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Fr. 757

January 26, 2017

Self-knowledge and unconstrained discourse

Can self-knowledge of personal attitudes and belief-formation figure as a requirement on participants to public discourse and political deliberation? Indeed, one has good reason to wonder whether this is not asking too much of participants to discourse both at the personal and associational level and at the institutional and governmental level. Yet such a requirement seems to follow on Jeffrey Stout’s pragmatist-expressivist account of political discourse and justification as reason-giving, set out in 2004’s Democracy and Tradition. If his political epistemology so requires self-knowledge in the form of taking stock of our attitudes and beliefs and so-called “public” philosophy serves to guide public discourse and political deliberation, the question remains what means or resources “public” philosophy has to advance self-knowledge therein. To that end, Brian Leiter’s 2016 article “Two paradoxes of public philosophy” may provide useful contrast. Therein, he undertakes a critique of the notion of “discursive hygiene” (as opposed to “rhetoric”) to show that the mechanisms for belief formation and tribalism prove limitations to this notion. Insofar as Stout seems to advance a view of public philosophy akin to “discursive hygiene”, Leiter’s critique would pose a serious challenge to Stout’s political epistemology and pragmatic-expressivist account. Our first question then is know whether Stout can overcome both the prima facie obstacles which this epistemological requirement seemingly sets participants and Leiter’s naturalistic challenge to “public” philosophy, public discourse and political justification. Provisionally, we may respond that Stout takes important steps to circumscribe the role of “public” philosophy within other publicly available modes of moral inculcation. Our second question lies in whether Stout and Leiter then concur on the need for rhetoric in public discourse and political justification. In the end, we will argue that Leiter’s “rhetoric” and Stout’s “unconstrained discourse” are closer than they might at first appear.

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