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Fr. 420

October 22, 2013

It is, however, important to remember at this time the reasons for which Hegel posits such a necessity between the stages in these claims’ development in the dialectic. For Hegel, this necessity is the only manner of escaping the difficulties posed by classical skeptic challenges to the obtaining of knowledge. In particular, Hegel has in mind the problem of the criterion. This problem concerns the criterion by which the knowing subject is to judge of the fitness or truth of various knowledge claims. More specifically, the problem holds that either:

1. The knower starts with a criterion that he or she develops prior to analysis so as to then identify the instances of this criterion.


2. The knower develops a criterion over the course of analysis of the instances of that criterion.

Each horn of the dilemma poses its own problems. In the first, the worry is something like the following. If the knower is to put forward a criterion that applies to all cases and has thus universal, necessary status, he or she must develop the criterion before considering the cases at hand, which would give rise to all sorts of contingent, incomplete formulations. This view is known, in contemporary epistemology, as methodism. Yet it cannot be known in advance if the criterion put forward by methodism at this time will in fact be able to account for each case, having been selected ahead of time and thus being liable to claims of arbitrariness.

The situation is no easier for the second horn of the dilemma. If the knower is to make use of a criterion that applies to each case that he or she might encounter, then the only way forward lies in developing a criterion based on analysis of the various cases encountered. This view is known, in contemporary epistemology, as particularism. Yet particularism runs into the inverse problems for, in eliminating arbitrariness of principles in relation to the cases, it reintroduces the possibility of contingent, ad hoc solutions in that it only ever operates with that which is contingently put before and is hence incapable or rising to a higher, more general formulation enjoying a universal and necessary status.

To come back to the matter at hand, Hegel rejects this dilemma and dissolves it by proposing a third path in which the criterion evolves over time and develops of itself as the necessary unfolding or becoming explicit of previously implicit claims or features in preceding stages. This becoming explicit must follow a certain, logical and necessary order, lest it fall prey to contentions of contingency or arbitrariness.

In other words, as Stout refuses this necessity, this would thereby suggest that Stout implicitly rejects the problem of the criterion or, at least, the solution that Hegel gives in response to this dilemma. If Stout is thus poised to lose any advantages that the Hegelian position or issue of the dilemma might accrue, it is necessary, first, to determine which and to what extent and, then, to locate Stout’s own proposed solution to the problem. Certainly, Stout rejects the picture on which the process or development must start from one single point and thus unfold in an unalterable sequence from this equally inalterable beginning. Hence, the danger of arbitrariness.

Yet Stout retains the unfolding of implicits in explicit form, provided that these implicits first take embryonic form with the juxtaposition of other commitments. In short, Stout retains the fundamental structure of the dialectic while altering the details. He posits thus the possibility or, more strongly and not without a hint of irony, the necessity of a contingent beginning, dependent on the initial, contingent linking of claims and commitments. In sum, Stout sunders the dialectic from its scientific starting point and contents himself to following this new development wherever it might lead.

Of course, this leads to its own difficulties: if the sequence is not the same for all (and, by extension, the criterion), how is one to judge of the fitness of a criterion or of the rightness of any one claim? To reprise Stout’s example, how is one to know which of the possible developments that the bare claim of theism is the “right” one (in whatever sense of the word that is relevant here)? To return briefly to the problem of the criterion:

1. The knower can only identify instances of x provided that he or she already know what the criterion for x is.

2. The knower can only know what the criterion for x is provided that he or she be already able to identify instances of x.

Although the dilemma for Hegel concerns the issue of knowledge, the problem for Stout is rather that of justice or the justification of reasons and motives in the political realm. More specifically, one might say that Stout rejects the first horn of the dilemma (for which the criterion of justice would be developed prior to the consideration of instances) and accepts the second, after a fashion. This insofar as he holds that no rules of justice and justification of reasons can be provided in advance and that such criteria can only be generated from social-practical discussion and consideration of current, as well as paradigmatic, cases. Stout is thus closer to a particularism, rather than a methodism. The criteria thus come after the fact.

In a way, one could typify Stout’s dialectic approach as being more Hegelian than Hegel’s own in that the dialectic is given freer reign in Stout to pursue its development in whichever direction than in Hegel. Whereas Marx sought to turn Hegel and his idealism on their head, Stout might be said instead to loosen the ties of Hegel’s fatalism so as to spin it around on itself.

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