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In search of self VII

October 27, 2015

It is important to recall, at this time, to what extent we are indebted at both the level of methodology and that of orientation, to the work of Jeffrey Stout on democracy and diversity. For Stout is crucially concerned, not just with the kind of people we are, but how we came to be the people we are, as well as how we might influence the people we will become. These phases mirror the elements of a tripartite distinction made by Stout in Democracy and Tradition (p. 9): generosity (present-oriented), piety (backward-looking), and hope (forward-looking). In light of the foregoing, it stands to reason that, in order to understand the ethical and dialogical crossroads in which interlocutors find themselves, these must likewise understand the path by which they arrived at such a crossroads and what possibilities the path ahead may reveal.

Yet, at this juncture, we must diverge from Stout and, strangely, deepen his own enterprise. For Stout’s efforts remain somewhat of a parochial affair and take as their object the distinctive American brand of governance and citizenship. Only in casting our net further beyond the (American) democratic tradition and the resources that it offers can we come to understand more clearly what is at stake in an understanding of individual more broadly conceived.

Certainly, there can here be no question of overcoming Stout’s “parochialism”; indeed, we are ever and already parochial in the sense of belonging to a time and place. That said, conceptions of individual and self can receive further broadening, deepening provided that a sufficiently careful and detailed exposition be put in place. In this way, this project’s novelty derives as much from filling out the picture already sketched by a leading contemporary thinker as it does from conceptual or technical innovations on our part. Accordingly, this enquiry could easily fit therein as an extension, for he likewise concerns himself principally with the kind of people we are in (democratic) society.

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