Seminar on Brandom and Posthumanism – 4th March

I’ll be destruction testing my paper on Brandom and Posthumanism at the Open University in Milton Keynes, Wednesday 4 March at 2 pm in MR05 Wilson A 1st Floor. The piece is forthcoming in PHILOSOPHY AFTER NATURE Rosi Braidotti and Rick Dolphijn (eds.).

Here’s the abstract:

BRANDOM AND POSTHUMAN AGENCY: AN ANTI-NORMATIVIST RESPONSE TO BOUNDED POSTHUMANISM

By David Roden, Open University

I distinguish two theses regarding technological successors to current humans (posthumans): an anthropologically bounded posthumanism (ABP) and an anthropologically unbounded posthumanism (AUP). ABP proposes transcendental conditions on agency that can be held to constrain the scope for “weirdness” in the space of possible posthumans a priori. AUP, by contrast, leaves the nature of posthuman agency to be settled empirically (or technologically). Given AUP there are no “future proof” constraints on the strangeness of posthuman agents.

In Posthuman Life I defended AUP via a critique of Donald Davidson’s work on intentionality and a “naturalistic deconstruction” of transcendental phenomenology (See also Roden 2013). In this paper I extend this critique to Robert Brandom’s account of the relationship between normativity and intentionality in Making It Explicit (MIE) and in other writings.

Brandom’s account understands intentionality in terms of the capacity to undertake and ascribe inferential normative commitments. It makes “first class agency” dependent on the ability to participate in discursive social practices. It implies that posthumans – insofar as they qualify as agents at all – would need to be social and discursive beings.

The problem with this approach, I will argue, is that it replicates a problem that Brandom discerns in Dennett’s intentional stance approach. It tells us nothing about the conditions under which a being qualifies as a potential interpreter and thus little about the conditions for meaning, understanding or agency.

I support this diagnosis by showing that Brandom cannot explain how a non-sapient community could bootstrap itself into sapience by setting up a basic deontic scorekeeping system without appealing (along with Davidson and Dennett) to the ways in which an idealized observer would interpret their activity.

This strongly suggests that interpretationist and pragmatist accounts cannot explain the semantic or the intentional without regressing to assumptions about ideal interpreters or background practices whose scope they are incapable of delimiting. It follows that Anthropologically Unbounded Posthumanism is not seriously challenged by the claim that agency and meaning are “constituted” by social practices.

AUP implies that we can infer no claims about the denizens of “Posthuman Possibility Space” a priori, by reflecting on the pragmatic transcendental conditions for semantic content. We thus have no reason to suppose that posthuman agents would have to be subjects of discourse or, indeed, members of communities. The scope for posthuman weirdness can be determined by recourse to engineering alone.

References:

Roden, David. 2012. “The Disconnection Thesis”. In The Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment, A. Eden, J. Søraker, J. Moor & E. Steinhart (eds), 281–98. London: Springer.

Roden, David. 2013. “Nature’s Dark Domain: An Argument for a Naturalised Phenomenology”. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements 72: 169–88.

Roden, David. 2014. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. London: Routledge.

 

6 thoughts on “Seminar on Brandom and Posthumanism – 4th March

  1. “This strongly suggests that interpretationist and pragmatist accounts cannot explain the semantic or the intentional without regressing to assumptions about ideal interpreters or background practices whose scope they are incapable of delimiting. ”
    yes this is why I’ve always insisted that folks like Brandom (and most analytic philosophers) are being more prescriptive than descriptive (and have familial resemblances with those who have tried to craft universal grammars and or codes), and why the post-Wittgenstein enactivists/neuro-phenomenologists are on firmer grounds as a research agenda for understanding human-being:

    Click to access cradle.pdf

  2. I’ve read “Explaining the Normative” – is that the one you mean? Maybe it isn’t – I can only recall a few scattered references to mirror neurones, there.

    Thanx also for the Cowley essay – just glanced through it, but it looks good.

    Interesting point about Brandom and universal grammar. As you imply, his project seems very different, but there may be some deep convergences there. I’m mainly concerned with critiquing transcendental claims about mind and language at the moment, which isn’t usually part of the agenda within Cartesian linguistics and psychosemantics. Whatever their problems, they don’t provide the resources for a bounded posthumanism in my sense.

  3. http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/B/bo3613287.html
    “Brains/Practices/Relativism presents the first major rethinking of social theory in light of cognitive science. Stephen P. Turner focuses especially on connectionism, which views learning as a process of adaptation to input that, in turn, leads to patterns of response distinct to each individual. This means that there is no common “server” from which people download shared frameworks that enable them to cooperate or communicate. Therefore, argues Turner, “practices”—in the sense that the term is widely used in the social sciences and humanities—is a myth, and so are the “cultures” that are central to anthropological and sociological thought.”

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