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Stout and individual III

March 2, 2016

Faced with these entrenched positions, Stout seeks to place the locus of justification outside of either universal reason or particular communities, and instead in the position of the individual. For, when pressed to identify that in which rationality consists, the author isolates:

[T]he rationality of a given person’s beliefs or actions is relative to the reasons or reasoning available to that person. And the availability of reasons and reasoning varies with historical and social context (FA, p. 168).

This passage serves to recall for us that reasons capable of justifying a person’s beliefs or actions may or may not be available to the person at the time of justification, be they from universal reason or a particular discursive community. In other words, justification may proceed independently of either set of these rules and in virtue of the person’s conceptual economy and cognitive context. If justification so comes apart from rule-setting formations, there seems considerably less reason to limit a justification’s measure to the standards set by either a universalist or particularist formation. This does not amount to maintaining a relativism of reasons and justifications, on which all reasons and justifications are as valid as another, but introduces a measure of environmental relativism at the level of reasons of which the person avails herself in justification.

In short, the success of justification depends in large part on the individual qua historical person with a certain conceptual economy and cognitive context. This vision of justification is consistent with holism, as well as contextualist and coherentist elements present in contemporary epistemology. Insofar as justification proceeds apace with a person’s conceptual economy and cognitive context, this suggests that the focus shifts from the rules set in advance by universal reason or particular discursive communities to the person’s interaction or work, active, passive or otherwise, on any rules or materials at hand. Stout contends much the same thing when he writes:

[H]olism in theory of language leads away from epistemologically oriented philosophy, as expressed in the notion that there is a general problem of justification to be solved (in ethics or anywhere else), toward historically oriented philosophy, as expressed in the view that all problems of justification are radically situated in specific historical contexts […] If we ever achieve a general theory of justification that is worth having, it will probably be a sociological theory of the kind that emerges from extensive historical and anthropological research (FA, p. 209, emphasis in original).

More simply, the realities of justification bring us to a point from which it is difficult to maintain that justification admits of a broad, general or definitive solution. Instead, the epistemologist, or philosopher more generally, must, when evaluating a justification, lean on the kinds of reasons available to the person in question. Accordingly, we move, with the author, from the problem of justification to that of justifications.

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