Stout and individual XX
As noted above, Stout himself indulges in such storytelling in passages scattered about Democracy and Tradition. Wherefore the interest of such passages if not to articulate for the audience the outlines of his cognitive context and conceptual economy?
In my case, these sources [of cultural inheritance] included the training I received in Bible school, the traditional stories my grandmother told on Sunday afternoons, and the example of a pastor committed dispassionately to civil rights. But they also included an early exposure to Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau; the art, novels, and music brought into my home by my bohemian older brother; and countless other bits of free-floating cultural material that are not the property of any group. And they included interactions with hundreds of other people whose racial and religious backgrounds differed from mine. It would simply be inaccurate to describe my point of view as that of my family, my co-religionists, or my race. One would fail to show me respect as an individual if one assimilated my point of view to some form of group thinking (DT, pp. 74-75).
Indeed, storytelling enables the audience better to get a grasp on the real horizon of reasons and commitments within which the person is working. In Stout’s case, commitments such as toleration and respect quickly take the fore as key values and provide a conceptual backdrop to the reasons which he elsewhere offers. Moreover, not only must the person’s right to self-expression and storytelling merit respect from the audience; her reasons and commitments, as well as the person herself, deserve our respect, on the condition of being responsibly held. In one instance, it is in such fashion that Stout enjoins the audience to respect both the believer’s right to express and the content of that expression.
Insofar as [those who differ from us religiously] do acknowledge that dependence appropriately, given their own conceptions of the sources of existence and progress through life, they may be said to exhibit an attitude that is worthy of our respect, if not our full endorsement (DT, p. 34).
Provided that the person abides by the virtue of piety and appropriately takes stock of and reflects her context and concepts in deliberation, there proves little reason to dismiss those concepts and context out of hand.
All the more so in that such expression allows the audience to unearth those reasons and commitments leading the person to back a given position. Listening to stories and according respect in its due does not inevitably lead to a mere modus vivendi; indeed, listening and respect put the audience in a position to step away from the listless public discourse present in societies marked by a “live and let live” mentality. Stout suggests as much when he writes:
If [citizens] are discouraged from speaking up in this way, we will remain ignorant of the real reason that many of our fellow citizens have for reaching some of the ethical and political conclusions they do. We will also deprive them of the central democratic good of expressing themselves to the rest of us on matters about which they care deeply. If they do not have this opportunity, we will lose the chance to learn from, and to critically examine, what they say. And they will have good reason to doubt that they are being shown the respect that all of us owe to our fellow citizens as the individuals they are (DT, p. 64).
Far from isolating the audience into hermetic, incommensurable spheres of discourse, respect proves the first stepping stone on the path to critical examination and exchange of reasons and commitments. For without the knowledge afforded by listening and respect, critical examination would otherwise have no object on which to work. And, without materials for examination, no way out of an impasse will present itself to participants in democratic deliberation.
In addition, respect serves a second, more practical purpose. If, by virtue of listening to stories, respect grants knowledge of the person’s real reasons and commitments informing a given position, the practical exercise of this value also makes the person more amenable to the exchange of reasons with the audience which follows. In some important sense, through respect, the audience recognizes the person as a full-fledged member of democratic deliberation and as justified in believing that to which she has just given expression.