Brandom on Truth

One of the essays reprinted in Brandom’s Reason in Philosophy (2009) was “Why Truth Is Not Important in Philosophy”. Epistemic conscientiousness and the honesty that I largely equate with it are still important; it is the explanatory and justificatory role of truth that he wants to question. For Brandom, inferential goodness explains and justifies claims of truth rather than the other way around. Saying an assertion is true is a lot like just repeating the assertion; it adds no content.

Brandom argues that Frege understood propositional contentfulness in terms of being able to play the functional role of a premise or conclusion in an inference, and suggests going beyond Frege to say that truth just is what is preserved by good inference. Brandom wants to say that inference is constitutive and truth is constituted. We seek not just knowledge but understanding, and not just truth but reasonableness.

All this seems entirely right to me. Though unlike Brandom in Spirit of Trust I do still see a positive role for truth-as-goal, I take this in a Socratic ethical sense that belongs entirely on the side of epistemic conscientiousness, so the difference is not large. (See also Inferential Semantics; Normative Pragmatics.)

(Working with a notion of inference that was simultaneously formal and material, Aristotle made inferential goodness the main criterion of episteme, so I think he would also be sympathetic to the thrust here. See also Aristotelian Propositions.)