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Self-knowledge and political justification 3

June 13, 2017

Indeed, we will rightly wonder how the person may, in political deliberation, articulate for the audience her sources, reasons and commitments and, by extension, her cognitive context and conceptual economy of which she has taken stock via the practice of democratic piety. Stout’s clearest answer in Democracy and Tradition, expounded at greater length in Blessed are the Organized, lies in the idea that the person should give voice to their deepest reasons and personal histories. In criticizing both particularist and universalist thinkers, he remarks:

[I]t seems clear that neither [Benhabib nor Hauerwas] has imagined the possibility, let alone the desirability, of a loosely structured democratic conversation in which variously situated selves tell their own stories on their own terms […] Both back away at a crucial moment from the full significance of their common insight that the different ways in which selves are situated in the world can make a difference for ethics (DT, p. 179).

The only way for commitments and epistemological formations to come to light consists in the person’s telling her own story and development. Indeed, storytelling enables the audience better to grasp the real horizon of reasons and commitments within which the person is working (supposing that the person knows the story elements and tells it accurately). Moreover, not only should 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 or P-justified. 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 [piety] 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 reflect her concepts and context 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; it may also grant the person an opportunity at greater thin or thick self-knowledge. Notably, listening to stories and according respect as due does not inevitably lead to a mere modus vivendi:

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 incommensurable spheres of discourse, respect proves the first stepping stone 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 political 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 (other-knowledge), this practical exercise 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 political deliberation and as perhaps P-justified in believing that to which she has just given expression. This comes out all the more strongly in Stout’s 2010 book-length case-study of broad-based citizens’ organizing and its look into “house meetings” and “one-on-ones”, understood as “individual conversations” and “small gatherings”. (For a general overview, cf. Stout 2010, 2-3; for a concrete example with interlocutors Carmen and Lupita, cf. ibid., 151-6.)

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