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Fr. 519

June 5, 2014

The second part of our argumentative strategy involves a bottom-up and empirical approach. Given the realities of contemporary society, certain individual needs make themselves felt when it is a question of self-articulation and recognition of identity and other. More precisely, we find that it is necessary to understand better the diverse elements and influences informing the background beliefs of an individual so as to find either the accord or sticking point between two identities. Following the repetition of such investigations, certain patterns begin to stand out from the mass of data, and it becomes clear that there exists certain empirical bases for a more elaborated version of identity and individual (for example, on the basis of some universal/particular categories to which we have gestured above).

If the need for thorough investigation brings out certain trends capable of forming the backbone of a grammar of identity, then those positions emphasizing the indispensability of such investigation gesture indirectly or otherwise to the empirical possibility of a grammar of identity. In other words, in order to facilitate investigation of this kind, we have need of some tools with which to approach and process the data. Despite his reluctance to elaborate a grammar or theory of this kind, Taylor could be seen as indirectly confirming this same possibility in several passages.

In the following passage, Taylor both notes the ways in which individuals combine and fill out different traditions and that understanding these processes of combination and filling out are essential to understanding the meaning of a person’s thought, speech or action:

“With these seekers, of course, we are taken beyond the gamut of traditionally available framework. Not only do they embrace these traditions tentatively, but they also often develop their own versions of them, or idiosyncratic combinations of or borrowings from or semi-inventions within them. And this provides the context within which the question of meaning has its place” (p. 17).

From the preceding, there seems no reason to conclude the impossibility of assembling some model or schema for understanding the different patterns of combination and filling out. Likewise, Taylor gestures to the central role that self-articulation holds for “moderns”:

“But this invocation of meaning also comes from our awareness of how much the search involves articulation. We find the sense of life through articulating it. And moderns have become acutely aware of how much sense being there for us depends on our own powers of expression. Discovering here depends on, is interwoven with, inventing. Finding a sense to life depends on framing meaningful expressions which are adequate” (p. 18).

Leaving aside the question of invention in relation to discovery, we can affirm that, insofar as the “moderns” need make sense of their selves through self-articulation, any tools that further this end should not be immediately cast aside either out of epistemological reservations and skepticism nor out of a desire to keep things simple. (This passage is not without importance for our own elaboration of self and a grammar of identity for which a certain amount of invention must be wedded to the process of articulating already existing trends in contemporary society and identity formation.) We find an echo of the passage above in that below (which itself has much in common with Stout’s presentation of reason-giving and individual):

“Thus the fact that we now place such importance on expressive power means that our contemporary notions of what it is to respect people’s integrity includes that of protecting their expressive freedom to express and develop their own opinions, to define their own life conceptions, to draw up their own life-plans.” (p. 25)

Again, the key element here is that of promoting freedom and opportunities for self-articulation such that the person can bring together and make sense of the various elements and influences comprising their background beliefs, moral framework and identity. That said, it is not enough, on our view, simply to secure the instances and routes by which the person can attain to greater self-articulation. It is likewise imperative on contemporary society to furnish the tools and materials by which the person reaches that state. In short, there is no a priori reason to stop at merely guaranteeing a time and space for such expression when further assistance could be granted at the level of conceptual or empirical tools.

In sum, given the necessity of this articulation for meaning, we cannot consider the elaboration of a predictive grammar of identity simply a futile exercise which it is easier to do without. From both a top-down / conceptual and bottom-up / empirical perspective, we are in great need of certain generalities by which to process the endless data and forms of individuality with which the policymaker or researcher is confronted. It is only with the identification of such generalities and their subsequent application to the particular instantiations of identity and individual that we can then pass to the all important question for policymakers of how to manipulate these elements so as to produce some kind of consensus at the level of sub-community, community or society on any given issue.

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