Aristotle and Brandom?

For the second time, I think I discovered a significant new insight into a major Aristotelian concept by thinking it through in Brandomian terms. When I began this effort, Aristotle and Brandom were just the two philosophers with whom I was most engaged, who seemed to me to share my overarching concern with the ethical import of reasons and things said, but it is growing to be something more.

(To some, this might seem a strange pairing. However, in spite of his own lack of direct engagement with Aristotle, Brandom has commented that a number of his best interlocutors (unnamed) were what he called neo-Aristotelians. Certainly, Hegel — the historic philosopher with whom Brandom has been most engaged — makes major use of Aristotle, and Brandom’s co-thinkers on Hegel, Robert Pippin and Terry Pinkard, have highlighted this.)

Earlier, I noted a kind of isomorphism between Aristotelian potentiality and Brandomian modally robust counterfactual inference, which then turned into a three-way correspondence with the structuralist concept of structure, and helped illuminate the old synchronic/diachronic issue associated with structuralism.

The other day, I noted a second isomorphism, between canonical Aristotelian proposition-forming combination and separation and Brandomian material consequence and material incompatibility. The result is that Aristotle’s canonical conception of logical truth seems very consistent with what Brandom recommends, in terms of using goodness of material inference to explain truth rather than using truth to explain inference.

Brandom has referred to this sort of interpretation as a recollective genealogy, grounded in Hegel’s way of retrospectively interpreting past philosophers in light of the present. Obviously there is a creative element to such an endeavor. The important and delicate point is that it not be an arbitrary imposition, but something that yields genuine insight that is both relevant to the present and honestly compatible with the best historiographic objectivity we can fallibly attain. In the two cases mentioned above, I think that has been achieved.

Going in the other direction, developing an Aristotelian interpretation of Brandom’s distinction between sentience and sapience has helped me to achieve full sympathy with this notion, and with several of Kant’s apparently dualistic moments as well.

Somewhat ambidextrously, it seems to me that Brandomian commitments, together with the sort of pattern of performance with respect to responsibility measured by Brandomian deontic scorekeeping, make up the ethical character or culture that Aristotle called ethos. (See also Ethos; Aristotelian Subjectivity; Brandomian Choice.)