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Fr. 656

August 3, 2015

Still, we might ask of what use such a language is in everyday life. More pointedly, what point is there in seeking out the shape of moral languages for that matter?

The answer to this question, even coming from Stout, may seem rather facile. Indeed, the point of such inquiry owes entirely to the manner in which that language is translated, in one form or another, willingly or no, into the structures that we actualize and manifest in everyday life.

It matters also because the moral language we use in daily life has much to do with what that life is like, with what we are like. To belong to a society in which the language of honor is dominant and the language of human rights has no place is to be a certain sort of person (p. 71).

As is a common theme in hermeneutics and philosophy of language, language itself is not so much that which we use but that which we live. What we say and how we say it comes out in our actions and behavior towards others.

Again, we find here ready parallels to questions of self and identity, and this for two reasons. On one hand, we have already shown with reference to previous passages how language is, more weakly, analogous to identity and, more strongly, constitutive of identity in some way. On the other, we can easily sketch out how self and identity entertain similar relations to everyday life. Simply, knowledge and beliefs about the self and the kind of person one is or is not likewise translate in one form or another, willingly or no, into the structures that we actualize and manifest in actions and behavior towards others. If this analogy comes with a caveat, namely that Stout’s analysis bears before all on discourse and language rather than self and identity, this in no way changes the striking parallels that one can trace between one case and the other with a little imagination.

The link between moral language and everyday life made, Stout is keen to show still further that the connection proves as dynamic as the moral language with which one approaches everyday life. Transformation, of local if not the radical variety, remains possible:

The next culture heard from or the latest wrinkle in our own form of life can yield new candidates for truth and falsehood, ways of living in the world we hadn’t anticipated, and quite possibly new kinds of people for us to be (p. 72).

Put syllogistically, if moral languages have a bearing on everyday life and moral languages are capable of evolution, then everyday language is capable of evolution through the same processes which move moral languages to evolution. Wherefore the importance of communication and contrast for Stout. Only with these can we come to individuate moral languages, entertain new propositions and thereby provoke evolution in our own moral language and, by extension, its translation into everyday life at the level of actions and behaviors. In this way, culture as dialogue acts through language on the kind of person who we are.

Strikingly, it is not merely different moral propositions that the communication and contrast bring to light for interlocutors but, just as importantly, different ways of life. Through these ways of life we find ourselves again confronted with questions of language, nationality, ethnicity, religion, upbringing, etc., i.e. so many factors and formations at play in the sense of self and the development of identity. These again lead us to posit the proximity between language, self and identity. Yet are Stout’s views on the possibility of transformation too rosy?

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