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Abstract

This paper provides an agonistic interpretation of Robert Brandom's social-pragmatic account of normativity. I argue that social practice, on this approach, should be seen not just as cooperative, but also as contestatory. This aspect, which has so far remained implicit, helps to illuminate Brandom's claim that normative statuses are ‘instituted’ by social practices: normative statuses are brought into play in mutual engagement, and are only in play from an engaged social perspective among others. Moreover, in contrast to a positivist or conventionalist understanding of Brandom's work, it shows that the possibility of a critical stance toward existing practices is not only compatible with, but already implicit in this form of pragmatism. This can be made explicit with the notion of farcical practices: practices that are treated merely as if they institute genuine commitments and entitlements. Interpreting a practice as farcical is taking a critical stance toward it, and this possibility is inherent in Brandom's theoretical framework. This opens the way for a fruitful appropriation of Brandom's pragmatism for social and political philosophy.