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Stout and individual XVIII

April 27, 2016

While the person’s cognitive context and conceptual economy naturally act as a limit on the kinds of reasons to which she will likely give voice in deliberation, the same holds true for the kinds of reasons which, firstly, her audience are liable to accept as reasons and which, eventually, secure the person’s respect for or assent with that position. As Stout underscores in the passage to follow, context shapes how reason-exchange develops both from person to audience and from audience to person:

What reasons for doubting P are relevant and what suffices for their elimination […] depends on context, in particular, on the people to whom the justification is addressed. Call the class of such people the justification’s audience. Reasons for doubting P are relevant if they prevent or might prevent an epistemically competent and responsible member of the audience from being justified in believing that P. Relevant reasons for doubting P have been eliminated when everyone in the audience is justified in believing that P (DT, p. 235).

In other words, an audience comprises itself of persons, who, like the person addressing them, bring with them own background of context and concepts. Justification and persuasion cannot succeed independently of such background

Wherefore the caveat under “public” as to the “appropriateness” of the reasons being offered to an audience. If the person is unbound and remains free to give the reasons of her choice, the knowledge that just any reason is unlikely to justify her position and, perhaps, persuade her audience acts as a limit on the reasons which she will reasonably put forth. As the author goes on to explain:

If my analysis is correct, abstraction from context in a theory of justification is bound to end in frustration. Justifications are answers to why-questions of a certain sort. As such, they are dependent on context: first, because conversational context determines the question to which a justification counts as an answer and thus the sort of information being requested; second, because conversational context determines a justification’s audience; and third, because a justification’s success can be appraised only in relation to its audience, including their relevant reasons for doubting and the commitments they are entitled to accept (DT, p. 235).

In sum, when asking for a justification, the audience seeks an answer to a question of the sort “Why should a reason r move me to accept it on the basis of my own cognitive context and conceptual economy?”. Only in responding to this why-question will the person put herself in a position to justify and persuade.

Accordingly, justification and persuasion involve in great part familiarity with the context and concepts of the persons comprising it. For an audience unfamiliar with the context and concepts framing a justification will find little therein which merits their earnest consideration and respect. This need not follow from some prima facie prejudice but, instead, from the person’s practical and structural failure to address the audience in terms which they understand:

Whatever a justification’s intended audience may be, its actual audience cannot extend beyond the class of people who understand the vocabulary in which it is cast and have mastered the patterns of reasoning required to follow it. The limits of an actual audience are not set; they can be expanded by pedagogical means […] We can increase the membership of a justification’s membership only up to a point […] Our proof has no place in their epistemic context (DT, p. 236)

In such a way does Stout also eliminate the need to incorporate hypothetical considerations of perfectly rational, future or otherwise absent interlocutors.

[I]t would be foolish to address our justifications to the audience of all rational agents, regardless of time or place. All we would accomplish by doing that would be to make the success of our justifications impossible to determine, thereby making the question of success pointless. We know from experience that judgments are fallible. To require that they be infallible to count as successful is to misunderstand the indispensable role they play in our lives. Justifications are successful if they eliminate relevant reasons for doubting. The reasons future generations might have for doubting, being necessarily unknown to us, hardly count as relevant in our context (DT, pp. 236-237).

From the above, we see more clearly how the coherentist-contextualist justification laid out in The Flight from Authority maps onto democratic deliberation’s focus on persons, reasons and commitments. Insofar as cognitive context and conceptual economy shape general procedures for justification, so do they impact justification’s particular instantiations in democratic deliberation. Moreover, if justification, more generally, involves the relation of certain context and concepts to a situation in claims of knowledge, justification in democratic deliberation differs in that it necessitates the relation of one person’s context and concepts to another’s own context and concepts. In short, justification takes place between a person and situation; democratic justification holds between two or more persons.

As a result, the latter relation shows greater variability. This leaves us in a position wherein all participants in deliberation have need of greater knowledge of the others’ background of context and concepts. For such, barring longstanding familiarity therewith or rapidly acquired knowledge thereof, coming to know others will require distilling and exposing context and concepts in reasons and commitments. The means thereto lie in the notion of self-expression.

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