Does language have a downtown? Wittgenstein, Brandom, and the game of “giving and asking for reasons”

Disputatio. Philosophical Research Bulletin 8 (9):1-22 (2019)
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Wittgenstein’s Investigations proposed an egalitarian view about language games, emphasizing their plurality (“language has no downtown”). Uses of words depend on the game one is playing, and may change when playing another. Furthermore, there is no privileged game dictating the rules for the others: games are as many as purposes. This view is pluralist and egalitarian, but it says little about the connection between meaning and use, and about how a set of rules is responsible for them in practice. Brandom’s Making It Explicit attempted a straightforward answer to these questions, by developing Wittgensteinian insights: the primacy of social practice over meanings; the idea that meaning is use; the idea of rule–following to understand participation in social practices. Nonetheless, Brandom defended a non–Wittgensteinian conception of discursive practice: language has a “downtown”, the game of “giving and asking for reasons”. This is the idea of a normative structure of language, consisting of advancing claims and drawing inferences. By means of assertions, speakers undertake “commitments” that can be challenged/defended in terms of reasons (those successfully justified can gain “entitlement”). This game is not one among many: it is indispensable to the very idea of discursive practice. In this paper, my aim will be that of exploring the main motivations and implications of both perspectives.

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Pietro Salis
Universita di Cagliari


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