Having resolved (more or less) to abandon my last hopes of becoming a professional philosopher (i.e., someone whose job it is to philosophize), I feel comfortable reacting immediately to the passing remarks made by philosophers on their way to larger points of great, indeed, unfathomable, profundity. Robert Brandom's monumental Making It Explicit is a book I've so far left unread on my shelf out of the kind of professional humility I'm alluding to. The problem is that I begin to disagree with him over the inaugural gestures he makes on the first few pages. After begining his argument with the question of what "we" might mean, he offers the following answer, already on page 4:
What is it we do that is so special? The answer to be explored here—a traditional one, to be sure—is that we are distinguished by capacities that are broadly cognitive. Our transactions with other things, and with each other, in a special and characteristic sense mean something to us, they have a conceptual content for us, we understand them in one way rather than another. It is the demarcational strategy that underlies the classical identification of us as reasonable beings. Reason is as nothing to the beasts of the field. We are the ones on whom reasons are binding, who are subject to the peculiar force of the better reason.
Later on, he'll talk about us as "discursive beings whose characteristic activities are applying concepts, giving and asking for reasons, taking-true and making-true" (46). I don't actually disagree with this characterization; rather, I disagree with the one-sided emphasis on reason over passion. We can call this simply a philosophical bias. It is the "we" of a philosopher who doesn't know his place in the larger scheme of things. It is true (in a manner of speaking) that we "have our being in a space structured by norms". But norms, I will insist, do not fall back on reasons. I'll try to say something specifically about norms (and institutions) in later posts. Right now, I just want to suggest that we're as passionate in our being as we are reasonable. Or perhaps that we become as much as we are (indeed, that we are what we become).
Riffing explicitly, then, on Brandom's question, I want to say we are distinguished by capacities that are as broadly affective as they are cognitive. Our transactions with other things, and especially with each other, do in a special and characteristic sense mean something to us, but in large part because they have an emotional context: we obey them in one way rather than another, even when we do not understand them. My demarcational strategy, then, identifies us as passionate beings as well as reasonable ones, or perhaps more precisely as reasonable beings who are passionately becoming. Passion is as nothing to the beasts of the field. We are the ones on whom passions are binding, who are subject to the peculiar force of the larger passion.
Indeed, it is precisely more accurate to say we are subject to passion, even though many of the things around us may well become the objects of reason. As I work through Brandom's "normative pragmatics" I will not be denying what Cavell called "the claim of reason". I will only be trying to measure this claim against the counterveiling force of passion.