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These arguments are certainly ambitious, and they raise as many questions as they answer.
It is hardly surprising, then, that many commentators have not been persuaded by discourse ethics as a normative ethics. Rather, they regard it as plausible only in the context of democratic politics, or as a model for the critical evaluation of formal dialogues e. Other critics have targeted discourse ethics at a metaethical level. In fact, Habermas first unveiled his moral theory in answer to moral non-cognitivism and skepticism a, 43— In this context, U explicates a moral epistemology: what it means for moral statements to count as justified.
If moral statements are justifiable, then they have a cognitive character in the sense that they are correct or not depending on how they fare in reasonable discourse. However, Habermas proposes U not merely as articulating a consensus model of moral justification, but as an explication of the meaning of rightness itself. Unlike truth, the rightness of a moral norm does not consist in reference to an independently existing realm of objects, but rather in the worthiness of the norm for intersubjective recognition.
Thus rightness, unlike truth, means ideal warranted assertibility b, 93; a, chap. This antirealist interpretation of discourse ethics has been challenged, however, with some critics advocating a realist interpretation of rightness, others a deflationary approach Lafont , chap. Habermas's discourse theory of law and politics. The central task of Habermas's democratic theory is to provide a normative account of legitimate law.
His deliberative democratic model rests on what is perhaps the most complex argument in his philosophical corpus, found in his Between Facts and Norms b; German ed. Boiled down to its essentials, however, the argument links his discourse theory with an analysis of the demands inherent in modern legal systems, which Habermas understands in light of the history of Western modernization.
The analysis thus begins with a functional explanation of the need for positive law in modern societies. This analysis picks up on points he made in TCA see sec. Societies are stable over the long run only if their members generally perceive them as legitimate: as organized in accordance with what is true, right, and good. In premodern Europe, legitimacy was grounded in a shared religious worldview that penetrated all spheres of life. As modernization engendered religious pluralism and functional differentiation autonomous market economies, bureaucratic administrations, unconstrained scientific research , the potentials for misunderstanding and conflict about the good and the right increased—just as the shared background resources for the consensual resolution of such conflicts decreased.
When we consider this dynamic simply from the standpoint of the D -principle, the prospects for legitimacy in modern societies appear quite dim. Sociologically, then, one can understand modern law as a functional solution to the conflict potentials inherent in modernization. By opening up legally defined spheres of individual freedom, modern law reduces the burden of questions that require general society-wide discursive consensus. Within these legal boundaries, individuals are free to pursue their interests and happiness as they see fit, normally through various modes of association, whether that pursuit is primarily governed by modes of strategic action as in economic markets , by recognized authority or consensual discourse e.
Consequently, modern law is fundamentally concerned with the definition, protection, and reconciliation of individual freedoms in their various institutional and organizational contexts. The demands on the legitimation of law change with this functional realignment: to be legitimate, modern law must secure the private autonomy of those subject to it.
The legal guarantee of private autonomy in turn presupposes an established legal code and a legally defined status of equal citizenship in terms of actionable basic rights that secure a space for individual freedom. However, such rights are expressions of freedom only if citizens can also understand themselves as the authors of the laws that interpret their rights—that is, only if the laws that protect private autonomy also issue from citizens' exercise of public autonomy as lawmakers acting through elected representatives. Thus, the rights that define individual freedom must also include rights of political participation.
The exercise of public autonomy in its full sense presupposes participants who understand themselves as individually free privately autonomous , which in turn presupposes that they can shape their individual freedoms through the exercise of public autonomy. This equiprimordial relationship, Habermas believes, enables his discourse theory to combine the best insights of the civic republican and classical liberal traditions of democracy, which found expression in Rousseau and Locke, respectively a, chap.
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Habermas b, chap. Because these rights are abstract, each polity must further interpret and flesh them out for its particular historical circumstances, perhaps supplementing them with further welfare and environmental rights. In any case, the system of rights constitutes a minimum set of normative institutional conditions for any legitimate modern political order.
The system of rights, in other words, articulates the normative framework for constitutional democracies, within which further institutional mechanisms such as legislatures and other branches of government must operate. The idea of public autonomy means that the legitimacy of ordinary legislation must ultimately be traceable to robust processes of public discourse that influence formal decisionmaking in legislative bodies.
Decisions about laws typically involve a combination of validity claims: not only truth claims about the likely consequences of different legal options, but also claims about their moral rightness or justice , claims about the authenticity of different options in light of the polity's shared values and history, and pragmatic claims about which option is feasible or more efficient. Legitimate laws must pass the different types of discursive tests that come with each of these validity claims.
Habermas also recognizes that many issues involve conflicts among particular interests that cannot be reconciled by discursive agreement on validity but only through fair bargaining processes. This puts his democratic principle in a rather puzzling position. On the one hand, it represents a specification of the discourse principle for a particular kind of discourse legal-political discourse. This makes it analogous to the moral principle U , which specifies D for moral discourse. As a specific principle of reasonable discourse, the democratic principle seems to have the character of an idealizing presupposition insofar as it presumes the possibility of consensual decisionmaking in politics.
For Habermas, reasonable political discourse must at least begin with the supposition that legal questions admit in principle of single right answers c, —95 , or at least a set of discursively valid answers on which a fair compromise, acceptable to all parties, is possible. This highly cognitive, consensualist presumption has drawn fire even from sympathetic commentators.
One difficulty lies in Habermas's assumption that in public discourse over controversial political issues, citizens can separate the moral constraints on acceptable solutions, presumably open to general consensus, from ethical-political and pragmatic considerations, over which reasonable citizens may reasonably disagree. As various critics have pointed out, this distinction is very hard to maintain in practice, and perhaps in theory as well Bohman ; McCarthy ; Warnke On the other hand, the democratic principle lies at a different level from principles like U , as Habermas himself emphasizes b, The latter specify D for this or that single type of practical discourse, in view of internal cognitive demands on justification, whereas the former pulls together all the forms of practical discourse and sets forth conditions on their external institutionalization.
From this perspective, the democratic principle acts as a bridge that links the cognitive aspects of political discourse as a combination of the different types of idealized discourse with the demands of institutional realization in complex societies. As such, the democratic principle should refer not to consensus, but rather to something like a warranted presumption of reasonableness.
In fact, in a number of places Habermas describes democratic legitimacy in just such terms, which we might paraphrase as follows: citizens may regard their laws as legitimate insofar as the democratic process, as it is institutionally organized and conducted, warrants the presumption that outcomes are reasonable products of a sufficiently inclusive deliberative process of opinion- and will-formation , When these arenas work well together, civil society and the public sphere generate a set of considered public opinions that then influence the deliberation of lawmakers In light of the above ambiguity in the status of D , however, one might want to take a more pragmatic approach to democratic deliberation.
Such an approach e. Habermas's discourse theory also has implications for international modes of deliberation—hence for the debate about a potential cosmopolitan political order.
Cosmopolitanism: Selected full-text books and articles
To understand his position in this debate, it helps to sketch a typology of the main theories. The current discussion moves along four main axes: political or social, institutional or noninstitutional, democratic or nondemocratic, and transnational or cosmopolitan. Theories are informed by background assumptions about the scope of cosmopolitanism: whether it is moral to the extent that it is concerned with individuals and their life opportunities, social to the extent that it makes associations and institutions central, or political to the extent that it focuses on specifically legal and political institutions, including citizenship.
Habermas's position in this debate is moderate. It is not minimal in the sense of Rawls's law of peoples, which denies the need for any strong international legal or political order, much less a democratic one. Nor is it a strongly democratic position, such as David Held's version of cosmopolitan order. However, both Held and Habermas share a common emphasis on the emergence of international public law as central to a just global political order.
Democracy on the nation-state model connects three central ideas: that the proper political community is a bounded one; that it possesses ultimate political authority; and that this authority enables political autonomy, so that the members of the demos may freely choose the conditions of their own association and legislate for themselves.
The normative core of this conception of democracy lies in the conception of freedom articulated in the third condition: that the subject of legal constraints is free precisely in being the author of the laws. If this applies to the modern state, then it would seem that cosmopolitan democracy would take this trend even further.
For Held , cosmopolitan democracy is clearly continuous with democracy, at least in form, as it is realized within states. Held's approach thus has three enormous advantages: an emphasis on a variety of institutions; a multiplicity of levels and sites for common democratic activity; and a focus on the need for organized political actors in international civil society to play an important role in a system of global democracy.
Contrary to his earlier essay on Kant's Perpetual Peace, Habermas has now pulled back from Held's strong conception of cosmopolitanism. In The Postnational Constellation a; German ed. Still, he cannot have it both ways. This is because he clearly, and indeed surprisingly, makes self-determination through legislation the deciding criterion of democracy. Consequently, at the transnational level, the fundamental form of political activity is negotiation among democracies. This demos is at best a civic, rather than political, transnational order.
More recently, he argues that regulatory political institutions at the global level could be effective only if they take on features of governance without government, even if human rights as juridical statuses must be constitutionalized in the international system , — As in the case of Allen Buchanan's minimalism, this less demanding standard of legitimacy does not include the capacity to deliberate about the terms governing the political authority of the negotiation system itself. This position is transnational, but ultimately nondemocratic, primarily because it restricts its overly robust deliberative democracy to the level of the nation state.
The stronger criteria for democracy are not applied outside the nation state, where governance is only indirectly democratic and left to negotiations and policy networks. Furthermore, the commitment to human rights as legal statuses pushes Habermas in the direction of Held's fundamentally legal form of political cosmopolitanism. At the moment, Habermas's view of cosmopolitan politics is not yet fully stable. But it is clear that he thinks that a cosmopolitan order must be political and not merely juridical ; institutional and not merely organized informally or by policy networks ; transnational to the extent that it would be like the European Union, an order of political and legal orders ; and in some sense democratic or at least subject to democratic norms.
However, in order for him to fully adopt this last characteristic of the international system, he will have to rethink his conception of democracy as self-legislation. If he does not do so, it seems impossible to fit democracy onto a transnational rather than fully Kantian cosmopolitan order. On the topic of religion, Habermas has taken a nuanced position that continues to develop.
In his Theory of Communicative Action , he treated religion primarily from a sociological perspective, as an archaic mode of social integration. Since then, however, he has explored the role of religion in politics, on the one hand, and the relationships between religious and philosophical modes of discourse, on the other.
At the same time, Habermas insists on the difference between theological and philosophical modes of discourse: as a reflection on faith, theology must not renounce its basis in religious experience and ritual. Consequently, he resists apologetic attempts to generate religious belief from philosophical premises.
Habermas has further developed his views on the relation between philosophy and faith in his dialogue with Cardinal Ratzinger who would become Pope Benedict XVI b; German ed. The Christian idea of human beings as created in the image of God has been especially important for Western moral-political theory, which translated the religious idea into the secular view of persons as equal in dignity and deserving unconditional respect ibid. This assimilation of Christian ideas does not gut their substance, however. In acknowledging that religious modes of expression can harbor an integral cognitive content that is not exhausted by secular translations, Habermas seems to have located the boundaries of his methodological experiment in demythologization.
He thus calls for a dialogue in which secular and religious forms of thought mutually inform and learn from each other. At the center of contention are the duties of believing citizens to translate their religiously based claims into secular, publicly accessible reasons. Audi places the heaviest burden on believers, requiring them to support only those laws for which they have sufficient public reasons; each citizen thus has a duty to translate religiously based arguments into secular ones.
For Habermas, Audi and Rawls underestimate the existential force of religious belief—how such belief can, at least for some believers, provide the only sufficient basis for their political views, even when public reasons might also be taken as supporting the views in question. The demand that believers translate their comprehensive religious views into secular justifications imposes undue burdens on believers of this sort. The demand for translation, rather, pertains only to politicians and public officials with institutional power to make, apply, and execute the law.
As Habermas reads them, Weithmann and Wolterstorff take the opposite line from Rawls and Audi, opening up public discourse to untranslated religious arguments. Weithmann requires believers to argue for their positions as good for everyone, but he allows them to frame such arguments within their religiously based conception of justice. Wolterstorff removes even this mild constraint. Both thinkers do not impose any institutional filter: not only in the public sphere but also in the halls of power, religious reasons can suffice to justify coercive legal and administrative decisions.
Indeed, Wolterstorff seems to reject a key idea behind democratic legitimation, namely the presumption that procedures and decisions should operate within a background framework of principles acceptable to all citizens. Consequently, it is unclear how a democracy should maintain its legitimacy and avoid devolving into an endless strife of factions simply vying for power. In the background of these debates lay contention over the burdens of citizenship. Believers might object that Habermas still places an asymmetric burden on them.
After all, they must eventually, at the institutional level, shift over to secular modes of justification, whereas non-believers need not carry out the same kind of move toward religious justification. In response, Habermas has offered the hypothesis that both believers and non-believers are involved in a complementary learning process in which each side can learn from the other.
As a cooperative learning process, translation makes demands on both sides: the believer must seek publicly accessible arguments, whereas the non-believer must approach religion as a potential source of meaning, as harboring truths about human existence that are relevant for all. In closing, we suggest three possible extensions to Habermas's reply to believers. First, one might note that in the West at least, Christians are not so burdened as one might think. After all, some of the most important secular ideas that inform constitutional democracy—ideas of inalienable individual rights, liberty, and the like—partly originated in Christianity.
Second, one might point out that a reverse duty of translation on non-believers would involve a far heavier burden than that on believers, particularly in light of the first point. This is because some religious reasons, though they might have a surface intelligibility as propositions to non-believers, cannot be adequately appreciated or weighed apart from prolonged experience of living the faith.
Although it remains important for non-believers to learn from believers, one should probably expect believers to have an epistemic advantage in the translation process, that is, the process of determining whether or not a given secular content adequately renders a religiously based reason. So if believers have the greater burden, then that makes sense: believers are actually in a better position to make the translation. One might object that the second point presupposes an asymmetry between public secular reasons, to which both sides have access in principle, and religious reasons, to which only believers have initial and direct access.
However, that objection supports Habermas's position, and so leads into the third extension of his view. The objection calls into question the assumption that everyone should in principle have equal access to secular reason. Once we question that assumption, it is unclear why secular reasons should have a privileged place in political discourse. However, to reject the public position of secular reasons, at least in a pluralistic polity, is to say there is no public reason.
Rather, each citizen's perspective, religious or not, is comprehensive and somewhat opaque to others. In that case, however, every citizen now faces burdens of translation that she can shoulder only with the interlocutor's assistance. So the believer is not relieved of translation. Instead, everyone is now burdened by translation. To be sure, one might also remove the asymmetry between access to secular and religious reason by making each sort of discourse equally accessible to all in principle.
But that view hardly does justice to the existential import of religious experience, and so should be rejected by believers. Important Transitional Works 3. Mature Positions 3. Important Transitional Works In the period between Knowledge and Human Interests and The Theory of Communicative Action , Habermas began to develop a distinctive method for elaborating the relationship between a theoretical social science of modern societies, on the one hand, and the normative and philosophical basis for critique, on the other.
Mature Positions To understand Habermas's mature positions, we must start with his Theory of Communicative Action TCA , a two-volume critical study of the theories of rationality that informed the classical sociologies of Weber, Durkheim, Parsons, and neo-Marxist critical theory esp. The Dialogue between Naturalism and Religion On the topic of religion, Habermas has taken a nuanced position that continues to develop. Bibliography Cited Works by Habermas Mit Heidegger gegen Heidegger denken. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
July 25, Das Absolute und das Geschichte. Darmstadt: Luchterhand.
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Nicholsen and J. Stark trans. Nachmetaphysisches Denken. Burger and F. Lawrence trans. Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action , C. Lenhardt and S. Nicholsen trans.
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Justice and solidarity: On the discussion concerning stage 6. Wren ed. Die nachholende Revolution. A reply. Joas eds , Communicative Action , J. Gaines and D. Jones trans. Cambridge, MA: Polity. Lutz-Bachmann and G. Schmidt Noerr eds , Kritischer Materialismus. Postmetaphysical Thinking , W.
Hohengarten trans. Justification and Application , C. Cronin trans. Die Einbeziehung des Anderen. Studien zur politischen Theorie. Rehg trans. Reply to symposium participants, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Cardozo Law Review —, W. Cardozo School of Law, — English reprint in M. Rosenfeld and A. German reprint in Habermas a, — Cronin and P. DeGreiff eds. On the Pragmatics of Communication , M. Cooke ed. Die postnationale Konstellation. Wahrheit und Rechtfertigung.
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Beister trans. Cambridge: Polity. Der gespaltene Westen. Vorpolitische Grundlagen des demokratischen Rechtsstaates? Habermas and J. Schuller ed. Freiburg: Herder. Zwischen Naturalismus und Religion. Religion in the public sphere. European Journal of Philosophy 1—25, J. Gaines trans. Pre-political foundations of the democratic constitutional state? McNeil trans. San Francisco: Ignatius. The Divided West , C. Between Naturalism and Religion , C. Secondary Literature Apel, Karl-Ott, Diskurs und Verantwortung , Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Baynes, Kenneth, White ed. Benhabib, Seyla, Situating the Self , New York: Routledge.
Benhabib, Seyla, and Fred Dallmayr eds. Bohman, James, Buchanan, Allen, Dews, Peter ed. Forst, Rainer, Fraser, Nancy, Gottschalk-Mazouz, Niels, Diskursethik , Berlin: Akademie. The Sense of Appropriateness , J. Farrell trans. Heath, Joseph, Heidegger, Martin, An Introduction to Metaphyics , R.
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Manheim trans. Held, David, Democracy and the Global Order. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment , G. Schmid Noerr ed. Jephcott trans. Kant, Immanuel, Ellington trans. Lafont, Cristina, Medina trans. McCarthy, Thomas, Mead, George Herbert, Morris, Meehan, Johanna ed. Ott, Konrad, Gottschalk-Mazouz ed. Rawls, John, Bohman and W. Rehg eds. Rehg, William, Jost and M. Hyde eds. Wyschogrod and G. McKenny eds. Fultner ed. Rosenfeld, Michel, and Andrew Arato eds , Taylor, Charles, Warnke, Georgia, Wellmer, Albrecht,