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International Phenomenological Society

Prcis of Making It Explicit Making It Explicit: Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment by Robert B. Brandom Review by: Robert Brandom Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Mar., 1997), pp. 153-156 Published by: International Phenomenological Society Stable URL: . Accessed: 26/08/2012 13:04
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Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Vol. LVII, No. 1, March 1997

Precis of Making It Explicit*


University of Pittsburgh

The book is an attemptto explain the meanings of linguistic expressions in terms of their use. The explanatorystrategy is to begin with an account of social practices, to identify the particularstructurethey must exhibit in order to qualify as specifically linguisticpractices,and then to considerwhat different sorts of semantic contents those practices can confer on states, performances, and expressions caught up in them in suitable ways. The result is a kind of conceptualrole semanticsthat is at once firmlyrooted in actualpractices of producingand consuming speech acts, and sufficiently finely articulated to make clear how those practicesarecapableof conferringa rich variety of kinds of content. Claims about the relations between meaning and use only have a clear sense in the context of a specification of the vocabularyin which that use is describedor ascribed.At one extreme,use clearly determinesmeaning in the strongest possible sense if admissible specifications of the use can include such phrases as "using the word 'not' to express negation," or "using the term 'Julius Caesar' to refer to Julius Caesar".At an opposite extreme, if admissible specifications of use are restricted to descriptions of the movements of particles expressed in the vocabularyof physics, not only will the use, so described, fail to settle what is meant or expressed by various noises or inscriptions,it will in general fail to settle even that anythingis meant or expressed by them. The specificationof use employed here is neitherso generous as to permit semantic or intentional vocabulary, nor so parsimonious as to insist on purely naturalisticvocabulary. Instead,it makes essential use of normativevocabulary.The practicesthat confer propositionaland other sorts of conceptualcontent implicitly contain norms concerning how it is correct to use expressions, under what circumstances it is appropriateto performvarious speech acts, and what the appropriate consequences of such performancesare. ChapterOne introduces and motivates this normative pragmatics, which is rooted in considerations ad*

Robert B. Brandom, Making It Explicit: Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1994).


vanced by Kant,Frege, and Wittgenstein.No attemptis made to eliminate, in favor of nonnormativeor naturalisticvocabulary,the normative vocabulary employed in specifying the practicesthat are the use of a language. Interpreting states, performances, and expressions as semantically or intentionally contentful is understood as attributingto their occurrence an ineliminably normativepragmaticsignificance. Though this normativedimension of linguistic practiceis taken to be ineliminable, it is not treated as primitive or inexplicable. It is rendered less mysterious in two ways. first, linguistic norms are understoodas instituted by social practicalactivity. The pragmaticsignificances of different sorts of speech acts are renderedtheoreticallyin terms of how those performancesaffect the commitments(and entitlementsto those commitments)acknowledge or otherwise acquiredby those whose performancesthey are. The norms implicit in linguistic practiceare accordinglypresentedin a specifically deontic form. But these deontic statusesare understoodin turnas a form of social status, institutedby the practicalattitudesof those who attributeand acknowledge such statuses. The second way norms are renderedless mysterious is by explaining exactly what is expressedby normativevocabulary.Beginning with basic deontic scorekeepingattitudesand the practicesthatgovern them, an accountis offered of how locutions must be used in order to express explicitly the very normative notions-is committed,is permitted, ought, and so on-that are appealedto in laying out the normativepragmatics.This is an explication of explicitly normative conceptual contents in terms of implicitly normative practices,ratherthan a reductionof normativetermsto nonnormativeones. It illuminates the normative dimension of discursive practice in line with the methodologicalprinciplethat implicit structuresare often best understoodby looking at how they can be made explicit. The first step in the projectis accordinglythe elaborationof a pragmatics (a theory of the use of language) that is couched in terms of practicalscorekeeping attitudes of attributingand acknowledgingdeontic statuses of commitmentand entitlement.The pragmaticsignificanceof performances-eventually, speech acts such as assertions-is then understoodto consist in the difference those performancesmake to the commitmentsand entitlementsattributedby various scorekeepers.The next step is to say what structuresuch a set of social practicesmust have in orderto qualify as specifically discursive practice. This is a matter of moving from pragmatics to semantics. The defining characteristicof discursive practiceis the productionand consumption of specifically propositional contents. It is arguedin ChapterTwo that propositionalcontentfulnessshould be understoodin terms of inferential articulation;propositionsare what can serve as premises and conclusions of inferences, that is, can serve as and standin need of reasons. ChapterThree de-



scribes (in deontic scorekeepingterms) a model of social practices of giving and asking for reasons-specifically linguistic discursive practices, which suffice to confer propositionalcontentson states, attitudes,performances,and expressions that play suitable roles in those practices. It elaborates a social, linguistic account of intentionality. treatmentsof perThat accountis extendedin ChapterFourto incorporate those phenomenamake to the emception and action, and of the contribution pirical and practical dimensions of the propositional contents of the states, acts, and attitudes involved in them. It is not denied that it makes sense to talk about nonlinguistic creatures as having intentional states, but it is of claimed that our understanding such talk is parasiticon our understanding of of the sort of full-blooded linguistic intentionalitycharacteristic states and attitudesthat only beings who engage in discursive social practicescan have. This story amounts, then, to an account of the relations of mindedness-in the sense of sapienceratherthanmere sentience-to behavior. Where the first sort of generalizationinvolves moving from consideration of language to considerationof mind, from talking to thinkingand believing, the second involves moving from an account of the practices that constitute treating something as prepositionally contentful to the practices that constitute treating something as conceptually contentful in a broader sense. In ChapterSix the notion of substitutionand substitutionalinferences is used to show how expressionssuch as singulartermsandpredicates,which cannotdirectly play the inferential role of premise or conclusion in an argument, nonetheless can play an indirectlyinferentialrole in virtue of their systematic contributionsto the directly inferentialroles of sentences in which they occur. In ChapterSeven the notion of anaphora(whose paradigmis the relation between a pronounand its antecedent)and anaphoricinheritanceof substitutional commitmentis used to show how even unrepeatableexpressions such roles, and hence exas demonstrativetokenings play substitution-inferential press conceptual contents. The resulting conceptual role semantics is distinguished first by the nature of the functional system with respect to which what is appealed to is role in the such roles are individuatedand attributed: implicitly normative linguistic social practices of a community, ratherthan the behavioraleconomy of a single individual.It is also differentfrom familiar ways of using the notion of conceptualrole in conceiving of the conceptual in terms of specifically inferential articulation,and in its elaborationof of the fundamentalsubstitutionaland anaphoric substructures that inferential articulation. This semanticexplanatorystrategy,which takes inferenceas its basic concept, contrastswith the one that has been dominantsince the Enlightenment, which takes representationas its basic concept. The inferentialistapproachis by no means without precedent-though it has been largely a minority plat-



Rationalform. Indeed,the distinctioncanonicallydrawnbetween Continental ists such as Spinoza and Leibniz, on the one hand, and British Empiricists, such as Locke and Hume, is for many purposesmore perspicuouslyrendered as a distinctionbetween those endorsingan inferentialistorderof explanation orderof explanation.The elements and those endorsing a representationalist of the contemporaryinferentialist programare extracted (in Chapter Two) from Frege of the Begriffsschrift,Sellars, and some of Dummett's writings. The majorexplanatorychallenge for inferentialistsis ratherto explain the dimension of semantic content-to construereferentialrelarepresentational tions in terms of inferential ones. The second part of the book responds to this challenge. Chapterfive explains the expressive role of traditionalrepresentationalsemanticvocabulary.An accountis offered there of the use of the Following the sort of expressionof which 'true' and 'refers' are paradigmatic. lead of the prosentential approachto truth, the key semantic concept employed in that unified account is anaphora. Chapter Seven then explains structureof discuranaphoricrelationsin terms of the substitution-inferential elaboratedin ChapterSix. ChapterSix also offers an acsive scorekeeping count in those terms of what it is for claims-which are understood in the first instance (in ChapterThree) as what can serve as premises and conclusions of inferences-to be and be understoodto be aboutobjects, and to characterizethem as having propertiesand standingin relations. The primary treatmentof the representationaldimension of conceptual propertiesof content is reservedfor ChapterEight. Therethe representational semanticcontentsareexplainedas consequencesof the essentiallysocial character of inferentialpractice.Words such as the 'of' that expresses intentional directedness,and 'about' and 'represents'in their philosophically significant relationsexuses, have the expressive role they do-making representational plicit-in virtue of the way they figure in de re ascriptions of propositional attitudes.These are the tropes used to say explicitly what someone is thinking about, what a belief represents,what a claim is true of. ChapterEight offers a discursive scorekeeping account of the practices that constitute using locutions to express such de re ascriptions, and hence of how expressions must be used in order to mean 'of', 'about', or 'represents'.This account of what is expressed by the fundamentalexplicitly representationallocutions makes possible an explanation of the objectivity of concepts. It takes the form of a specification of the particularsort of inferential structuresocial scorekeeping practices must have in order to institute objective normsnorms according to which the correctnessof an applicationof a concept answers to the facts about the object to which it is applied, in such a way that anyone (indeed everyone) in the linguistic community may be wrong about it.