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Fr. 621

May 4, 2015

If we can come to any accommodation between our underlying individuality and Stout’s critique of inner movement, the path forward lies in the precise understanding of “underlying” at issue. If we take this to mean something like the vulgar existentialist view under fire by Stout, then passages like the following stand in the way of an articulation between the two views:

Otherwise, traditionalism finds itself in need of some other principle by which to explain its inner workings. Certainly, traditionalism has an advantage in that it accurately describes and predicts intercommunal divergences, but it fails to address the steps leading up to the expression of those intercommunal differences: the intracommunal debates and rival interpretations that make the tradition a discursive formation extended in time. It is for this reason that it seems necessary to suppose a deeper-seated individuality, which does not necessarily correspond to Rawlsian agency and overcoming contingency […] Instead, such individuality could easily be located in something more deeply rooted, even cognitively unavailable, though it need not imply any sort of intuitionism, such as the “Yuck” test.

The qualification “even cognitively unavailable” would seem most likely to draw Stout’s criticism insofar as this sets up precisely the sort of conclusion which, in Stout’s eyes, dooms objective ethical inquiry to a non-starter. For, although this individuality might skirt criticisms aimed at intuitionism, it would not by the same token escape charges of emotivism, i.e. “a mask for arbitrary will” or expression of mere feeling incapable of exposition in propositional or discursive form. If understood in this fashion, it seems clear that this individuality cannot be meaningfully joined to any truly Stoutian account of self and individuality.

Yet our own critique of MacIntyre has a strange way of coming full circle. For it then moves to discount the possibility of a fully unconstrained self unbound by any vocabulary in favor of a self which is not wholly constrained in the sense that it belongs to several traditions. Does this sit any better with Stout’s critique?

To put it somewhat differently, traditionalism rightfully complicates the relationship between traditions but leaves their internal economy underdetermined. More concretely, is it possible for the individual to move between traditions or from one to another? Can he or she belong to several simultaneously? Why is there a need to integrate traditions or translate them? At first blush, it would seem that the impetus for all these possibilities entails some underlying individuality; there must be some need for translation, integration, movement felt on an individual level.

Although there is risk for conflation with a fully unconstrained self due to careless language usage, there could still remain some sense of “underlying individuality” not wholly uncongenial to Stout’s critique. If we dub this self “intertraditional individuality” or “diachronous traditionality”, the terms, methods and styles of which are determined in accordance with one or more vocabularies, Stout’s self may make allowance for it. After all, it would no longer stand as an asocial, ontologically prior formation above the fray but rather a historically bounded operator of transformation.

The case for rapprochement finds further support in our critique’s conclusion where the gap between views closes somewhat more conclusively:

Indeed, MacIntyre’s own personal history would seem to confirm this. It is not simply that traditions fall into ruins, and individuals formerly belonging to this tradition come to be dissociated from it, floating in the void. Instead, they already belonged in part to another tradition, or, faced with the challenges of another tradition, these adherents decided to move to another. After all, as traditions manifest and effect themselves in individuals and their reasoning, the internal economy of traditions should reflect this. In short, the proposal of this sketch is the following: the transfer of certain of MacIntyre’s macro-level innovations to the micro-level. This would entail regarding the individual as being a cross-section of traditions and building the notion of rivality into the individual itself.

The individual of which we speak here no longer proves that mask of arbitrary will expressing itself unconsciously or otherwise beneath our everyday choices. Quite the contrary, for this self or individual proves radically social as shown by the analogy between macro and micro. In this way, we may be able to build a further element of dynamism and transformation into an understanding of self and human nature, conceived in terms of epistemic nominalism.

The second consequence to which we alluded concerns whether Stout could accept a picture of self like that in the work of G.H. Mead, the renowned social psychologist. The latter proposes of a view of self splintered along the lines of, on one hand, the “me” (the patient element on which the individual does work to promote a certain image of self in society) and, on the other, the “I” (the agent element which is a source of drives and impulses as felt in the individual’s cognitive and psychological economy). Insofar as the “I” is a priori incapable of explicitation so as to engage in objective ethical inquiry, it seems likely that Stoutian and Meadian images of self cannot be combined without significant explanatory work and accommodation. Until such an opportunity presents itself, we will content ourselves with wondering whether Mead’s “I” is truly so inimical to an objective ethics as it might seem.

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