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policy: the concept
gary e. davis
November 4, 2004

A theory of action may be integrally involved with the concept of policy, as action-orientation (or purposeful, practical actions) may be theorized as endeavors according with personal policies, relating to interests, values, aims, etc. Michael Bratman’s philosophy of action takes this kind of approach, in terms of action plans defined by policies.

Relative to a distinction between public and private, theory of action is about private policies (the notion of what’s “private” is born as counterpoint to a sense of the community that has boundaries), though privacy often orients itself relative to public interests, etc. Yet, often not. Indeed, the more individuality there is to a life, the more that it may be oriented by non-public interests (though never entirely!).

Policies aim to guide actions, and only individuals act. Indications of group action or social action are conceptually derivative of action initiated by particular actors; or indication of group/social action indicates an emergent property of aggregate individual actions or coordination of individuals acting in concert. A group policy coordinates the activity of its members.

Thus, the notion of public policy isn’t about policy as such, since a policy is simply a guideline, and any domain of action may be oriented by guidelines. Guides may be formalized as rule, regulative, or imperative within procedures/protocols or systems; but that’s derivative of the formation of guides that are then found to be acceptable for normativity or institutionalization.

Public policy is normally understood to pertain to the governmental activities of a society, yet this is no mere matter of state, since any public organization may be concerned about its policies toward what it does in public or for the public. The governance that aggregately emerges—that gives to a society a sense of direction—is only partly the result of government (as standardly associated with the state). State policy is just part of a culture of public policy that pervades the public sphere of society, and public policy is part of a world that is also, even largely, personal, familial, organizational, or proprietary. So, a concern for public policy isn’t the property of political science.

One might take a theoretical stance—have a conceptual policy—toward society that is specifically political or cultural, etc. Yet, an anthropological policy is most multimodal; anthropology may be the paradigm science of human activity. Interdisciplinarity in the human sciences is fundamentally anthropological, requiring of traditional human sciences (I would argue, with Habermas) interdisciplinary bases of inquiry and theory whose discursive policy is interdisciplinary.

Theory may be empirically oriented or be a matter of conceptual analysis of knowledge bases; or even conceptual analysis of practices. Theory in general is discursive inquiry, as philosophy is discursive inquiry (though philosophy at heart isn’t scientifically theoretical). The way that theory goes expresses its discursive policy. Metatheory is basically about discursive policy. A discourse ethic is a discursive policy.



Also: This discussion is associated with the “advancing community” area of gedavis.com.




Bratman, Michael E. Intentions, Plans, and Practical Reason. CSLI Publications, 1999