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Friday, August 13, 2010

Personalized Philosophizing A Sequel

As a sequel to my observations about personalized philosophical argument, here is a quotation from Robert Brandom:
Taking something to be subject to appraisals of its reasons, holding it rationally responsible, is treating it as someone: as one of us (rational beings). This normative attitude toward others is recognition, in the sense of Hegel's central notion of Anerkennung (…). Adopting that attitude is acknowledging a certain kind of community with the one recognized. It is the fellowship of those we acknowledge not only as sentient (a factual matter of biology), but also as sapient (a normative matter of responsibility and authority). It is attributing a kind of rational personhood, treating others as selves, in the sense of knowers and agents, ones who are responsible for their doings and attitudes. What they are principally responsible for is having reasons for those doings and attitudes.
If that were the meaning of those who make personalized arguments in the sense of referring to people rather than arguments (e.g., Platonists rather than Platonism), then philosophical argument would create a community of those who are able and willing to hold certain views on the basis of reasons. The catch is that it is hardly distinguishable whether a someone is not acknowledging a reason or is perhaps able to acknowledge it but not willing to do so. So, if everything goes well, one can be glad to share community with the great minds as well as with the unknown readers (as I am about to do with Robert Brandom and the unknown reader of this note). But what if things go wrong? What if Brandom would be appalled by my adopting his statement? That is, I might have misunderstood him. And what if my audience is unwilling to create some kind of community with me (with my reasoning, to be sure)? Skepticism is ruled out as soon as I shape my arguments in a way that the normativity of my argument (that's Brandom's context) appears to be intrusive. What if things go wrong because I am wrong? Would I commit my audience to err with me? No harm done as long as I appeal to reason alone rather than commitment. The first, second, third person talk in philosophy eludes objectivity through a false personal agreement on allegedly rational argument. In saying "us" Brandom wants to emphasize the structure of commitment that underlies rational argument. But although there is no understanding without commitment to what has been understood, as Michael Polanyi has pointed out, rationality has to be wise in avoiding by all means the appearance of a reversal between reasonability and responsibility: I as a speaker, claiming to have good reasons, do not take you as the reader hostage to my arguments.
[Robert B. Brandom: Reason in Philosophy. Animating Ideas. Cambridge, Massachusetts:Belknap Press, 2009, p. 3.]

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