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Self-knowledge and political justification 7

June 19, 2017

IV: Can Stout rescue public philosophy and political justification?

Stout might try either of two tacks to bring Leiter around to his take on the connection between self-knowledge and political justification. As to the first, Stout expounds, in “Rorty on Religion and Politics” (2010b, 16-7), on how the beliefs of religious opponents to same-sex marriage may be analysed with an eye to the role that reasons play in rationalizing their opposition. For those (sadistic) homophobes who use religious rationalization wittingly as a cover for the emotive or affective response motivating that position, they are not tracking reasons for that opposition, and there is consequently little hope that they will react to pressure from reasons. For those (unwitting) homophobes who use religious rationalization unwittingly as a cover for the emotive or affective response motivating that position, neither are they tracking reasons for that opposition nor do they have any helpful first-order self-knowledge, but there is some hope that they will react to pressure from the right kind of reasons. (In that they are hateful but unaware of their rationalizations as being such and might otherwise consider themselves decent people, hence an argumentative foothold for the right kind of pressure, e.g. appeals to that decency.) Finally, there are those who, while not homophobic (well-intentioned opponents), have a negative emotive or affective response and find religious teachings a plausible explanation therefor and for whom “reasons are playing a greater role in the formation of their political position in the first place” (17). Accordingly, even if they are unaware of those reasons (and so lack thick self-knowledge), their beliefs track or are keyed to reasons and they themselves are more likely to be responsive to pressure on the reasons upstream of their beliefs. It would suffice to “show them that their scriptural reasons for opposing same-sex marriage fail to cohere with other commitments they hold with equal or greater confidence” (idem.). Notably, Stout also takes care to link the beliefs above to aspects of the social structure (in particular, the distinction between genders and its importance to the division of labor) and hence shows sensitivity to non-discursive factors at work in the attitude- and belief-formation behind political deliberation (17-9). Indeed, he thinks that changes in attitude are in part attributable to changes in the underlying social structure. In other words, Stout is aware, at least to some extent, of the emotivist, tribalist challenge posed by Leiter (cf. his discussion of alternative modes of moral inculcation at 2004, 162-8). We need only cite his recognition that “the intuitions from which moral reasoning proceeds are not the same” in different social structures. The question is then whether he fully understands and accepts the scope of the problem put by Leiter, namely that emotivism and tribalism are constitutive of all instances of attitude- and belief-formation and prima facie block self-knowledge and political justification. It is unclear whether Stout (or Leiter, for that matter) is ready to concede so much.

As to the other tack, other-knowledge (either thin or thick) leaves the public philosopher or interlocutor better-positioned to exercise precisely the kind of rhetorical pressure which Leiter envisions. A person’s thin self-knowledge can be brought to serve the same purpose. Put differently, the public philosopher or interlocutor may draw on discursive hygiene to arrive at (thin or thick) knowledge of the person’s perspective or inferential commitments from which the former may identify the kinds of reasons, at the level of form and content, most likely to apply the right kind of rhetorical pressure to the person’s attitude, belief or political position. This approach seems rather close to the practice of immanent criticism (see Singer, Bioethics Bites example). As Leiter himself allows, logical entailments can, at times, constrain attitudes, beliefs or political positions. At the same time, rhetorical pressure need not take the form of arguing from logical entailments, as Leiter remarked of Singer’s vivid description of animal suffering. Stout considers that “moral perception” has an important role to play in moral reasoning (Stout 2004, 216-24). Certainly, the emotional or affective responses constitutive of moral perception are “noninferential, but they are inferentially connected to moral passions, like awe and pity, and the actions for which they serve as warrant” (217). Accordingly, should we allow that emotivism and tribalism are constitutive of attitude- and belief-formation, this does not preclude their responsiveness to the right kinds of reasons depending on the circumstances. This last point is one for which Stout is well-prepared and has at the ready a battery of arguments.

To conclude, while Stout sketches a stronger connection between self-knowledge and political justification than Leiter thinks reasonable, Stout is ready to concede, to an extent, the limits which Leiter would set his account. Moreover, insofar as Leiter is not himself willing wholly to discount discursive hygiene and sees the need for rhetoric, he has need of a position not unlike Stout’s to flesh out his new discursive practice. In the end, while thick self-knowledge and justified political beliefs seem further out of reach than before, the exercises to which attempts at self-knowledge lend themselves in no way prevent the public philosopher or interlocutor from making full use of a mixed argumentative strategy to advance the end of political deliberation.

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