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Jeremy Wanderer: Robert Brandom.

Jeremy Wanderer

Robert Brandom.

Stockfield: Acumen Publishing Limited 2008.

Pp. 256.

US$75.00 (cloth ISBN-13: 978-0-7735-3485-8); US$27.95 (paper ISBN-13: 978-0-7735-3486-5).

Robert Brandom's Making it Explicit (MIE) is the kind of book that many people own but few have read. Although published in the same year as Brandom's colleague John McDowell's Mind and World, and widely held to be of comparable importance, MIE has so far elicited only a fraction of the amount of literature Mind and World has generated. There are many reasons why MIE has been a 'slow-burner': its style is not to all tastes; many of its themes and the contexts in which it places them are unfamiliar; above all, perhaps, it is very long. Brandom tried to facilitate MIE's reception with an 'introductory' text, Articulating Reasons, which is notorious for being more accessible than MIE only insofar as it is shorter.

Fortunately, a genuinely edifying introduction to Brandom's thinking is now available. Wanderer's book displays a detailed knowledge and understanding of Brandom's demanding work, and it admirably succeeds in its aim of introducing Brandom's project 'in a manner that provides a glimpse of some fine detail, while having the broad contours clearly in view' (3). Rather than providing a chapter-by-chapter commentary on MIE, Wanderer has chosen to provide his own route into Brandom's philosophy, one which pays dividends.

In Part 1, Wanderer examines what features--for Brandom--a practice must exhibit in order for it to count as linguistic and so for its participants to count as having cognitive capacities. In short, Part I focuses on Brandom's 'normative pragmatics'. In Part 2, Wanderer investigates Brandom's account of the meanings and contents possessed and expressed by the expressions and performances caught up in such practices. In short, Part 2 focuses on Brandom's 'inferentialist semantics', while emphasizing its relation to the pragmatic story told in Part 1.

Wanderer has precisely the qualities one looks for in a guide: sympathy for the overall project, but readiness to criticize the details of its execution where appropriate. At every stage, Wanderer engages with a well-chosen selection of prominent commentators' objections, including those of Jurgen Habermas, Daniel Laurier, McDowell, Peter Pagin and Richard Rorty, as well as offering a number of his own. Though Wanderer is prepared to maintain that some of the putative problems facing Brandom's system are genuine, he nonetheless works hard to show how that system can retain both its overall shape and its importance, by tempering some of the more ambitious claims made on its behalf or by tweaking its specifics.

In Part 1, for example, Wanderer provides a description of a game in which each participant makes 'moves' in virtue of which she undertakes various commitments to which she may or may not be entitled, depending on her[sigma] other commitments and those of others. Each participant keeps track of her own commitments and those of others, as well as the impact that new commitments have on existing ones. Brandom's 'bold conjecture' (53)--bearing in mind that I have skimped on its details--is that the players of this game qualify as rational and the moves within it as linguistic.

One worry concerning the bold conjecture might be that, if one were to interpret the game as a linguistic practice, one might be unjustifiably projecting 'our own rational practices onto' it (82). However, Wanderer notes that, for Brandom, there is nothing more to a practice's being linguistic than its being interpretable as such. Hence, the threat of projection cannot arise. More specifically, Brandom holds, 'If any set of performances within a social practice is interpretable by us, in the sense that it can be mapped onto our linguistic performances so as to make conversation possible, then the social practice interpreted is a rational (linguistic) practice' (83). Accordingly, Wanderer proceeds to consider whether Brandom provides reason to think that the antecedent of this conditional obtains with respect to the scorekeeping model.

Though it is not possible to consider them in this short review, suffice it to say that Wanderer is suspicious of Brandom's attempts to defend the claim that the above conditional's antecedent obtains in the case at hand (84ff). Nonetheless, Wanderer suggests that Brandom need not make the bold conjecture. Rather than seek to explain linguistic practice by 'reducing' it to the aforementioned game, one might treat the game-playing model as an elucidatory tool. On this approach, the description of the game is not an account of what constitutes language use, but rather an object of comparison, attention to which enables one to arrive at a theoretical grasp of features of linguistic practice of which one ordinarily has only practical grasp (91). In this way, Wanderer advocates a 'reconception' of Brandom's 'goals', one 'which may best capture both what he does and what he achieves' (94). One could easily provide other examples of this critical but ultimately conciliatory approach to the Brandomian project.

Predictably, not all of Wanderer's attempts to defend or amend the particulars of Brandom's account are equally or entirely cogent. However, that not all efforts at bolstering Brandom's project are found to be fully convincing is only to be expected given the confines of the book and its overarching aim of introducing rather than vindicating Brandom. Moreover, that certain of Wanderer's claims, on Brandom's behalf, invite further scrutiny only testifies to the fact that he succeeds in his unenviable task of setting out Brandom's work in such a way as to 'facilitate' its 'assessment' (4).

Daniel Whiting

University of Southampton
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Author:Whiting, Daniel
Publication:Philosophy in Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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