The concept of Cartesianism is that every and/or any thing that can be doubted must be discarded, and ideally formulated anew in order to be cemented in truthfulness. Doubting is the first way of determining whether something is useful, and if it isn’t, you discard what you know and basically reinvent it in such a way that is useful. We apply this Cartesianism in a social context when we look at society, politics and the interactions of people on any communicative grounds.
This would include linguistics, thinking and any other forms of interaction that form any kind of groundwork for social and societal interaction. Using Cartesianism, we can draw distinctions between such things. We will look at the notions of language, reasoning and thinking, in terms of the works of two philosophers, Robert Brandom and John Haugeland, with the emphasis on comparing and contrasting their unique views. Brandom: Freedom, Norms, Reason and Thought
Robert Brandom’s views on personal freedom were rooted in the difference between how he perceived his forerunners on the subject matter; he compared and contrasted Kant and Hegel in his work ‘Freedom and Constraint by Norms’. In this work, he critically observes the foundation from which Kant and Hegel analyzed the ideas of personal freedom, as expressed – or refuted – by norms. In order to set out these principles – freedom and norms – we must first define them. Brandom had this to say about Kant’s viewpoint:
One of the most suggestive responses to the first set of concerns has been developed by the Kantian tradition: the doctrine that freedom consists precisely in being constrained by norms rather than merely by causes, answering to what ought to be as well as what is. (1979, p. 187). We assume the fact here that norms are things which become established over time by society/community, and that they determine and decide how things should be done, by the individual and by the community.
Where Kant pragmatically argued that society used norms to determine the individual’s actions, Brandom also included how Hegel proposed a different approach, from a different angle: The central feature determining the character of any vision of human freedom is the account offered of positive freedom (freedom to) – those respects in which our activity should be distinguished from the mere lack of external causal constraint (freedom from) … (1979, p. 187). Brandom furthers his argument by taking his proposed solution into the domain of the linguistic.
He argues that the basis of norms, with regards to their use in regulating society and the individual’s role therein, requires creative expression from individuals in order to promote the Hegelian concept of idealistic, ‘positive’ freedom. Ultimately, Brandom proposes a post-Hegelian solution, one which builds on Hegel’s initial statements and ideally assists the advancement of individuals within a communal setting. In ‘A Social Route from Reasoning to Representing’, Brandom further explores the generally held principles that individual beings are capable of reasoning and reasonable thought processes.
Because of this inherent trait, fostered in the upbringing of each individual, truth by inference or deductive reasoning becomes a cornerstone of the thoughts and actions of every individual. The exploration of the difference between actually thinking and thinking about something is established and represented by the accepted standard that individuals move in social circles, and so influence each other’s ideas and notions of reason. Common ground is found in these motions, or as Brandom qualifies, “the representational dimension … reflects the social structure … in the game of giving and asking for reason.
Haugeland also argues that these norms are upheld by a communal motion to associate and create similarities between individuals: conformity. He further proposes that social normativity can be grounded in biological normativity – the same principles and arguments can be applied, but only insofar as human beings are capable of reason, and that a biological body by contrast follows certain predetermined, preprogrammed sets or rules, while a reasoning mind can necessarily adapt around or expand on conditions and work beyond them, as a biological preset cannot.
This supports the idea of governing norms being changeable, separate from objective truth. Also, social norms are enacted through the input of others, in a sense promoting a system where one member of the community checks up on the others, and vice versa. Haugeland’s case is concluded with an emphatic argument for the similarity and union between norms of reason (governing norms) and objective truth (factual norms) boiling down to being the same thing: both are in fact changeable, if in different, subjective ways.
With ‘Social Cartesianism’, Haugeland explores the work of three other philosophers, objectifying the reason for his assumptions based on the use of philosophy in language, which all three works – the works of Goodman, Quine and Wittgenstein/Kripke – explore in some form. The reason for this analysis is Cartesian in origin. The first work, by Goodman, is an argument based on defining predicates – accepted rules – and testing the limits of their acceptability, in true, doubtful, Cartesian style.
The work of Quine focuses on the elements of translation, of taking personally accepted norms and placing them over a culture with differing norms, thereby defining that culture according to our own way of doing things. Lastly, the debate ventured by Wittgenstein/Kripke is one of skepticism that proposes that all norms are social, not private: “In sum: if meanings must be normative, but individuals can’t impose norms on themselves, then private, individual meanings are impossible” (Haugeland, p. 219).
Haugeland extrapolates that each one of these arguments is fundamentally flawed, based on the conclusion he draws regarding each of the three works’ shortcomings: they all fail to account for the real world, the world that everyone lives in and is affected by. Brandom versus Haugeland Perhaps the most obvious similarity between Brandom and Haugeland’s individual accounts and reasoning is the fact that they approach the same kinds of topics: social situation, individuality, freedom, language and thought.
Despite various approaches and held viewpoints, both are compelled to a certain Cartesian way of doing things, of discarding everything or anything that is not beyond doubt and recreating these things anew by using sound reasoning. Brandom is fond of referencing Kant and Hegel and placing them in opposition against each other, most notably in stating their viewpoints from necessity and polarity: Kant held the view that norms dictated freedom and individuality, whereas Hegel was more positive in expressing his views on freedom ultimately determining norms.
In a similar fashion, Haugeland approached the subject of norms and normativity, and how they affected individuals, both linguistically and thoughtfully. We will look at the comparison of norms and normativity first, and then spread outward into linguistics and thought. The view of normativity being a deciding factor, most notably on a linguistic basis, for representing the two polarities of norms and facts, is upheld by both philosophers.
Brandom sees norms as something which is instituted based on reason, on the idea that they are something that is held by a communal mindset and imposed on the individual. Facts in turn are things which are accepted as a given by not only individuals but also by the community. Focusing on linguistics, Brandom draws on translation, on the action of placing or transposing one set of accepted norms – from, say, one community’s point of view – onto another community’s point of view. Note here that Haugeland also referenced the idea of translation in his critique of Quine’s work.
This poses the first real contrast between Brandom and Haugeland’s points of view: Brandom poses the idea that translation promotes assimilation: By translating, rather than causally explaining some performance, we extend our community (the one which engages in the social practices into which we translate the stranger’s behavior) so as to include the stranger, and treat his performances as variants of our own. (1979, p. 191). The act of making something your own, drawing something or someone in from outside your boundaries, speaks of a shift of norms.
Logically it can be argued that assimilating something new forces your way of thinking about something to be altered to accommodate what is new, even if what has been absorbed becomes a representation of something completely new and different. In this we see Brandom’s shift to the Hegelian idea of the novel, the new, being created in a positive sense in order to advance and enhance the communal whole. Haugeland contrasts by referencing Quine: “… although the translations are different, there is no fact as to which of them is the ‘right’ one, because there is no ‘objective matter to be right or wrong about’.
” (cited from Haugeland, ). Haugeland would seemingly disagree with Brandom’s use of translation as a means of successfully integrating norms, of taking norm and transforming it into fact. Translation still argues for something similar, not new: it presupposes a universal component that stretches through all languages. Judgment is another key concept, one bound to reason and thought. Brandom cites Kant once more in bringing to the fore the sense that one must act from thought, and that judging and acting requires a commitment, “staking a claim – undertaking a commitment” (1979, p. 164).
Brandom repeats the basis of linguistics, of the game played between people, based on inference and the inherent ability to deduce and conclude. An individual can naturally deduce something spoken or gestured from another individual by making a commitment to do so. This commitment relies heavily on the shared understanding between individuals, the factual norms that are referenced again and again as a means of achieving the communal awareness of similarity. Haugeland agrees here; linguistically, words must have a normal, generic meaning in order for the speaking individual to be understood.
There must be common ground. He continues by saying that “meanings, by their very nature, are normative rules,” and emphasizes this dilemma by citing this example: And the essential problem is that individuals cannot impose norms on themselves. For that would be like taking a dictator, with absolute legal authority, to be bound by her own law. But she can’t really be bound by her own law since, given her authority, if she changes her mind and does something different, that just changes the law – which is equivalent to saying that the law did not bind her in the first place.
Similarly … an individual cannot, on his own authority, bind himself by his private norm. (Haugeland, , p. 219). The crux of this comparison between Haugeland and Brandom is that both agree on the fact that law, in a sense, and rules, must be used to bind a norm, albeit a governing one – a norm based on reason. A person cannot be subject to his/her own norms, therefore the norms must be implemented from outside the individual; from the communal.
Coming back to the linguistic component again, we can logically assume that language as a means of communication forms a regulating basis here. The words, actions and judgment of others forces a certain conformity, a means whereby an individual can operate and coexist within a community. Thought has always been at the core of the human need to define him/herself. The adage cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) has been advanced to more complex statements. Rene Descartes advanced dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum (Latin for I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am) (Persaud, p. 259).
Cartesian philosophy dwells deeply on thought processes, so it should be unsurprising that both Brandom and Haugeland spent some thought on the dynamics of applying Cartesian methods on the thought process. Haugeland praised Descartes’ input, going further than the original assumptions made by Descartes and stating that “The determinacy that matters here concerns not the formal reality of those ideas … but rather their objective reality (roughly their intentional content as representations. ) (Haugeland, , p. 224). In other words, Haugeland implies that human individuals in isolation, as subjectively separate, is fairly unimportant.
What matters ultimately is the collective, the union of all individuals in an objective community, not necessarily defined by the community but by their place in it, and their unique contributions to it. Brandom seems to agree by stating: The social dimension of inference [deduction] involved in the communication to others of claims that must be available as reasons [common ground] both to the speaker [individual] and to the audience [collective, community], in spite of differences in collateral commitments, is what underlies the representational dimension of discourse [communication]. (2000, p. 183).
Summed up, the previous statement can be matched to Haugeland’s assumptions: the community is not the only important thing, but in order for norms, rules and laws to make sense regarding thought, language and freedom, the community or collective needs to operate on a standard of shared understanding, so that each unique individual can still function and interact with others despite the individuality. Conclusion Through using Cartesian principles regarding the discovery of usefulness, we have come to the conclusion that, with regards to using doubt as a means of determining an outcome or a reality, pragmatism is in fact a necessary element.
Reality, as Haugeland would have us believe, is not simply determined by the individuals, communities and their norms only, but rather arises from the world we live in first, before casting a shadow of effects over the individual and the rest. We have argued that Brandom and Haugeland, though often different in their modes of expression and discourse, are nevertheless in agreement on many of the key aspects regarding norms, whether factual or governing, subjective or objective.
At the end, Cartesian doubt influences thought, and thought influences language and interaction between people, yielding a collected sense of understanding and finally yielding a system of laws, rules and judgments that govern and regulate society and community. However, in conclusion it is perhaps better to emphasize Hegel’s idealism – as opposed to Kant’s pragmatism: that freedom be positive, to allow for creativity within the system and to not be bound by external causes such as rules and laws only. References Brandom, R. B. (2000). A Social Route from Reasoning to Representing.
Articulating Reasons: an Introduction to Inferentialism. Cambridge, Harvard University Press. Brandom, R. B. (1979). Freedom and Constraint by Norms. American Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 16, 13, 87-196. Haugeland, J. (). Social Cartesianism. 213-225. Haugeland, J. (1998). Truth and Rule-following. Having Thought: Essays in the metaphysics of mind. Cambridge, Harvard University Press. Persaud, R. (2002) Ten Books. The British Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 181, 258-261, Retrieved May 17, 2008, from http://bjp. rcpsych. org/cgi/content/full/181/3/258.