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Fr. 781

May 21, 2017

There are perhaps further question about Stout’s retrieval of Emersonian democratic individuality. Certainly, we can envision individuality as being neither atomistic nor conformist in that individuality necessarily has models but does not limit itself to imitation thereof. Instead, it both has examples and makes itself an example and thereby takes upon itself the pains of thinking for itself. In short, democratic individuality would exist with a multidimensional web of self-responsible loci of authority, bound up with influence and acculturation, models and examples, emulating and standing for. Wherefore a “value-laden, social perspectival theory of ethical religious and political conduct”.

The above speaks volumes for Emerson’s continued importance today, but I would like, if possible, to get clearer on what Stout’s retrieval of Emerson democratic individuality, as a form of sociality against the herd, entails more specifically. So, I would put forward two questions:

1.) From the standpoint of democratic individuality, one is called out of conformity. But what precisely is one called out of conformity with? Are these communities, groups, sub-groups? Social types or roles writ large? Imitated models or acculturated practices? Or, still else, one’s attained self or how the former are integrated therein? It seems to me that, in order no longer to conform, one must have some idea of the object of that conformity.

2.) From the standpoint of democratic individuality, one brings the repression of unauthorized thoughts (and the potentiality thereof) to consciousness. But where do these unauthorized thoughts follow from? The disruptive power of “an impersonal power responsible for all finite excellence”? The calling of another? The (un)attained self? In a word, in what way do those thoughts stand free of the authorized? If one understand the individual as the bearer of a concrete, personal history and resident of an epoch, culture and community, those thoughts must stand in some specifiable relation to one’s cognitive context.


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