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In search of self IV

October 15, 2015

Both types of considerations accord with a vision of methodological nominalism, common in pragmatic philosophy, according to which natures or essences are only capable of verification via processes arising either from linguistic considerations about the rules for language and the ways in which speakers make use of different words or from empirical studies on objects submitted to the rigors of the scientific method. In other words, methodological nominalism leaves us in a situation where we can allow for talk of natures and essences without overextending our claims thereabout. This permits us to allow within the bounds of a post-metaphysical approach wherein our claims do not stand or fall with metaphysical or religious bases either as to the true nature of the world or of the human being.

Undoubtedly, there remain a great many linguistic and empirical considerations in the world, and it would prove all too easy for our inquiry to cast too wide a net. In such a case, so broad are the studies and their findings that it would prove difficult in the end to bring together conclusions decisive for the domain of public discourse. For this reason, we shall orient ourselves at least initially with reference to two case studies which provide their own linguistic tools for interacting with self. Only later will empirical considerations be brought to bear.

More precisely, we shall sift the works of two contemporary political philosophers, John Rawls and Jeffrey Stout, to expose the conceptions of self underlying their thought. Readers may wonder at this juncture why we have chosen in our inquiry to highlight these authors (American white male from elite institutions) as opposed to others whose conceptions might more widely vary. In fact, the reason proves twofold. The first owes to their lengthy engagement with public discourse and the kinds of reasons presented as justification therein, which we juxtaposed above with reasoner and self.

The second reason owes to the neat conceptual divergence presented by their approaches to public discourse and self. If we draw attention to this divergence, it is not with the intention to erect it as a permanent feature of the conceptual landscape of self. Rather, we aim to show just in what way such a distinction can prove both instructive and limited, a point of departure and a development to be overcome in a more complete approach to self. For, more than divergent, these approaches will prove complementary.

This divergence to which we allude will form the opening element of our inquiry and will frame Part I, “Public Discourse and Self”. We shall begin by sketching out, in the first chapter, Rawls’ approach to self as legal subject or bearer of rights in public discourse. With self as subject we shall contrast, in the second chapter, Stout’s vision of self as individual or bearer of concrete history, particularly with regards to discussion and reason-giving. From their confrontation in the third chapter will emerge a deeper appreciation for the subtleties of self with respect to public discourse and a better understanding of the relation between two senses of self which seem opposed in every way. In the concluding chapter of “Public Discourse and Self” we will integrate our findings from Rawls and Stout on subject, individual and self into an initial attempt at a grammar of identity. 

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