Answerable to the World: Experience and Practical Intentionality in Brandom's and McDowell's “Intramural” Debate



Robert Brandom and John McDowell pursue similar, yet strikingly different approaches to a shared problem: that of how we can be answerable to the world in our beliefs about it in the wake of Sellars' critique of the myth of the given. While McDowell attempts to rehabilitate the idea that experience is capable of providing justifications for our beliefs, Brandom constructs a sophisticated social-pragmatist account of the objectivity of our conceptual commitments in which experience is, as he says, not one of his words. In this article, I argue that McDowell is right in stressing the indispensability of the idea of experience, but that he is wrong in believing that Brandom lacks the resources for making sense of the idea of being answerable to the world in experience. Especially when we expand Brandom's account of discursive practice to include its relation to what he has called practical intentionality, his work provides the resources for an answer to McDowell's concerns, but only if it is understood not as an attempt to simply deny McDowell's claims about experience, but as an attempt to explain what we must be capable of doing in order for experience, in McDowell's sense, to be possible.