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        communitarian thinking and the basis provided by trust

gary e. davis
May 2003 / March 2014

This discussion was initially part of “A Brief Sense Of
An American Pragmatism”
The dispute that JH has had with communitarians (Justification & Application) is pertinent here, as American pragmatism seems to me more associated with communitarian senses of mutuality than with universalist senses—not that any anti-universalism is suggested by this thought; rather that the basis of motivation for living in accord with universalism and working to foster it—the virtue of universalism—isn’t inherent to discursive proceduralism. This may be important for understanding that there are reasonable alternatives to deontic normativity.

I think it’s fair to associate Rawls’ notion of civic duty with communitarian leanings, and he’s certainly a major American philosopher (sympathetically critical of Habermas’ reading of his political liberalism); so, an important context of American pragmatism, relative to JH’s work, can be explicated via this theme (relatedly, some scholars of American democracy find its primary efficacy in civil society rather than the government which serves civil society; this is an especially American notion that one could consider a pragmatic one (The Good Citizen: a history of American civic life, Michael Schudson, Harvard 1998). I believe that Rawls’ concept is more compatible with Michael Slote’s “humanitarian care” (Morals from Motives, Oxford 2001) than JH’s abstract universalism, and I consider that an American pragmatic view.

Concordant with communitarian themes, trust is especially important, I think. I’ve been deeply impressed by the centrality of trust for social health. Healthy financial markets are based on trust, and derivatively the entirety of a market economy, in terms of consumer confidence. Trust is a keystone of democracy (Mark E. Warren, ed. Democracy & Trust, Cambridge UP, 1999. Warren is also a contributor to The Cambridge Companion to Habermas, 1995). In representative government, citizen trust is earned by the genuine showing of care for and about constituents. Trust is only as good as the care it reflects.

In fact, “Trust is only as good as the care it reflects” expresses a fundamental aspect of healthy human development. Only a basically trusting child can respect neighborhood customs (e.g., re: schooling) and feel good about relying on given norms. (Delinquency— the road to criminality—expresses revenge against feelings of betrayal). Cynicism toward X originates from chronic distrust—maybe not really caused by X!, but by a broad-based sense of “the world’s” failure to be deserving of trust. Instilling trust is vital for any roadmap to peace, be it broken marriages or broken lands.

Reliability is a keynote of both trust and normativity in general. Great processes of establishing norms are only as good as the reliability of the “word” of those who avow commitment to a guideline. I think that trust is the basis of expectation, and the reliability of agreement is based in a mutuality of trust and care.

This kind of view accords with the view that only “internal reasons” are motivating, thus only internal reasons (embodied or lifeworld-based appeals) are really reasons. Each side in the so-called internal vs. external reasons debate claims that the dispute poses a false dichotomy: Either so-called external reasons are derivative of so-called internal reasons or the converse. Either way, real reasons are allegedly either one or the other, such that each’s alledged other is derivative of what’s “real.” Relative to the internalist vs. externalist debate, I’m an internalist, but one who finds external “reasons” to be sociocentrically real rationales (i.e., phenomenologically and systemically stable rationalizations). Sociocentric rationales do serve among [internalist] reasons, since only individuals literally enact intentions. External “reasons,” i.e., social rationales (tenable rationalizations; rationality) works socially like really-motivating reasons work for singular actors. In this sense, JH seems to be an externalist. For him, there is no real difference between “reason” and “rationality.” But I see good reason to distinguish the two. Habermas thinks complexly about the normativity of expectations (warrant for systemic force) rather than their motivating merit (the unforced appeal—the unforced appeal [which is centripetal, evincing], not “unforced force” [which is centrifugal, compelling]) for mature individuals, which is basically a psychological matter of belief in the reliability of accepted norms (as more than factical) and trust in expectations about others’ commitment as normative. Well-warranted regulation of distrust does not create trust. Trust dissolves urgency for regulation, and how trust is created is not a matter of justifiability of action.

I would argue that a discursive ethic of care has motivational democratic advantages that deontic universalism lacks. I think that a discursive ethic of care can be the basis for an appealing duty of care (re: Martha Nussbaum, Michael Slote) which tends to dissolve need for warranted force, in proportion to the development of trust, care, and commitments based on that. Discursive proceduralism, for the sake of good law, doesn’t provide a basis for understanding why good law is endorsed, not just passively respected. Deontology is best understood as compensatory for the lack of reliable care, trust, and commitment. Both law and ethical life are important, but the humanitarian care at the root of good lives is the real basis of endorsing generalized requirements (that are not systemic or ecological requirements). This may become especially evident when we distinguish postive law (enabling good society) and negative law (regulating risks of disabling circumstances). Policies which enable cannot be understood from a perspective of need to regulatively control (negatively constrain). So JH’s project of warranting critical need for regulative norms should be grounded in a discursive ethic of care aiming to enable good lives and good society, which regulative norms serve.



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