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Fr. 600

March 10, 2015

To return to the question at hand: is our problem of self verbal or inactual? If in Stout’s examination of epistemology these diagnoses largely coincide, i.e insofar Descartes’ problem is relative to a bygone historical period and conceptual framework and said problem frames the current debate in epistemology concerning the character of knowledge, therefore the terms of the contemporary debate are inactual and the problems at issue merely verbal in character, this is not to suggest that verbality and inactuality always coincide. In our own problem, the difficulty consists, on one hand, in showing the problem’s actuality by way of its presupposition in contemporary political discussion and, on the other, in demonstrating its non-verbality by way of securing the self’s status as an object for consideration and study. In a way not seen in Stout’s example, actuality and non-verbality come apart in our own: non-verbality follows from the object’s status, actuality from the object’s presupposition in discourse. Our discourse could very well presuppose a specious object much as an object capable of study might be of much use in contemporary discussion. Certainly, the problems are linked in important ways, but this does not reduce them to one and the same problem or, more weakly, following strictly one from the other.

More remains to be said on the “explication” test, specifically as regards how these twofold conditions are individually to be met. For our purposes, the actuality clause can be secured in two steps. First, we should turn our attention to the overarching debate on the conception of people, political discussion and reason-giving between participants as comes out in the exchange between Rawls and Stout. Many of their differences trade on just such a differing notion of self and how self comes to the fore in political discussion: namely, Rawls privileges legal subjectivity over concrete individuality and Stout concrete individuality over legal subjectivity. Secondly, to these more general considerations, it will be important to consider more concrete instances from broader disciplines such as political science, sociology, etc. which themselves bring us to posit a difference between subject and individual like that to be found in the Rawls and Stout literature.

For our purposes, the demonstration of actuality necessarily precedes that of non-verbality, for, if the problem is no longer a feature of our conceptual framework and time, there is no need to turn to the search for an object, specious or not. There is prima facie good reason to believe that the inverse cannot be maintained in that the specious character of an object does not preclude that same object’s actuality in contemporary discourse. With this in mind, it is only in a second step that we would then dedicate ourselves to the question of securing and describing that new object for reflection, self. In other words, if our problem is actual, to what object does this problem owe? This will be accomplished, in part, through examining what writers such as Charles Taylor have had to say on the self as an object for reflection through means which are not strictly empirical but, rather, interpretative and from best explanation available.

The other part brings us in what ways non-verbality and actuality are linked in our account. Consider that one understanding of non-verbality is precisely a problem’s rootedness in history (as demonstrated negatively in Stout’s treatment of epistemology) and, hence, its continued relevance in contemporary discourse. Accordingly, the second half of filling out our picture of self must pass through what other thinkers have had to say on that same subject, particularly as we can find its development in Rawls and Stout. In short, through etymology, usage and codification, we must trace the framing debate in modern letters that give rise to the suppositions of subject and individuality latent in Rawls and Stout’s respective accounts. For this, a passage both through synthetic works like Taylor’s and their own works will prove necessary.

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