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Stout and individual VII

March 29, 2016

Yet Stout tempers just such concerns in an early passage from Ethics after Babel. Therein, he at once seeks to reaffirm the nature of justification and, by extension, the position of the individual outlined in The Flight from Authority and show in what way justificatory considerations about the subject do not amount to an arbitrary subjectivism in justification:

Being justified in believing something is a normative relation that exists among a given proposition, the person who accepts it, and a cognitive context. If I am justified in accepting a proposition, then the proposition, my context and I are related in the required way. The relation is as objective as can be, not subject to worrisomely arbitrary subjective manipulation. What can make it seem subjective is that some of the facts about it are facts about the human subject involved. Facts about what my peers take for granted about judgmental dispositions acquired by members of my society during successful training in the relevant practices, about the history of casuistical precedents in my tradition, about evidence available to me, and so on, all will be relevant features of the context, features open to objective inquiry (EB, p. 30).

In that the considerations of individual in question do not take for their object arbitrary feelings, declarations of will, etc., careful historical and sociological inquiry allows us, with reasonable though defeasible certainty, to establish facts about persons. If evaluation of justifications entails facts about persons and facts about persons are susceptible of objective, truth-oriented explanation in just this way, then justification is, by extension, susceptible of objective truth-oriented explanation.

As seen from a different angle, successful application of Stout’s threefold understanding of justification turns in large part on the inquirer’s ability to relate both candidate propositions for truth to a justifying individual, qua bearer of a concrete, personal history and resident of an epoch, culture and community, and to the ways in which objective considerations of individual (e.g. judgmental dispositions, traditional precedents, available evidence) turn up in the processes of ethical justification. If, as the author says, justification involves a relation between proposition, person and cognitive context, we can expect that the last two explicitly entail objective considerations of individual, whereas the third indirectly appeals to such in the form of the language used to frame the proposition being justified and evaluated.

The role played by language in justification, and particularly ethical justification, requires further explanation if we are to establish fully the conceptual linkage between individual and language. Allowing that conceptual economy and cognitive context intertwine with personal history in language and that language is that by which we work on conceptual economy and cognitive context, it follows that the person’s language proves vital in understanding both where she has come from in terms of inheritance and where she is likely to go in terms of innovation. In a word, language at once constitutes the medium of justification and constrains present and future possibilities for justification.

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