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Brandom’s Theory of the Institution of Norms

Leonardo Marchettoni


In this paper I raise some issues pertaining to Brandom’s pragmatic theory of the explanation of norms. I will argue that Brandom’s attempt to explain normative statuses through recourse to normative attitudes does not succeed in distinguishing norms from regularities of behaviour. The basic suggestion is that the pragmatist strategy of explaining the normative aspects of intentional phenomena does not succeed in distinguishing itself from a dispositionalist approach: pragmatism about norms explains normativity through by recourse to items that are in the end—contrary to what Brandom asserts—indistinguishable from behavioural dispositions. I venture that talk about normative attitudes is translatable into dispositionalist terms, inside a language devoid of normative notions, and that the thesis of the institution of norms by the practical attitudes of the members of the community fails to make sense of the idea of objective normative statuses existing above what single practitioners hold as correct according to their understanding of norms. In the first section I will consider Brandom’s discussion of the rule-following problem presented in the first Chapter of MIE. In the second section I will analyse Brandom’s arguments against the accountability of attitudes in a non-normative language, and forward a dispositionalist reading of Brandomian semantics. Then, I try to consider whether the dispositionalist reading of normative attitudes entails a corresponding naturalisation of Brandom’s semantic project, and examine Brandom’s critique of the tenets of AI functionalism in Between Saying & Doing.


Robert Brandom; inferentialism; rule-following; norms; dispositions

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