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Conversation with Robert Brandom

di Pietro Salis

Robert B. Brandom è Distinguished Professor all'Università di Pittsburgh e Fellow della American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Ha conseguito suoi studi a Yale e a Princeton, dove si è addottorato sotto la guida di Richard Rorty e David Lewis. È uno dei più influenti filosofi viventi. I suoi interessi vertono principalmente su filosofia del linguaggio, della mente, epistemologia e il pensiero di Kant, Hegel e Sellars. È autore di numerosi libri, tra cui Making it Explicit. Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment (Harvard University Press 1994), Articulating Reasons. An Introduction to Inferentialism (Harvard University Press 2000), Between Saying and Doing. Towards an Analytic Pragmatism (Oxford University Press 2008), e From Empiricism to Expressivism. Brandom reads Sellars (Harvard University Press 2015). In quest'ampia intervista, Brandom parla della sua ricerca attuale, di alcuni degli aspetti centrali della sua filosofia, della sua carriera e della sua formazione.

1. Dear Bob, thank you very much for accepting this invitation to tell the readers of APhEx something about your current work. Before discussing in detail various aspects of your work, please let me start with a biographical question about your interest in philosophy and in becoming a professional philosopher. Can you tell us something about how you became interested in philosophy? And what about the professional expectations and ambitions you had at the beginning of your career?

RB: Well, I majored in mathematics at Yale, that's what I started off doing, but I realized relatively early on that my interests were becoming more and more foundational. I was taking statistics courses, but I was fortunate to have Leonard Savage as professor, one of the founders of Bayesianism in statistical thinking, who obviously had serious foundational interests and was very generous in this time talking to me, and Abraham Robinson, teaching set theory. Upon his death in the middle of one of these semesters Jonathan Barwise took over and finished up the model-theory portion of the course. All these people were interested not just in the technical mathematics but also in what it meant. In the same time, I was taking courses in the philosophy department with Bruce Kuklick, who was really an intellectual historian, and I found that my interests were equally divided between foundations of mathematics and questions in intellectual and historical approach in philosophy. So, by the end of my undergraduate career it seemed to me that going on in philosophy was the right thing to do. I had read Richard Rorty's account of Wilfrid Sellars' Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, and I knew that Dana Scott, the great logician, was at Princeton with Rorty, and so that seemed the perfect place to go. I considered Pittsburgh, where Wilfrid Sellars was, but I thought "well, what I can get from Sellars, I can get from Rorty." Little did I know that Dana Scott then moved to Carnegie Mellon University here in Pittsburgh, and when I later came in Pittsburgh he was here, but he left Princeton by the time I came there. But it was right because David Lewis was there, still very young, and not very well-known, but couldn't be a more perfect teacher.

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