Monday, October 31, 2005

Graduate Philosophy Conferences

A couple fellow students have asked me about graduate philosophy conferences. I try to keep up with upcoming deadlines for my own use, but it seems the rest of you might benefit from my efforts. So I will post information here for conferences that are relevant or at least not irrelevant to the content of this workshop. If anyone knows of anything that I'm overlooking, let me know.

The dates are the submission deadlines.

Columbia/NYU, January 18

Texas, February 1

Princeton/Rutgers, January 15

CUNY, January 26

Iowa, January 20

Intermountain West, January 31

Waterloo, February 1

Semantics and Philosophy in Europe, February 15

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Making It Explicit, Chapter One

Last night the workshop met to discuss chapter one of Brandom's Making it Explicit.


David F. opened the workshop with a story from his grad student days at Pitt. It involved Brandom stroking his beard and lecturing about his account of who we are in terms of saying 'we', and a Monty Python based pun.

David then suggested three broad ways of approaching intentionality that differ from Brandom's approach:

(1) Skepticism
(2) Naturalistic Reduction
(3) Naive acceptance (after suitable therapy, presumably)

In contrast, Brandom is going to offer an account of intentionality that reduces it to social norms of a certain kind.

After proposing these options, David asked: "Who is Brandom's account for?" Meaning, I think, "What philosophical anxieties is this meant to relieve?" or "What problem is this book supposed to solve?" That is where discussion began. There were several different proposals for how to answer David's question.

1. Jay E. said that he had asked John H. the same question about Making it Explicit in the preliminary essay workshop three years ago. John replied, "He was going for the brass ring". There was a pregnant pause in discussion while we waited for an explanation of what this meant. Jay said he thought John simply meant that Brandom thought that his account was true. I take it the upshot of Jay's comment was that saying true things is a perfectly legitimate goal for a philosophical project to have.

2. Nat H. said that the fact that the first chapter was set up in terms of the problem posed by Wittgenstein's rule-following argument and various failed (regularist) solutions to it indicated that he was looking for a genuine solution to the regress problem. The solution would be found in norms implicit in practice, rather than either in normless practices or hierarchies of explicit rules. Aiden G. raised an objection to this proposal (but I can't remember what it was).

3. Ben M. said that Brandom was looking for a solution to the regress problem but didn't consider the possibility that the regress shouldn't be allowed to begin. (In conversation with Ben before the workshop, we found p.45 n. 56, which suggests Brandom is aware that one way to respond to the problem of the regress of interpretations is to not let it get started. Brandom writes: "The division of explanatory strategies arises over the question of whether the practices invoked to halt the regress can be analyzed in terms of regularities and dispositions characterized without the use of normative vocabulary". The footnote, says: "Typically, though not in every case, by not letting [the regress] begin--since in the commonest cases we understand explicit claims, rules, principles, orders and so on without interpreting them".

4. Another workshop participant suggested that Brandom's project was to "render norms less mysterious" (p. xiv) or "render less mysterious" "the normative dimension of linguistic practice" (p. xiii). I take it that what is to be made less mysterious is the "fanciest sort of intentionality", that which is involved in propositional content (p. 7). David F. asked what was supposed to be so mysterious about this kind of intentionality. Brandom doesn't say anything (or report anyone as saying anything) that makes it sound particularly mysterious.

5. Jason B. suggested that maybe Brandom was engaged in a transcendental project--one of finding the necessary conditions for the possibility of thought (or "sapience") as such.

6. There were also suggestions that Brandom was engaged in a kind of "descriptive" metaphysical project, of showing the complex but interesting interconnections between concepts like "entitlement" and "acknowledgement". This seemed the least popular account of what he was up to.


Jason B., David F., Robert B. and Aiden G. argued about norms and the constitutive ideal of rationality. Robert B. said something about Davidson that made Aiden G. nearly jump out of his seat.


At the end of the workshop, we set about trying to determine what to do next: Quine or Brandom? Or both? We voted on whether to read the Quine or the Brandom, and Brandom won by a couple of votes. Then we voted on whether to read just the Brandom or read both the Quine and the Brandom, alternating from week to week. Reading just the Brandom won by a single vote. But there was some concern about this result, so Nat H. proposed that we vote again after reading chapter two of the Brandom in two weeks.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Brandom Reading (Updated)

The next reading for the workshop will be pp. 1-46 of the first chapter of Brandom's Making it Explicit. You can get the first part (pp. 1-36) of the reading on e-reserve here, and the second part (pp.36-) here.

You can also check out a recent collection of papers on Brandom and read a less recent interview.

(I ripped off the idea for the cover on the left from John Haugeland, who made a cover for Making it Explicit based on the Norman Kemp Smith translation of the Critique of Pure Reason.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Word and Object, Chapter One

The promise of pizza, beer, and talk about whether philosophy is continuous with science drew the largest crowd in workshop history to Cobb 103 tonight.

Jason B. opened with a short introduction to some central Quinean themes: Naturalism, empiricism, stimulus meaning, holism, the social character of meaning, and meaning behaviorism. He introduced the familiar central worry about Quine's epistemology: how can surface irritations be "clues to an external world" (22)? My rough reconstruction of the central worry goes as follows:

1. For something to count as a clue, to count as evidence, it must be capable of justifying claims.
2. Only something with "content" (conceptual, propositional?) is capable of justifying claims.
3. Surface irritations have no content.
4. So surface irritations cannot count as clues, as evidence.

We started discussion by taking up the issue of Quine's naturalism. There was some debate about what it meant to say that philosophy and science were "continuous". Chris F. claimed that there was a difference between Quine's naturalism and physicalism of a type- or token-identity sort. Aidan G. said he liked science though he thought he wasn't supposed to. Chris F. said that people he has talked to in CHSS didn't see how it was possible to deny the "philosophy is continuous with science" claim. David F. observed that one could do it simply by saying that philosophy was discontinuous with science. For example, one might think, with the logical positivists, that the job of philosophy is to clear away conceptual confusion and let the scientists get on with their important work. Or one might think, with Wittgenstein, that the job of philosophy is to expose latent nonsense as patent nonsense.

So in response to the question, "Is philosophy continuous with science?" we concluded: it depends on what one means by "science" and "continuous with". No one asked what "philosophy" or "is" meant.

Nat H. asked about Quine's analogy between the sharing of "sensory supports" between sentences with the arch (p.11). How, when the arch is "tottering on an earthquake", is a "base block...supported now and again, only by the other base blocks via the arch"? Isn't the base block supported primarily by the ground? Jason B. pointed out that in asking this, Nat H. was neglecting Quine's footnote to the analogy, which says:

"The analogies of the fabric and the arch are well supplemented by the more detailed analogy of the net which Hempel develops..."

Several workshop participants (including, I believe, Tucker M.), explained that we were not supposed to imagine the ground dropping away from underneath the arch, in which case the other blocks clearly would not be of any help, but instead to imagine the ground merely shaking. In such a case one of the base blocks might be held in place by the weight of the other blocks pressing down on it. That sounded plausible.

Stina B. then asked for an explanation of how Quine's argument against sense data (pp. 2-3) was supposed to be understood. Was it merely a worry about memory, or something more significant? Chris F. said he was going to ask just the same question. David F. glossed the question as asking whether Quine comes close, in his criticism of sense data, to an insight that would have helped him detect the problems with his own account of sensory irritations. Quine's comment that "immediate experience simply will not, of itself, cohere as an autonomous domain" might be turned against his own notion that sensory stimuli count as the basic clues we have of the external world. Robert B. asked if David's proposal was part of a Resolute Reading of Word and Object.

Chris F. then recalled a possible reading of Quine from John H.'s class on Quine and Davidson five years ago. What if, Chris F. asked, Quine's sensory irritations were token identical with contentful experiences? The contentful experiences would be bound up with man's conceptual sovereignty, holistic, and so on, while the irritations, qua physical events, would remain unchanged through reconfigurations of the conceptual scheme. Jason B. objected that this wasn't consistent with Quine's statements that the irritations (qua irritations?), not conceptually contentful descriptions of the irritations, were supposed to be clues (cues?).

At this point, Chris F., the Dionysian force animating the workshop, had to leave to catch the beginning of Lost. So we wound up discussion and proposed that we read the preface and the first chapter of Making it Explicit for next week.

Quine on Maps and Dictionaries

In 1963, Quine wrote a review of the National Geographic Atlas of the World.

Here is an illustrative exerpt:

"I shall keep the old loose National Geographic maps for trips. And, since the National Geographic omits counties, I shall keep my old inferior book for counties. Grudgingly. It is before me now, a 1948 Hammond of even larger format than the National Geographic Atlas, and it is open at south central South America. The polychrome two-page spread is something between a poster and an imposture. Its detail is sparse and irresponsible. Part of Brazil is elaborately misplaced within Paraguay, and part of Paraguay in Argentina, as a glance at other pages bears out; the name of the Paranà is applied by mistake to the Iguassù, as well as to the Paranà; Aconcagua is omitted, though lesser mountains are marked; and two provinces of Chile are shown in a way that conflicts with another page. The 1954 Hammond is better, but I disagree. The point of my sad example is that such ineptitude is neither to be found nor imagined in National Geographic maps. They have an air somehow of selfevident accuracy, they are visibly as real as earth itself."

He also reviewed dictionaries.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Quine Reading

I have posted the first chapter of Word and Object to the workshop's e-reserve. It is listed as "Language and Truth".