Concepts of Objects as Prescribing Laws: A Kantian and Pragmatist Line of Thought

In Robert Stern and Gabriele Gava, eds., Pragmatism, Kant, and Transcendental Philosophy (London: Routledge): pp. 196–216. London, UK: pp. 196-216 (2016)
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Abstract: This paper traces a Kantian and pragmatist line of thinking that connects the ideas of conceptual content, object cognition, and modal constraints in the form of counterfactual sustaining causal laws. It is an idea that extends from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason through C. I. Lewis’s Mind and the World-Order to the Kantian naturalism of Wilfrid Sellars and the analytic pragmatism of Robert Brandom. Kant put forward what I characterize as a modal conception of objectivity, which he developed as an extended argument stretching from the transcendental deduction through the analogies of experience to the regulative maxims of reason and reflective judgment. In related ways in Lewis and Sellars, the very idea of an object of knowledge (and of intentionality more generally) is connected with a certain lawfulness or modal constraint the necessary representation of which, they argue, is an achievement of conceptualization. While Sellars agreed with the spirit of Lewis’s famous pragmatic conception of the a priori, Sellars’s conception of meaning and conceptual content differed in crucial ways with important consequences for this issue. I argue furthermore that a certain phenomenalist temptation threatens to spoil this insight both among some of Kant’s interpreters and in Lewis’s thought. Finally, I point out that Brandom’s “Kant-Sellars thesis” provides new support for this line of thought. Although questions concerning idealism continue to raise controversies for neo-Kantians and pragmatists, the line of thought itself represents a distinctive and still promising approach to questions concerning intentionality and conceptual content.

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James O'Shea
University College Dublin


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