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[xmca] Bransom's Inferentialism Further Reflections
Hi Arthur and Andy
Arthur, Your mentioning Bransom's theory of inferentialism left me curious
to know more. I found on Google an edited book titled "Reading Bransom -On
Making it Explicit" In the book numerous authors have responded to Bransom
and then Bransom replies in the 4th section of the book. One particular
chapter was written by Charles Taylor and I believe it has relevance to the
discussion on Fernando Rey's article for discussion [in a round about way]
It also has relevance for reading John Shotter's article on interpreting
Vygotsky through analyzing speech acts and the multiple uses of language.
This is the reason I'm going to summarize Taylor's perspective on the
multiple contexts of language use.
Taylor agrees with Bransom's basic premise that concepts are relevant within
situated contexts and those concepts justify MULTIPLE inferences. What is
crucial in thought and language is these multiple possible and potential
inferences within activity. Taylor points out Bransom's notion of holism
[grasping the whole of things through the unity of apperception shares
Merleau-Ponty's notion of holism.]
Taylor then reads Bransom as sharing Wittgenstein's perspective that
meaningful language always requires a context of practices and actions.
Taylor suggests THIS form of consciousness has been historically developing
for the last 2 hundred years gradually undoing the "abstracting"
epistemology of Descartes and Hobbes. In this development of awareness of
the primacy of practices and actions within language use "judgements" and
"inferences" are central concepts. However, at this point Taylor draws our
attention to Wittgenstein's notion that "judgements" are only ONE PARTICULAR
KIND of language game. There are a family of such language games that put
in play combinations of reference and prediction which are used to make
"empirical claims", "to ask how things are" "to give commands". Bransom
articulates this family of language games with clarity and illumination. It
is at this point that Taylor opens up a new line of inquiry which supports
Shotter's exploration of the uses of speech acts.
For Taylor lots of other language games are going on. For example we use
language to establish intimacy or distance. To open contact or close it off.
To cry for, and give or withhold sympathy, and in multiple ways DISCLOSE the
world. We disclose the depths of our feelings, we disclose the beauty of
the world, we disclose the virtues of the good [ethics]. Taylor suggests we
won't grasp these disclosive aspects of language if we only focus on
reference and prediction of judgements. By FIXING CLEARLY AND DISTINCTLY
through reference and prediction we focus on determinate illumination.
However, Taylor suggests that disclosive uses of language sometimes depend
on the uncertainty and indeterminancy of disclosures.
Taylor is pointing to the boundaries we construct to help us determne how we
understand the uses of language. To see language use as only ASSERTIVE is
too restrictive a boundary marker. To understand the centrality of the
disclosive uses of language Taylor suggests it is analogous to the other
disclosive symbol forms such as music, painting, dance, and gesture.
Taylor's broader boundary marking suggests the notion of language as "speech
in words" as assertive [giving reasons] is too narrow a boundary marker.
Speech must relate to the broader field of the whole range of symbolic
Wittgenstein also points out that to take language as judgements [speech in
words] is too narrow a boundary and he recognizes this form as a
specific type of practice or language game. Wittgenstein suggests embedding
this narrower context in the wider frame of multiple practices withIN the
all-encompassing frame OF a form of life. A form of life IS the broader
context. Wittgenstein also emphasizes these language games can only be
played as games of EXCHANGE. They can only be played with others. [what
Bransom calls "giving and asking for reasons"]. Bransom brilliantly
illuminates the dialogical perspective of language in his explicating using
language for the giving and asking for reasons.
However, though Taylor agrees with Bransom's positions rejecting monological
representationalist epistemology [up to a point] Taylor asks, How far does
this embedding in contexts have to go? There is a context where the goal
of language games is to make, exchange, and check claims ABOUT factual
states of things and also in this family of games the drawing inferences
ABOUT what to do. These practices are a family or set of language games.
BUT IS THIS SET OF PRACTICES SELF-SUFFICIENT? OR do we need to set this
family of assertive approaches withIN a broader context of symbolic forms of
disclosure such as music, gesture, painting, and dance? WE also give and
ask for reasons to do with beauty, ethics, and deep feelings in dialogical
What Taylor is drawing our attention to and attempting to illuminate is the
ASSERTORIC/DISCLOSIVE DISTINCTION! as a way of marking a wider more
inclusive understanding of the uses of language. Language sometimes is used
to make accessible to us [show us] some phenomenon without making
assertions. The SENSE of this disclosive use of language can be
INDETERMINATE AND INDEFINABLE. The use of language is to draw us into the
phenomenon without clarity or determinate boundaries as part of our
disclosive world of symbolic form.
Taylor points out that for an immense range of language use BOTH assertion
and disclosure are expressed. As Shotter emphasizes we can speak of the
disclosive DIMENSION of speech acts. The speaker might be articulating a
disclosive stance towards language use and we the listener may respond with
an assertive judgement by DEFINING its ESSENTIAL features. These are two
different dimensions of language use. But this assertoric response was NOT
the description the speaker was expressing withIN his speech acts.
The contexts we create by boundary marking what are the legitimate uses of
language [legitimate language games] extend to our notions of scientific
discourse. Today there is a common sense zone of assertoric language use
around our explanations of science and everyday practices. This zone or
context can have harder or softer boundaries. Hard line materialists reduce
all human phenomena to "natural" physical explanations [minds reduced to
brains, feelings reduced to endocrinology] Moving to softer more inclusive
boundaries certain philosophers want to fence in and contain reasoning ABOUT
ethics and morals. [they explain and justify morals on the basis of reasons
alone independently of disclosive uses of language.] They stay within the
normative rules of particular practices or language games.
For Taylor a key question is What are the reasons for defining and
DETERMINING such a bounded and marked frame for fact-establishing assertoric
discourse? The crucial boundary marker is asserting that REASON ALONE is
the way we use language and leaving the disclosive uses of language outside
the boundary. This "reason alone" use of language without recourse to the
more inclusive context which also includes disclosive language use has a
particular attraction. With the disclosive outside the boundary then CANONS
OF ARGUMENT can be made much more RIGOUROUS [rigid] and CONCLUSIVE and
DETERMINATE. Then we can more easily AGREE on the conclusions of assertoric
science, and leave the disclosive use of language in our speech acts aside.
Differences on the nature of deep feelings, beauty, and ethics can be put
aside as outside the boundaries of language use. By narrowing its boundary
and range of operations, speech acts as reasons become effective in reaching
common conclusions by leaving behind the expressive as disclosive.
I believe Rey's article on sense& meaning, and John Shotter's article on
speech acts as disclosive contexts is attempting to broaden the context
beyond the assertoric to include the INTERTWINING of BOTH the assertoric and
disclosive uses of language.
I apologize for the length of this post but I'm struggling to "show" the
othe dimension of language use that is analogus to music, gesture, dance,
and painting as EXPRESSING ways of life or ways to dwell in the world
[Ingold & Merleau-Ponty]
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