Pragmatism, Idealism, and the Modal Menace: Rorty, Brandom, and Truths about Photons

The European Legacy 19 (2):174-186 (2014)
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In a short exchange published in 2000, Richard Rorty and Robert Brandom differed over the status of “facts” in a world containing no speakers and, hence, no speech acts. While Brandom wanted to retain the meaningfulness of talk of “facts” or “truths” about things—in this case truths about photons —in a world in which there could be no claimings about such things, Rorty denied the existence of any such “worldly items” as “facts.” In this essay the difference between Rorty and Brandom on this issue is used to explore their differing attitudes to modality. Brandom appeals to a Kantian approach of modal realism to support counterfactual claims. However, I argue that when his approach to modality is examined in the context of current debates over possible world semantics, his own “incompatibilist” semantics itself seems incompatible with a Kantian approach to modality. In turn, I suggest that this difference between Brandom and Rorty in their attitudes to modality reveals a difference in their respective attitudes to pragmatism’s relation to philosophy in general.
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