“Argument and Ethos” is presented here as an independent essay, and it is, but it is also a chapter in Amanda Anderson’s 2006 book The Way We Argue Now, a book that aims
to draw attention to the underdeveloped and often incoherent evaluative stance of contemporary theory, its inability to clearly avow the norms and values underlying its own critical programs. In particular, I contest the prevalent skepticism about the possibility or desirability of achieving reflective distance on one’s social or cultural positioning. As a result of poststructuralism’s insistence on the forms of finitude—linguistic, psychological, and cultural—that limit individual agency, and multiculturalism’s insistence on the primacy of ascribed group identity and its accompanying perspectives, the concept of critical distance has been seriously discredited, even as it necessarily informs many of the very accounts that announce its bankruptcy. This alliance between the poststructuralist critique of reason and the form of sociological reductionism that governs the politics of identity threatens to undermine the vitality of both academic and political debate insofar as it becomes impossible to explore shared forms of rationality.