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Fr. 488

January 27, 2014

The idea around which we seem to be circling is that of a grammar of self and identity, of which the work of Rawls and Stout in political philosophy forms two integral parts. Rawls brings to the fore the demands made on us by the person’s legal subjectivity and all the rights, privileges and duties that accrue to him or her therefrom. In contrast, Stout reminds us to what point it is vital to take into consideration also the person’s particular individuality, as well as the disparate, concrete influences and “thisness” that make him or her that person.

Were we to extend the grammar analogy, it might prove interesting to compare the conceptions of self and identity above to different parts of speech. In this way, we might juxtapose Rawls’ legal subject to the verb in that the verb is a substantive integral to letting us know what the sentence is about. Much as the verb frames the action in the sentence and provides the most visible orientation of the content, legal subjectivity tends to provide a clear framework within to work and is the most apparent manifestation of self in the public realm. Like the verb in the setting of language, Rawls’ subjectivity is the first element with which we must grapple in public life.

If the adverb nuances the verb being provided, allowing for an infinity of understandings, and Stout’s individual similarly seeks to inflect Rawls’ legal subject in opening the door to a plurality of subjective formulations, as well as a multitude of political identities (in Rawls’ sense), then it is tempting to find here a parallel between the two functions. For, like the adverb, Stout’s particular individual is concerned as much with the way in which the action is being carried out as it is with the content of that action. A single verb can be understood in an endless number of ways through the joining of an adverb to it, much as our understanding of a single action, otherwise identical across contexts, must inevitably take into account the way in which this same action is carried out, i.e. the form of its carrying out.

As this analogy seems to suggest, there are perhaps other parts to be incorporated into this grammar other than verb-subjectivity and adverb-individuality. Some of these might be found in such works as Taylor’s Sources of the Self. Indeed, we might deem that we need draw on Taylor’s conception of “the affirmation of ordinary life” or poietics, close as this to Stout’s expressivism. If there are indeed other parts, this does nothing to alter or diminish the vital role that subjectivity and individuality play above.

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