Rethinking Habermas – Discourse as human life-form
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In this thesis I answer the question whether Habermas’ formal-pragmatic justification of discourse ethics is plausible and whether the concept of human life-form could provide an alternative. I defend that Habermas’ formal-pragmatic justification of discourse ethics isn’t plausible (1) and that the concept of human life-form could provide an alternative (2). Habermas’ formal-pragmatic justification is that because we are always already, although perhaps implicitly, committed to communicative presuppositions such as the rules of discourse and because we can derive the universalization principle (U) from these presuppositions, we are therefore always already, although perhaps implicitly, committed to (U) in virtue of those communicative presuppositions. First, an important requirement every conception of morality which tries to systematically reconstruct our everyday moral experience should fulfill is that its justification should be phenomenologically correct. Habermas formal-pragmatic justification, however, does not meet this requirement. For the very fact that, we are always already, although perhaps implicitly, committed to (U) in virtue of our communicative presuppositions, doesn’t show that it would be wrong not to adhere to (U), but only that that would be incoherent. And wrongness and incoherence are two phenomenologically distinct things. As such, Habermas formal-pragmatic justification isn’t plausible, since it is phenomenologically incorrect and it thereby doesn’t allow us to take ourselves seriously (1). And secondly, an alternative that invokes the concept of human life-form sets the stage for discourse ethics to play its part. On the one hand, the list of basic human functions this concept involves, would reconfirm the necessity of practical discourse by showing what’s at stake in it, namely human flourishing. On the other hand practical discourse would provide a way of implementing the list this concept involves by showing the procedure of argumentation with which we can do so. In this sense the concept of human life-form and that of practical discourse complement each other. And such an alternative could also plausibly show what is wrong with not adhering to (U). It would be wrong not to adhere to (U), not because it’s incoherent to do so, but because it would deny someone’s humanity. And such a justification would meet the earlier requirement on every conception of morality, because it gives a central role to the concept of our humanity. As such, the concept of human life-form could provide an alternative, since it is phenomenologically correct and it thereby does allow us to take ourselves seriously (2).