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Action, Norms, and Practical Reasoning Author(s): Robert Brandom Reviewed work(s): Source: Nos, Vol.

32, Supplement: Philosophical Perspectives, 12, Language, Mind, and Ontology (1998), pp. 127-139 Published by: Wiley-Blackwell Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2676143 . Accessed: 11/11/2012 11:21
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Philosophical Perspectives 12 LangzzageMind and Ontology 1998


Robert Brandom University of Pittsburgh

In this paperI aim to do threethings, correspondingto the threepieces of my title: * To explain the expressive role that distinguishes specifically normative vocabulary.That is, to say what it is the job of such vocabularyto make explicit. Doing this is saying what 'ought' means. * To introducea non-Humeanway of thinking aboutpracticalreasoning. * To offer a broadlyKantianaccount of the will as a rationalfaculty of prac. .

tlca. . reasonlng.

The idea is to do that by exploiting the structuralanalogies between discursive exit transitionsin action and discursive entry transitionsin perception to show how the rationalwill can be understoodas no more philosophically mysterious than our capacity to notice red things. Practicalreasoningoften leads to action, so it is clear thatthereis an intimate connection between these two elements of my title. But one might wonder:why action and norms? Let me start with some background.The beginning of wisdom in thinking about these matters (as for so many others) is to look to Kant: the great, grey motherof us all. For we are in the privileged position of being downstreamfrom the fundamentalconceptual sea-change effected by the replacementof concern with Cartesiancertaintyby concern with Kantiannecessity-that is, of concern with our grip on concepts (is it clear? is it distinct?)by concern with theirgrip on us (is this rule binding on us? is it applicableto this case?). Kant's big idea is that what distinguishes judgment and action from the responses of merely natural creaturesis neithertheirrelationto some special stuff nor theirpeculiartransparency, but ratherthat they are what we are in a distinctive way responsible for. They express commitments of ours: commitmentsthat we are answerablefor in

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128 / Robert Brandom the sense thatour entitlement to them is always potentiallyat issue, commitments thatare rational in the sense that vindicating the correspondingentitlementsis a matterof offering reasonsfor them. Another big idea of Kant's-seeing the judgment as the smallest unit of experience is a consequence of the first one. The logic he inheritedstartedwith a doctrine of terms,divided into the singular and the general, proceeded to a doctrineofjudgment (understood in terms of the predicationof a general termof a singular one), and thence to a doctrine of consequences or inferences. Kant starts with judgment because that is the smallest unit for which we can be responsible.(This thought is taken over by Frege, who begins with the units to which pragmaticforce can attach, and Wittgenstein, who looks at the smallest expressionswhose utterancemakes a move in the languagegame.) It is underthis rubricthatjudgment is assimilated to action. A third Kantianidea is then to understandbothjudgmentand action as the applicationof concepts. He does thatby understanding concepts as the rulesthat determinewhat knowers and agents are responsiblefor what they have committed themselves to. I am going to discuss the topics of my title action, norms, and practical reasoning in the idiom I develop in my book, Making ItExplicit.1 To begin with, I will work within the context of what I call there a normative pragmatics. Specifically, I think of discursive practice as deontic scorekeeping:the significance of a speech act is how it changeswhatcommitmentsandentitlementsone attributes and acknowledges. I work also within the context of an inferential semantics. Thatis, discursive commitments(to begin with, doxastic ones) are distinguished by their specifically inferential articulation:what counts as evidence for them, what else they commit us to, what othercommitmentsthey are incompatiblewith in the sense of precluding entitlement to. This is a reading of what it is for the normsin questionto be specifically conceptual norms.The overall idea is thatthe rationalitythat qualifies us as sapients(and not merely sentients) can be identified with being a player in the social, implicitly normativegame of offering and assessing, producingand consuming, reasons. I furtherendorse an expressive view of logic.That is, I see the characteristic role that distinguishes specifically logical vocabularyas being making explicit, in the form of a claim, features of the game of giving and asking for reasons in virtue of which bits of nonlogical vocabulary play the roles that they do. The paradigmis the conditional. Before introducingthis locution, one can do something, namely endorse an inference. After introducingthe conditional, one can now say thatthe inference is a good one. The expressive role of the conditionalis to make explicit,in the form of a claim, what before was implicit in our practice of distinguishing some inferences as good. Giving and asking for reasons for actionsis possible only in the context of practicesof giving and asking for reasonsgenerally thatis, of practicesof making and defending claimsorjudgments. For giving a reason is always expressing a judgment:making a claim. That is, practicalreasoningrequiresthe availability of beliefs (doxastic commitments)as premises. On the side of the consequences of acquisition of practical deontic statuses, it appears in the essential role that

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Action, Norms, and Practical Reasoning / 129

propositional,that is, assertible, contents play in specifying conditions of success: that is, what would count as fulfilling a commitment to act. Forming an a commitment)to put a ball througha hoop requiresknowintention(undertaking ing what it is to put a ball througha hoop-what must be truefor thatintentionto I claim that one can exsucceed.(This is a point about explanatoryautonomy: plain the role of beliefs in theoreticalreasoning (leading from claims to claims) first, withoutneeding to appeal to practicalreasoning,while I do not believe one can do things in the opposite order.) II of actionI am sketchingis motivatedby a threetruisms,andtwo The treatment moreinterestingideas. First,beliefs make a differenceboth to what we say,andto what we do. We license others to infer our beliefs (or, as I will say, our doxastic commitments)both from our explicit claims and from our overt intentional actions. Next is a (by now familiar) lesson we have been taughtby Anscombe and Davidson.2Actions are performancesthat are intentional under some specificacan genuinelybe thingsdoneeven thoughtheyhavemany tion.3Suchperformances specificationsunderwhich they arenotintentional.A third,companionidea is that at least one way a specification of a performancecan be privileged as one under which it is intentionalis by figuring as the conclusion of a piece of practicalreasoning that exhibits the agent's reasons for producingthatperformance. in favor of primaryreaDavidson's original idea was to eliminate intentions desires). pro-attitudes (paradigmatically, sons,understoodin termsof beliefsand My first idea is to startinstead with normativestatuses and attitudescorrespondI'll try to explain desires,and more generally, the ing to beliefsand intentions. vocabulary,in terms of those beliefs and pro-attitudesexpressed by normative intentions. The thought is that there are two species of discursive commitment: the cognitive (or doxastic), and the practical.The latterare commitmentsto act. acknowlAcknowledgmentsof the first sort of commitmentcorrespondto beliefs; The first edgments of the second sort of commitment correspondto intentions. are takings-true,the second makings-true.Practical commitments are like doxastic commitments in being essentially inferentially articulated.They stand in inferentialrelationsboth among themselves (both means-end and incompatibility) and to doxastic commitments. The second basic idea motivatingthe present account is thatthe noninferential relations between acknowledgmentsof practicalcommitmentsand states of affairs broughtabout by intentionalactioncan be understoodby analogy to the noninferentialrelationsbetween acknowledgmentsof doxastic commitmentsand the states of affairs they are brought about by through conceptually contentful

a) Observation(a discursive entrytransition)depends on reliable dispositions to respond differentiallyto states of affairs of various kinds by ac-

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130 / RobertBrandom

knowledging certain sorts of commitments,that is, by adopting deontic attitudesand so changing the score. b) Action (a discursive exit transition)depends on reliable dispositions to respond differentially to the acknowledging of certain sorts of commitments, the adoptionof deontic attitudesand consequentchange of score, by bringing about various kinds of states of affairs. Elaboratingthe first idea (modeling intention on belief as correspondingto inferentially articulatedcommitments) involves examining the sense in which practical reasons are reasons;elaboratingthe second idea (modeling action on perception, discursive exits on discursive entries) involves examining the sense in which practicalreasons are causes.It is this latteridea thatmakes sense of the distinction, so crucial to Davidson, between actingfor a reason, and merely acting witha reason. Put in terms of the deontic scorekeeping model of discursive practice, the idea is that intentions are to reasonsas commitments are to entitlements. It follows thaton this model, Davidson would be wrong to say that"someonewho acts with a certainintentionacts for a reason."Forjust as one can undertakedoxastic or theoreticalcommitments to which one is not entitled by reasons, so one can undertakepracticalcommitments to which one is not entitled by reasons. What makes a performancean actionis that it is, or is produced by the exercise of a reliable differentialdisposition to respondto, the acknowledgmentof a practical commitment.That acknowledgmentneed not itself have been producedas a response to the acknowledgmentof othercommitmentsinferentiallyrelatedto it as entitlement-conferring reasons. (Though thatit couldbe so elicited is essential to its being the acknowledgmentof a practicalcommitment.) III The strategyof trying to understanddesires, and the pro-attitudesexpressed by normativevocabularymore generally,in terms of their relationto beliefs and intentions instead of the more orthodox Humean and Davidsonian strategyof starting with beliefs and desires requires thinking about practical reasoning somewhat differently.Consider the following three bits of practicalreasoning: cr) Only opening my umbrellawill keep me dry, so I shall open my umbrella. ,8) I am a bank employee going to work, so I shall wear a necktie. y) Repeating the gossip would harm someone, to no purpose, so I shall not repeatthe gossip. 'Shall' is used here to express the significance of the conclusion as the acknowledging of a practicalcommitment.('Will' would be used correspondinglyto express a doxastic commitmentto a prediction.)

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Action, Norms, and Practical Reasoning / 131

The Davidsonianapproachtreatsthese as enthymemes,whose missing premises might be filled in by something like: a) I want (desire, prefer) to stay dry. b) Bank employees are obliged (required)to wear neckties. c) It is wrong (one ought not) to harmanyone to no purpose. (Orthodoxcontemporaryhumeanswould insist that something is missing in the second two cases, even when (b) and (c) are supplied.More on thatthoughtlater.) This enthymematic thesis is parallel on the side of practical reasoning to the insistence that theoretical reasoning be ScompletedS by the addition of conditionals, which assert the proprietyof the materialinferences involved, and transform the move into something that isformally valid. Sellars teaches us that that move is optional. We need not treat all correct inferences as correct in virtue of their form, supplying implicit or suppressedpremises involving logical vocabulary as needed. Instead,we can treatinferences such as thatfrom "Pittsburghis to the West of Philadelphia,"to "Philadelphiais to the East of Pittsburgh," or from "It is raining,"to "The streets will be wet," as materially good inferences that is inferencesthatare good because of the contentof theirnonlogical vocabulary.4 I proposeto adoptthis nonformaliststrategyin thinkingaboutpracticalinferences. One reasonto do so is thatthe notion offormally validinferencesis definable in a naturalway from the notion of materially correct inferences,while thereis no converse route. For given a subset of vocabulary that is privileged or distinguished somehow, an inference can be treatedas good in virtue of its form, with respect to that vocabulary,just in case it is a materially good inference and it cannot be turned into a materially bad one by substituting non-privileged for non-privileged vocabulary, in its premises and conclusions. this substitutional notion of formally good inferences need have nothing special to do with logic.If it is specifically logical form that is of interest, then one must antecedently be able to distinguishsome vocabularyas peculiarlylogical. Once thatis done, it can be treated as the vocabulary that is privileged in the sense that motivates us to look for proprietiesof inference that are invariantunder substitutionsfor all but that logical vocabulary.But if one were instead to pick out theological (or aesthetic) vocabulary as privileged, then looking at which substitutions of nontheological (or non-aesthetic) vocabulary for non-theological (non-aesthetic) vocabularypreservematerialgoodness of inference will pick out inferencesgood in virtue of their theological (or aesthetic) form. According to this way of thinking, the formal goodness of inferences derives from and is explained in terms of the material goodness of inferences, and so ought not to be appealed to in explaining it. This account contrastswith the standardorder of explanation, which treats all inferences as good or bad solely in virtue of theirform, with the contentsof the claims they involve matteringonly for the truthof the (implicit) premises. According to this way of setting things out, there is no such thing as materialinference. This view, which understands"good inference" to mean "formally valid

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132 / Robert Brandom

inference",postulating implicit premises as needed, might be called aformalist approachto inference. It tradesprimitivegoodnesses of inference for the truthof decide to talk this way. The point conditionals.I am not claiming that one cannot is just that one neednot. If one rejects the formalist orderof explanation,what should one say about the role of conditional claims, such as "If Pittsburghis to the West of PhiladelThe claim is that although phia, thenPhiladelphiais to the East of Pittsburgh"? in order to license the premises as explicit be added such conditionals need not inference from their antecedentsto their consequents, they nonetheless serve to make explicit-in the form of a claim the otherwise merely implicit endorsement of a materialproprietyof inference. Before we have conditionals on board, we can do something, namely treat certain materialinferences as correct. Once we have the expressive power of those logical locutions, we come to be able to say that they are good. The expressivist line about logic sees conditionals as makingimplicitmaterialinferentialcommitmentsexplicit, in the formof claimsbut as not requiredto make the inferences they explicitate good inferences. Indeed, on this view, playing such an explicitatingexpressive role is precisely what distinguishes some vocabularyas distinctively logical. IV I want to treat It is raining .e.I shall open my umbrella.

A) like


It is raining .e. The streets will be wet.

one is an enthymeme. and say that neither The Davidsonian will respond that we can see that the reason offered in the first case is incomplete, because the inference would not go throughif I did not want to stay dry.But I think thatwhat we really know is ratherthat the inference desire: say, the Gene Kelly desire to sing would not go throughif I had a contrary and dance in the rain, and so to get wet. But the fact that conjoining a premise incompatiblewith the desire to stay dry would infirm the inference (turnit into a bad one) does not show that the desire was all along already functioning as an implicit premise. There would be a case for that conclusion only if the reasoning involved were monotonic that is, if the fact that the inference from p to q is a good one meantthatthe inference fromp&rto q must be a good one. (So thatthe fact that the latteris not a good argumentsettled it that the former isn't either.) But materialinference is not in general monotonic even on the theoretical side. It can be in special cases, say in mathematicsand fundamentalphysics. But

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Action, Norms, and Practical Reasoning / 133

it never is in ordinaryreasoning, and almost never in the special sciences. (Reasoning in clinical medicine, for instance, is resolutely nonmonotonic.) Consider the argumentsthat are codified in the following conditionals: i) If I strike this dry, well-made match, then it will light. [poq] ii) If p and the match is in a very strong electromagneticfield, then it will not light. [p&ro q] iii) Ifp andr andthe matchis in a Faraday cage, thenit will light. [p&r&soq] iv) If p andr ands andthe room is evacuatedof oxygen, then it will notlight.

[p&r&s&to q]
. . .

The reasoningwe actually engage in always permits the constructionof inferential hierarchieswith oscillating conclusions like this. A certain kind of formalist aboutlogic will want to insist, for reasons of high theory,that materialinference mustbe like formal inference in being monotonic. And at this point in the dialectic, such a monotonous formalistwill invoke ceterisparibusclauses. I do not want to claim that invoking such clauses ("all other things being equal")is incoherent or silly. But we must be careful how we understandthe expressive role they play. For they cannot(I want to say, in principle)be cashed out; theircontent cannot be made explicit in the form of a series of additionalpremises. They are not shorthandfor somethingwe couldsay if we took the time or the trouble.The problemis notjust thatwe would need an infinite list of the conditionsbeing ruled out though that is true. It is that the membershipof such a list would be indefinite:we don't know how to specify in advancewhat belongs on the list. If we try to solve this problemby a generalcharacterization, we get something equivalent to: "ceteris paribus,q follows fromp" means that "qfollows fromp unless there is some infirming or interfering condition."But this is just to say that q follows fromp except in the cases where for some reason it doesn't. I would contend that ceteris paribusclauses should be understoodas explicitly markingthe nonmonotonicityof an inference,ratherthanas a deusexmachina that magically removes its nonmonotonicity.The materialinference (i) above is just fine as it stands. But if one wants explicitly to acknowledge that, even so, it can form the base of an oscillating hierarchyof inferences of the form of (ii), (iii), (iv), and so on, then one can do so by reformulatingit as: i' ) If I strike this dry, well-made match, then ceterisparibus,it will light. Like their theoretical brethren,material proprieties of practicalreasoning are nonmonotonic.So the fact thatif I add "Iwant to get wet," as a second premise to inference (A) above the resultinginferenceno longer goes throughdoes notshow that the denialof thatpremise was alreadyimplicit. That would be the case only if materialpracticalinferences were monotonic. In any case, as we will see, there is anotherway to go. We could think of the expressive role of avowals of desire

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134 / RobertBrandom

as being analogous, on the practical side, to that of the conditional, on the theoretical side: as functioningnot as apremise, but as makingexplicit the inferential commitmentthat permits the transition.

With this background,I can state my fundamentalthesis: normative vocabulary (including expressions of preference) makes explicit the endorsement (attributed or acknowledged) of materialproprieties of practicalreasoning. Normative vocabularyplays the same expressive role on the practicalside that conditionals do on the theoretical side. The idea is that the broadly normativeor evaluative vocabularyused in (a), (b), and (c) ('prefer', 'obliged', and 'ought') which Davidson understandsas expressing the pro attitudes needed to turn the incomplete reasons offered as premises in (cr), (,8), and (y) into complete reasons-is used to make explicit in assertible, propositionalform the endorsementof a patternof materialpractical inferences. Different patternsof inference should be understoodas corresponding to different sorts of norms or pro attitudes. For instance, an attributorwho takes (cr) to be entitlement preserving will also take cg' ) Only standingunderthe awning will keep me dry, so I shall stand underthe awning. cr" ) Only remainingin the car will keep me dry, so I shall remainin the car. and a host of similar inferences to have that status. Doing so is implicitly attributing a preferencefor staying dry.(Notice thatbecause desires can compete, they provide only prima facie reasons for acting. Acknowledging the nonmonotonicity of practicalreasoning,however, alreadyprovidesfor the featuresof reasoning that are normally dealt with by introducingsuch a notion.) The norm, rule, or requirementthat bank employees wear neckties is what makes going to work into a reason for wearing a necktie, for bank employees. Takingit that there is such a norm or requirementalso just is endorsinga pattern of practicalreasoning:taking (X3) to be a good inferencefor anyone who is a bank employee. This inferentialpatternis differentfrom that exhibited by (cr) in two ways. First, there need not be for each interlocutorfor whom (,8) is taken to be a good inference a set of other inferences correspondingto (cr),(cg' ),( cr"). Instead, there will be related inferences such as: ,/3' ) I am a bank employee going to work, so I shall not wear a clown costume. ,/3" ) I am a bank employee going to work, so I shall comb my hair.

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Action, Norms, and Practical Reasoning / 135

But these are not licensed by the norm made explicit in (b), but only by others associated with the same social institutionalstatus (being a bank employee). Second, the scorekeeperwill take (,8) to be a good inference for any interdoxastic commitmentto the claim locutorA such thatthe scorekeeperundertakes a desire or acknowledgment opposed to attributing thatAis a bankemployee as of a commitment.Here the norm implicitly underwritingthe inference is associated with having a certain status, as employee of a bank, ratherthan with exhibiting a certain desire or preference. Whether one has a good reason to wear a necktie just depends on whether or not one has occupies the status in question. This pattern,where what mattersis the scorekeeper's undertakingof a commitment to A's occupying the status, ratherthanA's acknowledgmentof that comsense of 'good reasonfor action' (according mitment,correspondsto an objective to the scorekeeper).In this sense, thatA is preparingto go to work can be a good reason for A to wear a necktie, even thoughA is not in a position to appreciateit as such. [Comparethe sense in which one' s reliabilityas a reportercan entitle one to a claim (in the eyes of a scorekeeper), even if one is not aware that one is reliable, and so not aware of one's entitlement.] Endorsementof practicalreasoningof the sort of which (y) is representative, codified in the form of a normativeprincipleby (c), correspondsto an inferential commitment exhibiting a patterndifferent from those involved in either (cr) or for A takes it (,8). For a scorekeeperwho takes (y) to be entitlement-preserving regardlessof desires or preferences,and for anyone, to be entitlement-preserving regardlessof social status. norms and unconditional (or instrumental),institutional, These prudential (made explicit by corresponding'ought's) are meant only as threerepresentative varieties, not as an exhaustive list. But they show how different sorts of norms correspondto differentpatternsof practicalreasoning.The idea is thatnormative vocabularyis a kind of logicalvocabulary,in my expressive sense: its expressive function is to make explicit commitmentsto inferences. To endorse a practicalinference as entitlementpreservingis to take the doxastic premises as providing reasons for the practical conclusion. To exhibit a piece of good practical reasoning whose conclusion is a certain intention is to as reasonexhibit thatintention,and the action (if any) thatit elicits, as rational, able in the light of the commitments exhibited in the premises. Thus all of the 'ought's thatmake explicit species of practicalreasoningtakenas examples here, the prudential'ought', the institutional 'ought', and the unconditional 'ought', aredifferentkinds of rational'ought'. Thereis no a priorireasonto assimilateall such 'ought's to any one form-for instance the prudential(Humean totalitaritheorists (such as Gauthier)do. Recall also anism), as rationality-as-maximizing that the entitlementprovided by prudentialor institutionalreasons need not be as Davidson points out, we need not take the agent's endorsedby the attributor; reasons to be goodreasons. Fromthe point of view of this botanizationof patternsof practicalreasoning (which I do not pretendis complete) the humean and the kantianeach have too

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136 / RobertBrandom

restricted a notion of reasons for action. Each pursues a Procrusteanorder of explanation: * The humeanassimilates all reasonsfor action to the first pattern.(Thus the humeanwill see the inferences like (,8) and (y) as incomplete, even with the addition of premises (b) and (c).) * The kantianassimilates all reasons for action to the third pattern. The humean denies that a mere obligation or commitment could provide a reason for action, unless accompaniedby some desire to fulfill it. And the kantian denies that a mere desire (sinnlich Neigung) could provide a reason for action, unless accompaniedby the acknowledgmentof some correspondingobligation or commitment. VI A picture of the rationalwill emerges if we combine these three ideas: * the belief model of intending the idea of modeling practical commitments on doxastic ones, * the picture of practicalreasoning as relating beliefs as premises to intentions as conclusions, and * the modeling of actions as discursive exit transitions on perceptions as discursive entry transitions. It is importantto rememberto begin with that acknowledging a practical commitment is not understoodon the model of promising, but of claiming.5 In particular,the commitmentis not to anyone in particular,and one can change one' s mind anytime, essentially without penalty. In both these respects, the practical commitmentsthatcorrespondto intentionsare like doxastic commitments,rather than like promises. But while a commitmentis in force, it has consequences:for otherpracticalcommitments(and hence entitlementsto practicalcommitments), via means-endreasoningand considerationof practicalincompatibilities,andfor doxastic commitments(and hence entitlementto doxastic commitments).Scorekeepersare licensed to infer ourbeliefs from our intentionalactions (in context of course), as well as from our speech acts. Acting with reasons is being entitled to one's practicalcommitments.Having this status is being intelligible to oneself and to others. This status can be vindicatedby offering a suitable samplepiece of practicalreasoning(which need not actually have preceded the acknowledgment or performancein question). That piece of practicalreasoning explains why one did as one did: what reasons one had. This means thatin particularcases, one can act intentionallybut without reasons. But the capacity to acknowledge propositionally contentful practical

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Action, Norms, and PracticalReasoning / 137

commitments will be attributedonly to those whose performancesare largely intelligible. The modeling of action on perceptionregistersthe crucialfact thatacknowledgmentsof commitmentscan cause andbe caused. Kantdefines the rationalwill as the capacity to derive performancesfrom conceptions of laws.6I am suggesting that we can replace "conceptionof a law," in this formulationby "acknowledgment of a commitment." 'Law' is Kant's term for a binding rule a norm. One's conception of a law is what one takes oneself to be obliged to do. Having a rationalwill, then, can be understoodas having the capacity to respondreliably to one's acknowledgment of a commitment (of a norm as binding on one) by differentiallyproducingperformancescorrespondingto the content of the commitmentacknowledged.But perceptionis strictly analogous, on the input side. It is a capacity to respond differentially to the presence of, say, red things, by accontent.The one capacityshould with a corresponding knowledginga commitment in principle appearas no more mysterious than the other.According to this picture, we are rationalcreaturesexactly insofar as our acknowledgmentof discursive commitments(both doxastic andpractical)makes a differenceto what we go on to do. Priorintentionsareacknowledgmentsof practicalcommitmentsthatare distinct from and antecedentto the responsive performancesthey are reliably differentially disposed to elicit. In other cases (intentions-in-action)the production of the performancemay be the acknowledgment of the practical commitment. Prior intentions involve practical commitments to produce performancesmeeting generaldescriptions.Intentions-in-actionare acknowledgmentsof practical commitmentsconsisting of performancesthat are intentionalunder demonstrative specifications (e.g. "I shall jump now.").(These are Sellars' 'volitions'"priorintentionswhose time has come"7, a category rescued from the mistake of as minitnal actionsthat are safe in that they preclude the conceiving 'tryings' are conceived possibility offailure,just as, and for the same reasons, 'seemings' that are safe in that they preclude the possibility of error.8) as minimal knowings One is a reliable agent (compare:reliable perceiver) with respect to a range of circumstancesand a range of contents of practicalcommitmentswhen one is so disposed that under those circumstancesone's prior intentions with those coninto correspondingintentions-in-action. tents conditionally mature One nice feature of this story is that what is expressed by the normative 'should' is related to what is expressed by the intentional 'shall' as third-person usage to first-person usage that is, as attributingpractical commitments (to others) is relatedto acknowledgingpracticalcommitments(oneself ). The use of normatlve vocabulary such as 'should' expresses the attributionto an agent of commitmentto a patternof practicalreasoning,while the use of 'shall' expresses acknowledgmentby the agent of the sort of practicalcommitmentthatcan appear as the conclusion of such practicalreasoning.It is those acknowledgmentsthatin competentagents arekeyed to the productionof the correspondingperformances under favorable conditions. This relationshipprovides a way to make sense of

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138 / Robert Brandom

Forthatphenomenonariseswhen self-attributions weaknessof the will (akrasia). (which would be made explicit by statements of the of practical commitments of do not have the causal significance of acknowledgments form "I should...") practicalcommitments(which would be made explicit by statementsof the form "I shall...").In this form, the possibility of incompatible intentions is no more mysterious than that of incompatibleclaims (or for that matter,promises). Notice thatDavidson startedoff only with intentions-in-action the case, on the presentaccount, where the performanceis the acknowledgmentof a practical commitment.He laterintroducesintendings,but he construesthem as judgments that some performanceis "desirable,good, or what ought to be done". Since he does not tell us what these normativeterms mean, this is objectionablycircular. By startingelsewhere, we have seen how to make independentsense of the expressive role of normativevocabulary. Finally, notice that this account distinguishes: a) acting intentionally,which is acknowledginga practicalcommitment,either in, or by producing,a correspondingperformance. b) acting with reasons, which is being entitled to such a commitment. c) acting for reasons, which is the case where reasons are causes, when acknowledgmentof practical commitment is elicited by properreasoning.

VII I said at the outset that in this paperI aimed to do three things:

vo* Explain the expressive role that distinguishes specifically normative cabulary.That is, to say what it is the job of such vocabulary to make
. .


* To introducea non-Humeanway of thinking aboutpracticalreasoning. * To offer a broadlyKantianaccountof the will as a rationalfaculty of prac. .

tlca. . reasonlng,

analogiesbetween discursiveexit transitionsin action by exploiting the structural and discursive entrytransitionin perceptionto show how the rationalwill can be understoodas no more philosophicallymysteriousthanour capacityto notice red things.Although the accountI have offered has of necessity been telegraphic,its goal has been to fulfill that discursive practicalcommitment. Notes
1. HarvardUniversity Press 1994. The ideas presentedhere are discussed there in more detail in the second half of Chapter4.

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Action,Norms, andPractical Reasoning/ 139

2. G.E.M. Anscombe, Intention (Blackwell, 1959), and Donald Davidson, originally in "Actions,Reasons, and Causes", reprintedin ActionsandEvents(Oxford University Press, 1984). 3. Not necessarily a description, at least if that category is conceived narrowly.For, as will emerge below (in section V), it is importantthat the specifications in question can include demonstrative and indexical elements. 4. Wilfrid Sellars, "Inferenceand Meaning",reprintedin J. Sicha (ed.) PurePragmatics Sellars(Ridgeview Publishing, ReandPossibleWorlds: TheEarlyEssaysof Wilfrid seda CA, 1980). 5. In particular, the notion of the sort of commitmentundertakingby making a claim that It Explicit. is elaboratedin ChapterThree of Making 6. Critique of Practical Judgment, section 7. (RanandDeterminism 7. "Thoughtand Action", p. 110 in Keith Lehrer(ed.) Freedom dom House, 1966). 8. I discuss Sellars on 'seems' in my Study Guide, includedin WilfridSellars'Empiricism and thePhilosophy of Mind(tIarvardUniversity Press, 1997), in the commentaryto It Explicit, pp. 294section 16, pp.139-144. I discuss the parallel with 'try' in Making 295.

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