Holism and the Relation between Mind and World

  • Michael Esfeld
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 298)


This chapter reconstructs the relation between beliefs and the world from within social holism and holism about beliefs. I proceed in three steps. The first step is to employ the conceptual tools of the outlined inferential semantics in order to explain the representational dimension of beliefs. I follow Brandom’s account [5.1]. The second step is to argue that the proposed theory of meaning in terms of social practices is about the way in which we gain epistemic access to a world that is independent of these practices. According to the conception of social holism in terms of I-thou relations, the assessment of normative attitudes as correct or incorrect is an open-ended process. Consequently, normative attitudes that are shared by all the members of a community can be incorrect, and having beliefs can result in commitments that outrun the commitments which the persons in question acknowledge. This account implies a sort of response-dependence of our concepts. But this is a response-dependence that encroaches neither upon the meaning nor upon the truth of our beliefs. It is a constraint only on the acquisition of concepts. The upshot is a pragmatic realism that is beyond the traditional opposition between metaphysical realism and relativism. This pragmatc realism is not committed to any idealistic consequences [5.2]. The third step is to meet the challenge that McDowell poses to an account of meaning in terms of social practices by showing how social practices are anchored in a physical environment. I argue that McDowell’s position opens up a comprehensive holism that includes the physical world. However, I maintain that the described social practices are sufficient to conceive a rational constraint of the world on our beliefs [5.3]. Finally, I show that the resulting philosophy of mind is parsimonious in its ontological commitments: it is opposed to reductionism, but compatible with materialism without, however, implying materialism [5.4].


Social Practice Belief State Conceptual Content Perceptual Belief Inferential Relation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Esfeld
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.University of KonstanzGermany
  2. 2.University of HertfordshireEngland

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