- Robert Brandom’s Normative Inferentialism by Giacomo Turbanti
In this book Giacomo Turbanti aims to provide his reader with “the resources to find her way around the edifice of Brandom’s normative inferentialism.” To this end, he situates normative inferentialism in the context of three Brandomian movements of thought: his normative pragmatics, his inferential semantics, and his rational expressivism.
Normative pragmatics is the attempt to give an account of discursive practice in terms of the normative statuses—those of commitment and entitlement—which speakers incur through their actions in a communal practice. Turbanti gives an account of Brandom’s thinking here in the first substantive chapter of the book, its second chapter. Suitable context is provided by reference to Sellars and Dummett; a good contrast is made with Grice; and commentators are canvassed, notably Habermas as well as Kukla and Lance. For those seeking new insight, the search will be in vain; and for those seeking clarification and help with Brandom’s texts, the lumpen exposition will provide little aid.
Chapter 3 introduces the reader both to inferential semantics—the attempt systematically to explicate the meanings of sentences in the language in terms of their normative inferential role—and to rational expressivism—the idea that logical vocabulary plays a role in making explicit in claims what speakers do in discursive practices, the upshot of which is a kind of rational self-consciousness. However, both elements remain close objects of examination throughout the rest of the book, the former coming under close scrutiny in chapters 4 and 5, which detail Brandom’s incompatibility semantics, and the latter especially in chapter 6. I found this section of the book falling awkwardly between being unambitious in terms of advancing the debate and too obscure to provide a good way of accessing it. I found some of the exposition of Brandom’s influences startling. For instance, in discussing Frege’s conception of incompleteness, Turbanti suggests that when a functional expression is “completed” by a name that fails to refer the resulting expression remains incomplete. Certainly not: the result is a complete expression that itself fails to refer, that is, to have a truth-value.
Chapters 4 and 5, supported by three appendices giving technicalities, are a sustained examination of Brandom’s incompatibility semantics. Chapter 4 introduces incompatibility semantics and exploits Brandomian meaning-use diagrams introduced in chapter 3 to illustrate the role of incompatibility semantics. Chapter 5 extends the analysis to modal vocabulary and, in particular, reconstructs Kripkean semantics for modal logic in incompatibility semantics. It then goes on to a distinct topic: nonmonotonic incompatibility semantics. There are few expositions of this material, and so the book finds a genuine mission via this discussion. Turbanti is clearly at home in this formal material and makes a number of sensible comments and emendations to Brandom’s presentation. However, perhaps because he is so comfortable with this material, the discussion is often too quick and fails to take the opportunity to link to [End Page 617] more general philosophical issues. For instance, although Turbanti nicely brings out the failure of compositionality in incompatibility semantics, despite its being recursive, the clear invitation to introduce a philosophical discussion of the implications of this is not taken up.
The final chapter is a discussion of how Brandom reconciles conceptual realism with inferentialism as grounded in normative pragmatics. Turbanti pursues the question through a look at Brandom’s historical roots. His pragmatism and his idealist influences—primarily in the form of Hegel. These then feed into an account of belief revision, that is, the revision of material incompatibilities in belief sets. His speculation concerns how to develop a model for this which exploits a nonmonotonic consequence relation. Though Turbanti here begins a potentially very interesting discussion, the links to the historical influences are underdeveloped. This looks like material that has hit the press rather too soon.
My overall feeling is that the book reads like a fair draft. The exposition needs more work to be a good support for readers, and the discussions need filling out and development. More than...