Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Community of difference: Habermas and the problems of pluralism (Juergen Habermas)

Mark Green Thames, The University of Texas at Dallas


Jürgen Habermas is a German philosopher and sociologist whose thought has moved steadily over the decades to theorize just and moral societies in democratic, constitutional states within a cosmopolitan world order. He attempts to ground all social relations in the human universals of communications. I examine his works in order to show how his theory could be strengthened by jettisoning unnecessary and unhelpful commitments to antimetaphysical and impersonal concepts. I argue that he cannot effectively provide moral-ethical guidance in a situation of worldview pluralism without metaphysical resources. In particular, I argue, first, that his discourse morality in fact implies a universal communicative ethics. Second, his theory of communicative action and his discourse morality together presuppose a certain sort of person as a communicative actor. I compare this with John Searle's conscious self. Third, I think that Habermas inadequately addresses worldview pluralism as a result of these problems and of his commitment to political approaches. This last calls for more comment. The specifics of Habermas's difficulties with pluralism flow from these self-imposed constraints; thus, he fails to find a legitimation for existing metaphysical and religious worldviews, despite his avowed need for them, and so cannot properly welcome their differences; similarly, he fails to acknowledge his own system's implied worldview, and its implied ethical standards for evaluating worldviews, and so struggles to set appropriate boundaries to civil society; moreover, his resulting political-legal approach to developing solidarity and managing difference is unlikely to produce even the broadest sort of cosmopolitan community. I offer John Hick's philosophy of religious pluralism as an example of an alternative approach to problems of worldview pluralism. I hope that a philosophy of communicative action which follows these recommendations will better be able to explain human commonality, ground human community, acknowledge differences, issue needed basic moral-ethical judgments, and affirm personhood and humanity unequivocally. This dissertation is an effort to modify Habermas's philosophy of communicative action accordingly.

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