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Levinas Studies

Volume 3, 2008

Michael Barber
Pages 35-60

Epistemic and Ethical Intersubjectivity in Brandom and Levinas

As the first part of this essay will show, Robert Brandom has developed an impressive epistemological position that explains the structures of discourse in terms of an inferential semantics and a normative pragmatics, and that implies a version of epistemic intersubjectivity centered around the figure of the scorekeeper. The second part of this paper will show via a consideration of the Brandom/McDowell debate on perception how this version of intersubjectivity emphasizes a theoretical-critical, externalist stance toward the other whose claims are being assessed, though Brandom includes to a degree the first-person perspective of the scorekeeper and the assessed other. Section three will show how Emmanuel Levinas proposes an alternative view of intersubjectivity, ethical intersubjectivity, which engages us at a bodily level, beneath theorizing, and which involves a fusion of a robust first-person perspective with inescapable intersubjectivity (the other in the same). In this relationship, the I approaches the other in trust, through a nonknowing (but still known) attitude, and experiences a different kind of decentration from that typical of a project aimed at overcoming epistemic inertia. A final section will point out how one can find traces of ethical intersubjectivity within Brandom’s epistemic intersubjectivity and how an ethically directed epistemic intersubjectivity can best achieve its epistemic goals.

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