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Fr. 444

November 23, 2013

Stout’s account goes on to characterize three broad types of individuals between which it is perhaps more accurate to speak of differences of degree rather than fixed differences of kind.

Into the first category falls those who are wittingly sadistic and cruel. These individuals are “at least vaguely aware that their motives are base and that their arguments for their political proposals are mere rationalizations” (ibid., p. 16). It is precisely because they are already so aware that one is “unlikely to persuade them by any form of reasoning” (idem.). As such, it is unclear that engagement with their views in the public sphere and political discussions is likely to lead to any new, modified consensus on the issue.

The second sort covers those individuals who use religious rationalizations of the sort seen above and at work in the first kind of individuals yet are not aware that such thinking weighs in their opposition to same-sex marriage. Although “these are people who harbor hateful motives”, they nonetheless “think of themselves as loving and decent human beings” and “picking apart their rationalizations can sometimes give them insight into their own movitves and caught them the kind of shame that can initiate a change of mind and heart” (idem.). In short, the right kind of engagement with these views is susceptible to produce a significant change in the network of beliefs in the individual whose views are undergoing evaluation.

The third and final group gathers those individuals “who oppose same-sex marriage simply because they were raised to accept the arguments made against it” (ibid., p. 17). While not afraid of or outwardly hateful towards homosexuals, they experience some revulsion and take those lessons handed down from the church as a way of accounting for this unreflective sentiment. Stout concludes from the foregoing that:

“Such people are much more likely than either sort of homophobe to change their minds on same-sex marriage as a result of an exchange of reasons, because reasons are playing a greater role in the formation of their political position in the first place. If you can show them that their scriptural reasons for opposing same-sex marriage fail to cohere with other commitments they hold with equal or greater confidence, you might be able to push the conversation along” (idem.).

Even aside from the implications that such a view carries for opponents of the public reason view, this passage represents a sea-change in the understanding of the terms “reasonable” and “unreasonable” in discussion taking place within the public sphere. The unreasonable are no longer those individuals who hold views divergent from perceived societal norms or with whom one disagrees; the unreasonable are those whose views do not follow from a coherent set of principles or which has not been made coherent with itself through further analysis and critique. In other words, criteria of coherence have not been brought to bear on this view.

By contrast, the reasonable are no longer those individuals whose views are in keeping with perceived societal norms or, worse, individuals with whom one agrees. Rather, this label concerns just those individuals who have tested their views or have had these views tested by others according to the criterion of logical consistency. More simply, there few to no contradictions at the level of the reasonable individual’s worldview.

In the case under consideration here, the first and second kinds of individuals fall under the category of unreasonable, although, with the appropriate affective motivation (same) and good arguments, those individuals in the second category can perhaps be brought around. The third kind of individuals fall somewhere on the low end of the reasonable-unreasonable spectrum, at least, prior to having their views subjected to the critical regard described above. On this view, upon having their views tested and altered so as to manifest stronger logical ties, these individuals pass from one subset of reasonable to another, from the weak version of reasonable, i.e. “has reasons for such a view”, to the strong version, i.e. “has logically consistent reasons for such a view”. What proves most important in this case is the fact that the third kind of individual is already operating within the framework and mindset to be found in the “reasonable” end of the spectrum; there is thus, in a sense, less distance to cross from the less reasonable to the more reasonable part. He or she is already a proponent of a view in which the work of reason and reasons on unreasoned positions or stances is doing significant work.

Indeed, this way of speaking of reasonability and unreasonability in terms of degrees seems best suited to the reality of the situation, for it seems unlikely that any one individual is completely reasonable or unreasonable. It seems likely that even the most unreasonable has a view on some matter for which his or her reasons could be found to be logically consistent, no matter how trivial. Likewise, the most reasonable individual is unlikely to have subjected each and every one of his or her beliefs to the intense scrutiny and public discussion for which Stout’s account calls. Accordingly, there are likely certain aspects of his or her worldview, however distant from one another, that will prove to be logically inconsistent in view of some broader criterion. In the end, there will always be something more about which to reason in the individual, some new unreasoned item on which to reason in the hope that it passes muster and can join the rank of reasoned beliefs (or “reasons”) in the individual.

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