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In search of self I

October 12, 2015

In a few words, this project might be summarized as a question of making it explicit, as per the title of Robert Brandom’s famous work. But just what do we propose to go about making explicit? In Brandom’s work, it was a matter of making explicit those implicit reasons which underlie our positions and lead us to the conclusions that we draw. We likewise propose to make of an implicit an explicit but with one significant difference. We do not believe that reasons can be so easily separated from their reasoners. For that which gives a reason its precise shape proves the reasoner’s conceptual resources and cognitive context. Reasons do not articulate themselves, nor can they change their minds. Certainly, reasons evolve, but this follows from an evolution in the reasoner or from external pressures in the form of other reasoners. In short, without reasoners, reasons remain inert.

Hence, after a fashion, the reasoner stands at the center of this inquiry. Yet this reasoner is not that ideal rational agent of decision theory. Instead, we are concerned with just how conceptual resources and cognitive context are themselves constitutive of the reasoner and this particularly in the form of a conception of reasoner which we shall gloss as “self”. This term will prove more than apt insofar as, when making explicit their underlying reasons, what reasoners are in fact doing amounts to exposing, either directly or indirectly, diverse facts about themselves which have influenced their reasoning. Let us concede that this at least approximates an everyday sense of self.

Such will be our thesis: in order to advance political discourse, we often have recourse to exposing implicits and these implicits have as much to do with personal self as with impersonal systems of belief. In other words, healthy political discourse calls for the presentation of self. It follows that finding tools for healthy political discourse would thereby hinge on finding tools for presenting self. Of what tools might we avail ourselves?

(The shadow hanging over our effort is, of course, the political feasibility of tying political discourse’s progress to the exposition of one person’s self; we might wonder how discourse is ever to advance if all present must first expose something of which they have little awareness as it is. This worry will, for the time being, be set aside; we shall return to the question of political feasibility in the study’s closing pages.) 

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