Neo-pragmatism and normative constraint

In lieu of a more substantive post — as I’m busy writing a piece for my supervision meeting on Tuesday as well as marking — I thought I’d post this primarily exegetical essay that I wrote about this time last year for my MA. It’s entitled ‘Neo-pragmatism and normative constraint: Rorty, Brandom and beyond’ and deals with some of the topics to do with normative authority that have come up here already and shall continue to do so. The focus is predominantly epistemological, in contrast to the debates centring on morality and critical theory that I’ve been thinking about recently, but may be useful for its very difference in approach since it may allow a degree of ‘triangulation’ when thinking about normativity in general. My thoughts on these topics are in semi-permanent flux so I do not necessarily still endorse all the content. (Nor, indeed, do I make any promises about its quality!)

Also, thanks to N Pepperell and Nate for their recent comments. In what will likely become a convention here with respect to substantive comments, I shall respond in post form when I have time to do these reponses justice. This better suits the rather lumbering pace of my thoughts and will allow me to clarify and reformulate matters to myself in a marginally less sketchy form.

2 thoughts on “Neo-pragmatism and normative constraint

  1. Hi – great post and intersting blog. I only recently dropped Pragmatism from my blog’s title, preferring instead to stick with poststructuralists. I’m a Derrida fan, but I have Rorty to thank for putting me onto politics, via his ‘Achieving Our Country.’ I’d love to hear more about your your topic of study.

    By normativity, are you infering a naturalist sense, in that moral terms can be defined in non-ethical terms?

  2. Hello there — thanks for your comment.

    Normativity is not necessarily being used in a naturalist sense here and nor does it only refer to the status of moral or ethical terms. There is some controversy in the ‘analytic’ literature over what constitutes ‘normativity’ (and its cognates). Although I often shy away from these specific distinctions as a little misleading, in a rough-and-ready way you might think that the role of norms is captured by the contrasts between is/ought, fact/value, or description/prescription. A better characterisation, if not necessarily an unproblematic one, would be to say that normativity refers to those structures that give us reasons. This makes it clearer that there are not only moral norms but also epistemological, aesthetic, emotional norms, etc. that would cover things like reasons for belief, valuation, the appropriateness of feeling one way and not another, and so on.

    As for naturalism, a lot hinges on your characterisation of nature (e.g. both McDowell and Rorty are naturalists about norms but each in a very different sense) and of course there are those who deny that some or all norms can be naturalised (like Putnam on rationality, whose position I discuss in the essay). My position is still somewhat underdeveloped in this area, although I’m attracted by a broadly ‘naturalistic’ project in the vein of McDowell but one that tries to avoid a problematic essentialism attached to a Platonised account of nature. This may prove unsustainable though, so I hesitate to pin my wider project to this sort of foundation.

    I must say that I find both Rorty’s political position and political works highly objectionable. However, I agree with Slavoj Zizek that they are of some use in highlighting the paucity of liberalism (in the classical sense) since Rorty at least has the honesty to formulate his position in a way that relies on the actual intutions underlying most liberal thought. Another word of warning with respect to Rorty would be not to trust his readings of philosophical movements (even, or especially, pragmatism) — although I expect that coming to Rorty after post-structuralism you will already know that through his very crude work on Derrida. (Rorty is a particular bugbear of mine as a recovered Rortian in epistemology!)

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