Oct. 7, 2013
Written with a background in Sellars, Davidson, and Rorty
Reason and reasons
Experience: our contact with the would. Perhaps the key concept of the semester. Seems to be the link
between the world an ourselves. The bridge. We want language, our beliefs, to be about the world and
we can be sure that they are because of experience. (Sense data, impressions, images, perceptual data).
The philosophical problem is: how should we explain experience? In other words: how should we
explain the “aboutness”, the “intentionality” of our thoughts? In a sense, the semester is all about
Concepts: the realm of language, of beliefs, of thoughts. The ‘space of concepts.’ They are something
that we have. Insects and machines don’t have concepts. A key question here is: how do concepts
relate to experience?
Reason and Reasons: This is where justification happens. Rational discussion, rational deliberation The
‘space of reasons.’ The game of giving and asking for reasons (Brandom, Sellars). Thanks to concepts
we can play that game. That game brings the concepts of life, it’s wht makes them dynamic and not
static. The most basic aspect is judging.
Freedom: The space of reasons is the space of freedom. Kant links the space of reasons with
‘spontaneity’ and understanding. We are free – somehow – to accept something as being thus-and-so.
By judging, we exercise our freedom.
-we have the freedom to reject certain experiences
The Given, Coherentism, and the Seesaw
The non-conceptual Given
Non-conceptual Given – typically in experience
The temptation of the Given The idea of the Given: experience is a non-conceptual given. It is raw data from the world. It ensures
that our beliefs are about the world. It does so by playing a role in the game of giving and asking for
The Given here is not conceptual – on this picture, the space of reasons is larger than the space of
concepts, since the Given figures in reasons. In other words, experience is included in the space of
The Given is always tempting because of the ‘friction’ it is supposed to ensure between us and the
world. It is a ‘reassuring’ idea.
Picture of the Given (myth)
World [Given/experience/space of reasons (space of concepts) space of reasons /experience / Given]
Space of concepts = language
*Myth – we cannot appeal to anything other than language to understand the World. Hence, why the
Given is a myth. Nothing is given.
Experience is relied on in the space of reasons – experience gives us reasons
Space of reasons – space where you justify your beliefs by relying on experience –raw date
[experience (space of concepts/reasons) experience]
*experience is outside the space of reasons – you cannot appeal to experience to justify your beliefs
Only a belief can justify another belief
Beliefs cohere with all other beliefs
*Problem: loses the world. No foothold in experience.
A recoil from the Given
Given: cannot fulfill its role
Coherentism: no friction, losing the world
The problem is that these options are not satisfying. The Given is a myth. Its conception of experience
cannot do what it’s supposed to do. In that sense, Davidson is right when he says that only a belief can
justify another belief.
But this makes us recoil into a picture where experience loses its apparently crucial role – coherentism.
We lose friction. That’s problematic. It’s as if our beliefs are too free, we’re unconstrained. Experiences
cause but do not justify. It offeres us exculpations