In 1985, Robert Brandom gave a graduate course in Metaphysics and Epistemology in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh.
I was in my first year as a graduate student, and attended the course along with most graduate students from my year group and many from the previous intake.
Pittsburgh’s philosophy department at the time was rated as one of the very best in the U.S., indeed the world, and it had many top notch faculty, including eminences such as Carl Hempel. However Brandom’s M&E course had a reputation as the premier event in the postgraduate coursework program. It was deemed – and for many it was – a transformational experience.
Although Brandom was a relatively young philosopher who hadn’t yet attained his exalted status in the profession, we graduate students regarded him with awe and reverence. We felt that being able to participate in Brandom’s seminar made us something of a special breed.
The lectures were three hours each, held once a week for a semester, in the seminar room on the tenth floor of the Cathedral of Learning. We sat around a long boardroom-type table, with Brandom standing to deliver his lengthy, dense presentations.
Many of us took copious notes. In most seminars you would try to understand the lecturer’s main points and succinctly distil them into your own words. With Brandom, it seemed every sentence was expressed with such eloquence and insight it needed to be captured verbatim. I particularly remember his habit of expressing a point three times in a row, in three consecutive sentences, each with different shades and nuances.
After each lecture, I would go home and immediately start transcribing our notes on my new Macintosh (original 1984 model; 128k RAM, 400k floppy, no hard drive, 9″ screen). I vaguely recall relying on three sets of handwritten notes: mine, and probably those made by Sonia Sedivy and Irad Kimhi; though I possibly also used notes by Alisa Carse and Bill Blattner. The notes, and my fresh memories of what was said, were merged into what ended up being fairly complete transcriptions.
These were then printed out on my original Mac dot matrix printer. Sometime after the end of the semester, I bound all the lecture transcriptions into a green plastic folder.
I also made detailed notes on many of the course readings, and these were included.
I kept that folder to this day, though I’ve rarely opened it, and certainly never read or studied its contents. I didn’t know it at the time, but the only benefit I would get was from the act of synthesis, not from the result.
In 1994, Brandom published Making It Explicit, which covered much of the same territory and a great deal more, and rendered the lecture notes obsolete.
This year, I’ve been slowly discarding a lot of the “baggage” I’ve accumulated over the years, including lots of books and papers I know I’ll never read again.
Its time for the Brandom notes to go.
It is a bit hard to part with these yellowing, dot-matrix pages which represent such hard work and earnest enthusiasm.
So, I ran the notes through the scanner.
Here they are: Brandom M&E Lectures 1985 (30mb, pdf).
I can’t really imagine that anyone will ever want to read them. There might be a few people, perhaps some Pitt students from the 80s, who’d be interested to glance at them.
Here’s a sample page: