermas “hangs” these sorts of interpretations, are probably being slightly misunderstood. Nevertheless, there is a real issue here – just not, I suspect, exactly the issue Habermas identifies.
In terms of Habermas’ three formal world concepts: yes, they are pointed back to semantic distinctions, but these specific distinctions are non-arbitrary in Habermas – they represent advances in rationality – and therefore aren’t “normative” in the same sense that they are for Brandom (who associates such distinctions simply with the use of a particular vocabulary, the choice of which itself is then pointed back to normative practices of some particular community: only the structural concept of “objectivity” is centrally and “unavoidably” theorised in Brandom’s account, and this concept then does critical work across areas that Habermas wants to keep distinct).
Brandom provides more flexibility here than Habermas does for open-endedness and creativity on the part of some community of social actors: this dispute is in part over this flexibility, with Habermas objecting to what he regards as Brandom’s inappropriate blurring together of, for example, normative and nonnormative “facts”. Habermas isn’t wrong that this kind of blurring takes place – this is why Brandom asserts, correctly, that his approach involves “norms all the way down” – it’s just that Habermas understands the basis for this move, in Brandom, to be metaphysical: to involve a sort of Hegelian claim that nonhuman reality is conceptually structured. This last claim, we think, is actually fairly hard to support from Brandom’s work – it’s a leap that Habermas makes, in part because of Brandom’s explicit commitment to a certain kind of “Hegelianism” – it’s just that Brandom doesn’t seem to rely on the sort of Hegelianism Habermas seems to attribute to him.
So Habermas is trying to reinstitute the centrality of certain distinctions that he thinks go missing in Brandom’s account. Brandom is insisting that such distinctions can still be unfolded – and, again, the distinction between instrumental and communicative practice – and, indeed, a whole host of other distinctions – can easily be unfolded from within Brandom’s account: that’s really not the problem. The problem is where – at what level of analysis – those distinctions can be unfolded – how pivotal they are and which sorts of social practices are understood to be more “foundational”, analytically: this is where the “guts” of the dispute between the two authors lies, regardless, I think, of the particular spin Habermas is trying to place on this argument.
We’re trying to sort through, not simply what Habermas claims Brandom does, or how Brandom responds in this particular exchange, but what Brandom’s framework in a broad sense allows him to do – and where it falls short. Habermas is, I think, onto something when pushing Brandom on the issue of learning processes – Brandom’s framework here places an enormous normative burden on the movement from lesser to greater explicitness, and these categories won’t, I think, allow him – absent supplementation by some sort of much more specific social theory – to so a great deal of what I think would be desired in any kind of critical theoretic mobilisation of this sort of approach. I also think Habermas is onto something in pushing Brandom on the tacit appeal to a third-person perspective – although, again, I’m not sure that I see this problem pointing in exactly the same direction Habermas does: I think Brandom’s approach likely falls down on standards of immanence and reflexivity in certain key respects – something that, however, is again probably more important for any critical theoretic mobilisation of Brandom”s framework, than it may be for Brandom himself. Some of Habermas’ particular readings of what Brandom is doing – particularly around the issue of conceptual realism – are, though, I think something more like miscommunications or mistranslations, resulting from taking up terms with specific meanings in one tradition, and counterposing them into another: there are moments in this debate where I think the positions don’t quite “hit” one another, and therefore I tend to think Habermas is driving in an unproductive direction with his critique.
All of this, of course, would need to be more carefully demonstrated on a textual level, so it may not be terribly persuasive as stated. We will set about providing something more detailed soon – LM is ill at the moment, and I’ve been buried in other work (and hence the very delayed responses – apologies for that). We’d like to toss out a sort of working outline of the major moves in Brandom’s argument – if only for our own purposes – and then revisit this discussion with that in mind. The point for us is not to be “pro-Brandom” in this debate – the point is that elements within Brandom’s own work have themselves contributed to making this dispute somewhat unclear – and have, we think, led Habermas to try to render consistency and clarity to Brandom’s position – understandably, but perhaps not completely accurately. So we want to tug a bit on these threads in Brandom, and see where they lead.
Sorry for not having responded earlier, I’ve been held up with various other things… Andrew, thanks for your perceptive remarks. The following comments are my responses to those, which probably echo Nicole’s faintly – but we are, as it happens, coming to Brandom with decidedly different purposes (I am, for instance, particularly interested in his connections between pragmatics and semantics), so hopefully this will not read as just a reiteration of her points.
It is relatively straightforward to see why, if one concurs with Habermas’ “theoretical commitments” to “the three formal world concepts”, his critique of Brandom holds. So long as the three spheres are deemed to be meta-theoretical or quasi-transcendental, then any account which aims to discuss rationality as such, normativity as such, and so on, is bound to collapse what for Habermas are un-collapsible, Kantian distinctions. But if one foregoes this commitment, a priori, and seeks, with Brandom, to provide an account of what distinguishes sapience from sentience in an analytic sense, then it is far from clear whether Brandom is making the kinds of category errors Habermas accuses him of.
To take Andrew’s initial example:
“For example, finding that I’m consistently late when driving to work because I’m often stuck in traffic doesn’t mean that I reassess my belief that driving to work is the best option; it may mean I simply try to find a better route to work.”
In Brandom’s account, this would involve something like the following moves:
A. I perceive (or am told by a boss) that I am consistently late for work. This involves either i) perceiving a time delay between my expected and actual time of arrival or ii) taking my boss to be making a de dicta claim vis-a-vis my time of arrival, on a consistent basis. Either way, I must then make a doxastic commitment myself, namely, “I’m consistently late when driving to work”. In the latter case, I may (not necessarily) affirm my boss’ de dicta claim by supposing it to be de re – she doesn’t just say I’m late for work, I truly am late, in actual fact (according, of course, to me).
B. A further perceptive act (“when driving I’m consistently held up by traffic”) results in a further doxastic commitment, now that traffic is the cause of A.
C. I then seek to make some practical commitment, along the lines of the best course of action: to change my mode of transport, or find a better route. This commitment can only be made in the light of further doxastic commitments (suppressed premisses) which determine the conclusion of my inference (“would using route B be quicker than route A, or catching the train?”). This, for Brandom, involves typically traditional deductive lines of reasoning.
D. The result is some action – the consequence of feedback involving both perception and judgment.
The importance for Brandom is that the overall arbiter of this story is ultimately neither me, the facts about whether this or that action is more effective, my boss’ degree of satisfaction etc., but rather that this takes place within a normative practice of “giving and asking for reasons”. Just this ability to engage in a practice of justifying actions, based on perceptual content, delivers Brandom a distinction between sapience and sentience. But such justifying practices come to us through social practices, of which the paradigm is language. If one follows this account, it is not clear why there is a need to insist upon a tripartite structure at all. As Brandom replies, fact/norm distinctions are important, but downstream – hence his ability to provide an equivocal account of how ethics might follow his account. To try to schematise this another way: Brandom re-orients Habermas’ categories, such that the intersubjective sphere (construed as ‘I-Thou’ rather than ‘I-we’) makes possible the work done in objective and subjective spheres, which however do not therefore become determined intersubjectivity (as with social constructivist accounts, for example). But going too far down this path probably does an injustice to both Brandom’ and Habermas’ terms – in particular since for Habermas, these spheres, though non-arbitrary, do arise historically. Brandom’s approach, at least in Making It Explicit, is only historical in the very loosest sense, insofar as sapience can be deemed to emerge in human agents through evolution, and perhaps, acquires a greater degree of self-awareness through the rise of specifically logical vocabulary (and theorisation about such vocabulary, i.e. in formal logic). Hence Brandom is more in line with the kind of trajectory plotted by Wittgenstein, Sellars, Austin, Searle, and even Chomsky – what sorts of features must I have in order to count as sapient? From which the account of social practice, linguistic devices, logical vocabulary unfolds…
I would however point to this analysis at Grundlegung, which Nicole pointed me to: http://grundlegung.wordpress.com/2007/12/18/brandom-on-freedom-and-objectivity/. In different terms (‘freedom’ and ‘objectivity’), this provides a very precise analysis of the problematic Habermas is trying to uncover, moreover on Brandom’s own terms. In particular Reservation 1 provides some useful insight on this issue.
A minor concluding remark:
Habermas’ second objection is indeed not ‘merely’ technical – from the point of view of the presentation, though, we were constrained by time, and I thought it difficult to present much on this material orally. I did however try to cover it in an earlier draft of the presentation, here: http://www.roughtheory.org/content/habermas-and-brandom-facts-and-norms/.
Sorry if my “merely technical” remark came across as a cheap shot – what I’m trying to stress in all of these discussions is the fundamental importance of the “performative attitude” or “illocutionary force” to Habermas’ criticisms of Brandom. I just feel this point is being overlooked.
The traffic example probably wasn’t the best illustration of what I was trying to say – but consider, what is the difference between changing my belief that I should take the car to work, and deciding that route B is a faster way to work than route A? You seem to be suggesting that these choices are all on the same level – an instrumental choice about the fastest way of getting to work. One could certainly understand it in this way, but that wasn’t what I meant to suggest. If I’m in the car on my way to work and it looks like I may be late, the option of parking and taking the train instead probably won’t occur to me. That’s because I don’t possess sufficient distance from the action situation to re-evaluate my belief that the car is the best way to get to work. Seeing that the road up ahead is blocked by traffic is not yet a reason for taking the train to work instead. As Habermas puts it, that would involve “objectifying the situation that was originally ‘ready-to-hand’ in order to reach understanding with one another about something in the world” – my emphasis. The point is that the “game of giving and asking for reasons” is not just a stage in an instrumental learning process oriented towards maximizing the efficiency of our actions in the world. It is above all a communicative process – and this is not sufficiently captured by Brandom’s inferentialist account of what constitutes a reason. Sure there is an intersubjective component, but his notion of justification relies ultimately on what counts as prudential reasons and not yet moral reasons (distinguishing between “vocabularies” here doesn’t get to the heart of this difference).
The perception that I’m stuck in traffic every day may lead me to think about the fastest way to work, sure – but it may also lead me to consider where I live, what I really want to do with my life, to critically question the city’s urban planing, society’s reliance on fossil fuels, etc.
Andrew – Without assuming I’m responding along the lines LM might choose here, I’m just curious why you believe Brandom is restricted to viewing the “game of giving and asking for reasons” as “a stage in an instrumental learning process oriented towards maximizing the efficiency of our actions in the world”?
Brandom and Habermas have a disagreement about the extent to which communication can be seen to have a (singular) function, but this doesn’t mean that Brandom is understanding the “game of giving and asking for reasons” as a sort of instrumentally flattened process, aimed at maximising efficiency: what in Brandom’s work suggests this reading to you?
If anything, Brandom is much more agnostic than Habermas – in the sense of what he is willing to predefine theoretically – about what “counts” in the “game”. One potential objection to his work, which I’ve hinted at in some of the responses I’ve given in other moments of this discussion, is that such issues remain sort of “black boxed” – referred back to some specific social context that (deliberately) he doesn’t theorise. Without pulling Tom into this discussion (I have no reason to assume Tom would agree with anything I am saying or have said in this exchange), Tom refers to the way in which “Brandom’s account remains on a formal level, in that it does not address what he calls the messy ‘retail’ content of particular norms” – I think this is right – that Brandom operates at an extremely high level of abstraction, and that many of the things you worry are missing from his account, are instead simply things he refers back to a more concrete level of analysis.
This does rub up against what Habermas is trying to do, in the sense of repositioning some of Habermas’ distinctions at an analytically less “fundamental” level than where Habermas wants to place them. This isn’t, though, quite the same as arguing (even with reference to the most abstract dimensions of Brandom’s argument) that he is beating everything with the same instrumental stick. I suspect something more complex is at stake – which doesn’t, of course, mean that Brandom succeeds.
But perhaps I’m still not understanding the strategic thrust of your complaint.
At the risk of compounding the comments here, and very briefly – Andrew says:
Now it seems to me that this does in fact articulate Brandom’s position, rather than its opposite. Or, as Nicole suggests, the “game of giving and asking for reasons” sits prior to exactly what kinds of reasons might be invoked in this or that situation (the “messy retail business”). So whatever I might worry about in being late to work (or, closer to home, failing to re-enrol in time…), the reasons I pronounce (excuses, contestations, environment or existential concerns) are just those which paradigmatically I might articulate to you (thou), in some speech act situation. Illocutionary force would then be the mode of presentation for such acts – do I ask you questions (“am I really late, all things considered?”), issue imperatives (“you have more important things to worry about”), plead, apologise, etc. Nonetheless – I still engage in some explanation of my reasons, which you are free to accept or deny. Thus, seeing the traffic blocked ahead as a perceptual act just means noticing the presence of cars, roads, lights etc. Insofar as I take them to be blocking me from some objective, I am already framing reasons for being blocked, which when pressed I can offer to an interlocutor. So for Brandom reasons, and drawing inferences, stand very early on in the account – prior to a distinction between prudential versus moral, or any other.
Whether this is a good account, or altogether avoids Habermas’ criticism, is I think another story. It may, as Brandom suggests, not provide enough objectivity for Habermas’ position. It may also, as Nicole suggests, fail to be sufficiently immanent insofar as the theorising of the account goes. But I think for Habermas’ critique to hold, it requires a kind of a priori commitment to, for instance, the sphere of prudential reasons being ontologically distinct to the sphere of moral ones. I just don’t think this is required by Brandom to be consistent on his own terms.
Hi Nicole, Liam,
My focus in the last post was on the whole “feedback” question. Brandom’s account of the learning process is framed in instrumentalist terms – or at least, he does not distinguish between the feedback loop of action and experience that we rely on in everyday life, and the learning process that is involved in revising our beliefs about the world. (At least I don’t know of anywhere he makes this distinction.) The latter process involves giving / asking for reasons, so it is not the same as refining one’s actions to maximize efficiency, something that can be carried out from a purely instrumentalist perspective. This is all I meant by: “the “game of giving and asking for reasons” is not just a stage in an instrumental learning process…” It’s not that I think Brandom in general reduces communication to “a sort of instrumentally flattened process.”
Liam’s description illustrates pretty well, I think, the conflation that’s at work in Brandom’s account:
“Thus, seeing the traffic blocked ahead as a perceptual act just means noticing the presence of cars, roads, lights etc. Insofar as I take them to be blocking me from some objective, I am already framing reasons for being blocked, which when pressed I can offer to an interlocutor.” (My italics.)
I disagree with the bit in italics – that’s why Habermas talks about the need for ““objectifying the situation that was originally ‘ready-to-hand’” in order to formulate reasons which can then be argued about.
There’s a lot more to this discussion but for the moment let me know if I’m getting my point across (de dicto if not de re).
Hey Andrew – Again, I suspect our contention would be that such distinctions can exist for Brandom – but analytically “downstream”, and therefore not at the level of analysis that he unfolds in Making It Explicit (although Making It Explicit does indicate, I think, where in the order of analysis such distinctions would be unfolded). Again, this may rub Habermas the wrong way, as it’s tacitly challenging some distictions that Habermas would like to hold analytically primary. That Habermas holds such distinctions to be primary, though, isn’t by itself sufficient to undermine Brandom’s position.
Brandom’s structural notion of “objectivity” cuts across Habermas’ three formal world concepts – it provides the engine or condition of possibility for critical stances to arise with reference to these, or other, frameworks. This move is not a conflation, but a deliberate theoretical stance: Brandom is fairly clear that he takes Habermas’ distinctions to be inappropriately foreclosing potentials Brandom wants to open up. This move also doesn’t make Brandom’s concept of giving and asking for reasons “instrumental” – nor does it (on Brandom’s terms) prevent what Brandom means by the notion of structural “objectivity” from being a relevant counter-factual ideal for social actors across what Habermas treats as distinctive regions of social practice.
I think there is a serious disagreement here between the two authors – if only at the highest level of abstraction for each – about which sorts of critical concepts are analytically (and, perhaps, practically) prior. This disagreement makes it actually quite problematic, simply to map Brandom’s “objectivity” into one of the various categories Habermas unfolds at an equivalent level of abstraction in his own theoretical system – to do this, without first trying to resolve the argument over the analytical priority of their respective critical categories, would necessarily press Brandom’s “objectivity” into a one-sided form – which then inevitably looks less sophisticated and easier to “pick off” than the argument he actually unfolds.
Brandom can probably claim to “embed” Habermas’ approach – if only very abstractly, by pointing the distinctions Habermas wants to draw, to practices in which social actors engage “downstream” of Brandom’s analysis of why a structural ideal of “objectivity” arises. Habermas, in turn, would probably view Brandom as a form of “de-differentiation” – as a step back behind distinctions Habermas holds analytically central and regards as definitive of the rational potentials of modernity. The question is how to take their duelling critiques, and work out how one might choose between them, short of some sort of Weberian decisionism.
One possibility would be seeing what each approach enables us to grasp – or, to come at the same question from a different direction, to ask what would be lost, let’s say to Habermas’ social theory, if we adopted a Brandomian approach: if the counterfactual, structural ideal of “objectivity” were all that were grounded at the most abstract analytical level, thus establishing a very basic precondition for social actors to adopt a critical, hypothetical, questioning attitude toward any sort of (tacit or explicit) assertion – but permitting more differentiated ideals or critical standards further “downstream” – including the instrumental/world-view-revising distinction you mention above – then what could Habermas currently do, that he would not be able to do within a Brandomian framework?
[As a side note, on the bit you italicised: I don’t actually think there’s much of a disagreement between Brandom and Habermas in this regard – LM’s statement may have uintentionally implied more of an internal, private, critical monologue than is involved in Brandom’s analysis: Brandom is quite clear that, to the extent that such monologues take place, they presuppose the “I-thou”. Brandom’s discussion of implicit background and Habermas’ discussion of the taken-for-granted lifeworld are fairly similar. Both authors are trying to theorise how what is implicit or taken for granted can come to be problematised. Where they begin to differ, again, is over the level of abstraction or the point in the order of explanation at which particular kinds of critical ideals can be introduced.]
A quick note of clarification – the problem with first-person voiced examples in this case is that it adds an unwarranted air of psychologism. It sounds, in my example above, that “I” must be voicing reasons internally, which only subsequently may get used in some dialogical case. That may or may not be the case, but it is not quite what I meant. More to the point – in such a case it is enough that I could, if pressed, put into service the reasons of traffic blockages, etc., in the paradigmatic case of the “I-thou” exchange, as Nicole suggests.
Incidentally, I’m not sure that Brandom would deny some “objectifying” move might take place in the perculation up of perception to reasons. It is just that, again, this cannot be prior in the order of explanation to inferential web in which such objectifications take place. This is why Brandom is also happy (indeed must) provide a thorough-going account of representation – he doesn’t see representation as ruled out by inferentialism, just subsequent to it. This is what for me, simply put, Habermas misses – Brandom is not denying, so much as subjugating, common features of perception, action, feedback, representation,etc, to an inferentialist account.
I’ll try to find some time this evening to respond in more depth, but in response to Nicole’s suggestion that we “ask what would be lost, let’s say to Habermas’ social theory, if we adopted a Brandomian approach…”, I think Habermas gives us his answer in his critique: illocutionary force, “semantically relevant learning processes” with which to revise our beliefs, and the fundamental distinction between norms of action and norms of rationality. These are all bound up together of course. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but it’s useful to keep in mind what Habermas believes to be at stake.
I agree with Nicole when she writes that “Brandom’s structural notion of “objectivity” cuts across Habermas’ three formal world concepts…” – Tom’s discussion was also very helpful in this regard – and I’ll try to make that my starting point when I next respond. Have to dash!
Hey Andrew – for when you have time: my question would be “what would Habermas lose, by not having these concepts operate at the same level of abstraction as Brandom’s structural objectivity?”. Brandom does offer theoretical resources for dealing with the question of learning processes and with distinctions between different sorts of norms – but downstream.
So the question of what would be lost needs somehow to confront the issue of why Habermas places these distinctions in a particular sort of role, relative to other distinctions. I suspect it’s a fairly difficult question to answer – I raise it, not as a challenge for you to do this, as I think it might actually be quite difficult to do briefly, but to suggest that the issue isn’t going to involve a simple either-or – go with Brandom, lose distinctions between types of norms – but rather a much more complex argument relating to why Habermas finds a stake – not in making these distinctions – but rather in locating these distinctions “upstream” of where Brandom’s approach would place them.
Let’s row upstream… Brandom takes the deontic statuses of commitments and entitlements to be normatively binding, insofar as participants attribute them to one another and undertake such statuses themselves. But the problem for Brandom is that attributing commitments & entitlements to others on the basis of one’s own acknowledged commitments and entitlements cannot in itself establish their binding character. He gives no account of how practical attitudes can institute objective norms. It is precisely for this reason that Habermas criticizes the attributing acts of the scorekeeper as insufficiently performative.
At best Brandom’s “structural account” of objectivity explains how the difference between belief and knowledge can be introduced into language. But as Habermas points out, “the question… of how linguistic and empirical knowledge interact seems to call for an investigative perspective broader than a language-immanet one.” At this point we are still “upstream”, that is, we are not yet dealing with “the messy ‘retail’ content of particular norms” – rather, the issue here concerns the learning processes by which we can revise our concepts in the light of experience. It really doesn’t make much sense to talk about a pragmatist theory of objectivity in the absence of such an account. And I think Habermas is right to question whether Brandom can provide it. Habermas’ discussion of this issue in his critique of Brandom is in fact a compressed version of what is given a more detailed treatment elsewhere in his work. For example, in his essay “Richard Rorty’s Pragmatic Turn”. There Habermas draws out the significance of distinguishing between the role played by the certainty found in action-contexts versus the “truth” arrived at in discourse: “Only the entwining of the two different pragmatic roles played by the Janus-faced concept of truth in action-contexts and in rational discourses respectively can explain why a justification successful in a local context points in favor of the context-independent truth of the justified belief.” The certainties which actors carry with them into action-contexts are grounded in the lifeworld, and this must be distinguished from the level of discursive argumentation which relies on reasons. Brandom does not make this distinction, at this level of abstraction, which Habermas claims is necessary to overcoming contextualist doubts regarding the notion of objectivity.
Hey Andrew – I understand (and, I think, LM and I have both been saying) that these distinctions are “upstream” for Habermas – but we have also been saying that, on one level at least, this debate concerns whether these distinctions must reside at the level where Habermas places them: pointing out that Habermas places these distinctions upstream, and regards it as important to place them there, doesn’t resolve the issue. Major theorists operating in competing traditions at roughly similar periods have a way of addressing very similar concerns – but in different – and, sometimes, mutually unrecognisable – ways. So the question is whether Brandom can address some of Habermas’ concerns, even if he builds his dams at a different point in the stream.
It may not be clear from the exchange, because I tend to be a bit of a pedant about getting theorists’ arguments “right”, even where I don’t have a personal commitment to those theorists’ work myself, but there is a strong sense in which I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am neither a Habermasian nor a Brandomian, and I have at least provisional critical impulses toward both theorists. In other discussions, I often defend Habermas from critiques in much the same way I have been defending Brandom here – and for much the same reason: I think critical discussions unfold more productively, if there is a strong commitment to trying to grasp theoretical systems from “within” as much as possible, approaching them empathetically to see what could be unfolded from within them (recognising that time is precious, and none of us ever read more than a fraction of what we might wish to read, let alone in the detail it deserves, etc., etc.). I don’t, however, think you can get very far “in” to Brandom, when pre-committing so strongly to the specific terms of Habermas’ critique of Brandom’s work (I would be particularly cautious about doing things like cross-applying Habermas’ critique of Rorty to Brandom, as though Brandom and Rorty are interchangeable – Brandom could be read, in some respects, as responding to some of the aspects of Rorty that concern Habermas).
So, many of my interventions into this discussion are coming from this – essentially pedantic – direction. As you seem to be, I am also far more familiar with Habermas’ notion of what’s required to tackle these sorts of problems, than I am with Brandom’s – yet I am also familiar enough with Brandom to get the sense that Habermas is not entirely on the mark in his representation of Brandom’s work. So, to get to the bottom of the question at hand, we can’t simply mediate the discussion via what Habermas believes Brandom is doing – we need to move a bit into Brandom’s own work, and see what’s happening there.
As well, there seems to be a level in the discussion in which certain moves in Habermas’ theory are being positioned as fixed standards for other theoretical approaches to meet. This can actually get in the way of an analysis of important questions you have placed on the table about issues like how practical attitudes can institute norms treated in practice as binding, how, absent an “upstream” distinction between action-contexts and rational discourses, a notion of context-independent truth can be established, etc. It’s well worthwhile interrogating Brandom’s system to see what sorts of tools he provides for addressing these challenges. However, if from the outset it’s predecided that his answer must take the same form Habermas’ answer does – if we rule out in advance the possibility of addressing these questions in different ways than Habermas offers – then we probably aren’t opening a very interesting discussion: like Benjamin’s automaton, Habermas will always win this game, but that’s because the rules define all victorious theorists as Habermas.
To be clear: I don’t think this is what you are doing, but it can be an implication of engaging so strongly with Habermas’ critique of Brandom, placing so much faith in Habermas’ specific allegations about Brandom’s system, without trying to parallel this with an investigation of what Brandom is attempting to do, at least a bit on his own terms. Again, I say this without any personal commitment to Brandom – this is just how I work myself into any new theoretical system – at least trying to work into the ability to grasp the generative principles of a system from the inside, to have a better grasp of the unusual directions from which a system might approach a problem I’m used to seeing addressed in other ways.
At the same time, we also might need to get a bit more to the bottom of why Habermas makes certain specific theoretical moves, as some of those moves are “overdetermined” by the weight of his own theoretical inheritance from the first generation Frankfurt School, and therefore can’t be understood to be intrinsically coupled to the problems he was confronting, as the only conceivable solutions: they were the solutions readiest to hand within a specific tradition, with its own theoretical allergies and affinities. Weighing all this up, from both sides, begins to make possible a more productive confrontation between these two approaches.
In terms of some of the substantive points you raise above: the “structural” notion of objectivity, although we’ve focussed on the point at many moments in this discussion, is not the only step in Brandom’s argument for how it becomes possible for binding norms to arise through social practice.
Here I may need to be frustrating, and say that LM and I will try to find the time soon to outline the argument in greater detail, but it’s not something I feel I can do adequately, off the cuff at this point. You’re right that the structural notion of objectivity provides only a very abstract condition of possibility for the emergence of critical distance. Personally, I’m inclined to be sympathetic with your impulse that more than this needs to be grounded, and, moreover, if I were approaching Brandom’s work in a more critical vein, would suggest that Brandom’s various historical gestures could perhaps be used to suggest that the account he unfolds of even this abstract form of critical standard, may be underdetermined in ways that could react back on his approach (although the sort of critique I would make doesn’t line up with Habermas’, and I’m generally more open to shoving things “downstream” than Habermas is). But these are personal points – LM might not share them, and I prefer to bracket these sorts of reactions until I have a better grasp of a theorist’s entire system.
It’s important to recognise, though, that the structural notion of objectivity isn’t the only “point” of Brandom’s analysis. His response to Habermas in relation to learning systems, feedback loops, and the like would require coupling this argument about “objectivity” with other arguments he makes – for example, in relation to reference (which is an argument that does a lot of different jobs in his account, including potentially the job of enabling cumulative learnings from practical experience), to experience and material inference (which might provide a means to talk to some of Habermas’ distinctions about different action-contexts), to many specific gestures at how he would manage a range of downstream “retail” questions about norms, and to a considerably less “retail” argument about making explicit the implicit potentials of social and, paradigmatically, communicative practice – a process that is conceptualised as reconstructively “progressive”, in much the same way that Habermas presents a reconstructive narrative to ground an argument about modernity as an “advance” in its release of rational potentials. And this list still doesn’t really capture the sense of everything Brandom tosses into play. I say this, not in the assumption that it will be a satisfying answer – I understand that I am not showing you how Brandom would address your questions – but simply to suggest that Brandom has a complex system that takes some effort to nail down and, like the work of any major theorist, is sufficiently thoughtful, comprehensive and systematic that its critique is not a trivial matter.
What I should also say, though, is that I suspect that LM and I share many of your concerns about what Brandom’s project might be able to do – our goal at this point isn’t to take a strong “Brandomian” stance, but instead to try to avoid foreclosing the debate too soon, before we have nailed down the strongest read we can provide of Brandom’s work. Our sense is that, in some important respects, Habermas’ critique doesn’t hit its intended target. This isn’t, though, an argument that Brandom pays out on all the various promissory notes he issues in his work – whether on his own terms, or Habermas’. It’s simply an expression that sticking solely to the terms of the debate between these two authors is not by itself sufficient to resolve these sorts of questions.
O.K. Nicole, I think I’ve made a pretty valiant effort to demonstrate why Habermas’ critique is more sophisticated than Liam and yourself suggested in your recent paper. I’ve never pretended to be anything other than Habermas’ representative in this debate. I’m sure there are a lot of moves Brandom could make in response, and I’m certainly interested in what they may be, but as you say this is something you’ll look at down the track.
Andrew – Speaking very gently here: the issue isn’t whether Habermas is offering a sophisticated critique, but whether all aspects of his critique apply – a question that relates to whether he is representing Brandom’s critique accurately.
I’m unclear – and I say this agnostically and open-endedly – how much Brandom you’ve read – you seem only to be citing the Habermas critique in this exchange, which makes the discussion a bit awkward, as it’s the accuracy of Habermas’ understanding of Brandom that is the subject of contention. One reason that I’ve suggested that you try to make your points – for example, when you claim that Brandom does or does not do something – with reference to Brandom’s text, is that this will provide me with a bit of background on how you hear what Brandom is saying: this contextualises the discussion of Brandom’s work, and gives us something we can speak about in a more concrete way.
No one has to engage with Brandom, of course – there are many theorists I don’t engage with either. I just then tend to be very cautious about making strong claims about what those theorists do, don’t do, can do, can’t do, etc. This may just be a matter of style of engagement – my personal preferences don’t need to be yours. You also very well may have an extensive background in Brandom, which you haven’t chosen to share here, because your main focus lies with Habermas. It would be helpful to know this sort of thing, as then we can perhaps attempt to build a bit of a bridge between our respective understandings of Brandom’s system.
People rarely have identical readings of theorists, and are very often trying to use theoretical works to achieve quite different ends – such differences, unrecognised and unremarked, can derail discussions with the best of will on all sides. This is why, for productive discussions to take place, shared vocabularies need to be built. But this requires a level of standing alongside one another, engaged in a conversation with a common goal – and a commonly-held curiosity about taking a new theoretical system for a test drive, exploring it more sympathetically as a prior step before debating the merits of the theoretical approach.
Where the interaction isn’t of this character, I then need to step back and approach the discussion in a different mode – among other things, I need to be much more systematic, and build from the ground level the vocabulary and concepts required to make the point in a more “external” way. This is fair enough, but it takes a lot of time. I can’t devote that kind of time to this debate now, but will be happy to pick up in the future, when I can offer the sort of synoptic overview that might be useful as a reference point in a more external sort of exchange.
Fair enough – but I have been engaging in a critique of your paper, not Brandom per se. For the most part, I’ve been looking at what I believed to be a misreading of Habermas’ critique of the scorekeeper, conceptual realism and in particular the discussion re. learning processes, which I sought to correct from a Habermasian perspective. That’s not to say Habermas hasn’t misunderstood Brandom – but it shouldn’t stop us from trying to understand Habermas!
Obviously I don’t know Brandom as well as I know Habermas – if I say Brandom doesn’t do this or doesn’t do that, then if I’m wrong I hope somebody will correct me! So I have been approaching this discussion as a debate, where I do the work for one side and you (or whoever) does the work for the other. I don’t think this is an unreasonable way to proceed when engaging in this kind of research. It has its risks, but I believe it is also necessary in one shape or another. And it can be quite fruitful, if people are prepared to approach it in the right way.
A more cooperative approach requires us to be literally on the same page – and that requires a lot of work. Unfortunately I have a deadline to meet which means that I can only take what I need from Brandom (since my work is ultimately on Habermas) and I simply cannot attempt a comprehensive, sympathetic reading right at this moment. That’s what it boils down to really. But I’ll keep in mind what you expect from these kinds of discussions, and will contribute to any future postings on this issue where I can.