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Fr. 390

September 12, 2013

To conclude this series of reflections on determining whether a given interlocutor possesses a moral core worthy of respect and the rights due to subjects, our attention turns to the notion of responsibly holding a discursive position, giving reasons for it and participating in immanent criticism.

Indeed, it is the concept of responsibility that needs to be here unpacked, for this concept already carries a normative charge: a responsible person does what needs to be done, cares about and for others, and fulfils various duties. Thus, referring oneself to a person’s discursive responsibility on a case-by-case basis in order to determine whether to grant them due consideration as a subject, i.e. a being with a moral core, shows that Stout is not truly operating here on a case-by-case basis. For it is not the content of those convictions and justified belief in them that but whether a certain formal relation holds between the expression and content of these convictions.  If one still needs enter discussion with others in order to determine the presence of a moral core or no, it is the universal category of responsibility, laden as it is with normative overtones, that does the heavy lifting. Although Stout’s account promotes individuality over subjectivity and discussion over consensus-based rule-setting, it also draws on universalist horizons and formalist, rational standards that can be set in advance. Moreover, the notions of respect and being worthy of respect meet similar difficulties on further analysis in that both draw on universalist formulations without being able to appeal to explicit formulations of this kind in the account of the author.

One could very well extend this line of reasoning to Stout’s presuppositions concerning society and its minimally democratic quality, the subject of an earlier reflection, both of which advance similar universalist categories without providing the supporting argumentative framework. If, in the end, the question remains “why should I meet and treat you as a someone or subject if you are not?”, it is not clear that Stout’s expressivist and contextualist resources suffice to provide a satisfactory account of the underlying, universalistic presuppositions in his view on political discussion.

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