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Stout and individual IV

March 3, 2016

In the conjunction of the two passages above do we find a paradigm shift from a priori philosophy to historicist philosophy. Just as importantly, this paradigm shift brings us round from a perspective on which monolithic discursive formations predominate to one largely opposed, in that evaluation sets out from the position of the individual. In the position of the individual are grouped distinct considerations, of which we have already enumerated such factors as conceptual economy and cognitive context. To this, we must add autobiographical facts considerations:

The reasons to which I can appeal in justifying my decisions, and therefore the reasons relevant to anyone’s assessment of my rationality in reaching these decisions, are determined by my situation – not only the epoch and culture into which I was born but also various other autobiographical facts that distinguish my reasoning from that of my fellows (FA, p. 264).

Assessment cannot proceed from conceptual economy and cognitive context alone as these necessarily partake, to a greater or lesser extent, in the overarching, monolithic formations of epoch, culture and community. In assessing on these bases alone, we would lose sight of the ways in which individual and justification can diverge from these broader formations in virtue of a concrete personal history, which works on conceptual economy and cognitive context in important ways yet to be explained. Outer events and inner reflection can perform significant functions in justification, functions for which we must account.

In order to understand properly the full implications of the position of the individual in justification, it thus proves vital to let in that which sets one individual apart from another qua bearer of a concrete personal history. This is not, however, to suggest that the person is free to remake conceptual economy and cognitive context as she sees fit. Just as individual resists absorption into the conceptual economy and cognitive context of an epoch, culture or community, so do the latter resist the former. To maintain the contrary would amount to much the same as maintaining the transcendence of the person over her historical situation as per the first formation above, of Cartesian, universalist and anti-traditional inspiration.

Of conceptual economy and cognitive context should we then maintain only that they have a a relative rigidity. As Stout puts the point:

[H]istorical circumstances do have a certain givenness about them, and this holds for the conceptual dimension of circumstance as much as for any other. If the social and intellectual features of a situation are as interrelated as one might suggest by invoking the Wittgensteinian phrase, “form of life,” it should come as no surprise that concepts are as inert – and as plastic – as institutions. Like institutions they shape us, pose problems, determine possibilities – all in ways of which we are normally only partly conscious. They are in this sense autonomous and anonymous, over against us, part of our situation, insusceptible to complete rejection or wholesale replacement. We can pretend, if we like, that we are free to start over again in conceptual circumstances entirely of our own making or that we can purify our thought of all merely contingent considerations so as to achieve a vantage point of neutral universality (FA, p. 258)

If conceptual economy and cognitive context constrain, within limits, the outer events and inner reflection that the individual can reasonably undergo, the fact remains that conceptual economy and cognitive context are susceptible to partial rejection or replacement and, hence, innovation. Accordingly, careful attention needs be paid to the ways in which the individual can push back on these formations, can dent these monolithic formations (in a novel use of the notion of “denting reality” in Richard Rorty’s 1992 preface to Pale Fire).

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