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On § 9: appealing to a common ethos
In virtue of ethical pragmatics: part 6 of 6

  March 19, 2014 gary e. davis  

I haven’t been influenced by Hilary Putnam; just by coincidence, not aversion. I haven’t sought a sense of “practical wisdom objectivity in a robustly epistemic sense” (233). But I do seek a sense of our evolutionarity and healthy human development which is evidence-based. Ideals of healthy living, creative flourishing, excellence, and fairness are great values; and are, I anticipate, epistemically warrantable, if anything of our humanity is. 

What this means for conflict management should be understood relative to human interests that are expressed by such ideals.

We modern pluralists must really ask how normative relations and conflicts can be settled among collectives with contradictory ideals, “ideals of human flourishing,” given the premise that any rational genealogy of values is bound to the We-perspective of a collaborative community concerned with its own common good.

A genalogy of central values can explain why proximal conflicts can discover common human interests already existing for each party. That’s an always-available discovery, not a negotiation out of egoistic interest positions. We have common human interests.
There is generative ambiguity in differences of understanding within an interest position between “our own” common good and “the” common good. What is the scalability of the “our” which each position may discover for itself, whereby conflicting parties gain a good sense of good in common? It’s a resolvable question within the horizons of each. Most ecologies (in a conceptually rich sense) have discernible horizons, and the planet is rather small. (By the way, there is expertise in conflict resolution and arbitration, and it tends to be bipartisan or multipartisan rather than impartial, in my experience. Impartiality is often not fruitful, because creative intervention is likely needed.)

People who are not joined by shared forms of life or practices encounter one another as others.

So, the issue is why do people believe they are not joined by shared forms of life when in fact they are? This is an educational issue.

It seems difficult to meet this expectation if we already have to presuppose the background of an intersubjectively shared conception of the common good for people’s rational normative beliefs to develop intelligently.

This seems confused. Good cognitive development of beliefs (which should be the baseline here—otherwise educational or remedial processes are the issue) doesn’t presuppose a conception of common good. What’s genuinely endorsable amid what’s factically effective can be distinguished. A reliabilist background of reason (intelligent development) is different from the ephemeral, interactive, translational “rationality” that belongs to agenda-led interaction. Mature cognitive capability can allow one to extract from background presumptions general human interests implicit to one’s own sense of good which serves interest in shaping shared understanding. But one should need to keep the relevance of mature autonomy in mind (and see the enabling of mature autonomy in a community as a central value, at least as a matter of developing leadership capability in higher education).
So, it’s not the case that “those involved in this situation can take recourse to nothing but the procedures of argumentation as such....” Processes of understanding, which create a basis for conflict management, are not argumentative; they’re explicative and appreciative. Thus, Putnam is right to say that “Truth and goodness independent of [argumentative] procedures are at best regulative ideas” (234)—for each party in the process of shaping shared understanding. 

Habermas notes that

Intelligent behavior, which Dewey elucidates in terms of hypothesis formation and testing, can certainly be understood as an instance of procedural rationality.

But this is confusing the difference between (a) inquiry’s reasoning, reflection, framing, and re-framing capability, brought to the table, so to speak; and (b) what Habermas has in mind with “rationality” (interaction in conflict resolution and regulative norm formation). 

This is not about entire collectives interacting with each other; it’s about individuated partners or representatives in actual interaction. “This vertical We-perspective, from which everyone can identify everyone else as a member of the same cooperative community” is not the interface of conflict resolution, where problematic differences of background are in play relative to individuated partners in dramatically immanent, interpersonal processes of understanding. Habermas says as much!

In practical discourses that transgress strong cultural boundaries between different collectives, the participants take on a first-person-plural perspective that is not vertically directed at all members top to bottom, but horizontally at the mutual inclusion of the other.

So, what’s the problem? Evidently, JH is sociocentrically presuming a conventional mindset for his participants (lack of mature autonomy), who can’t distinguish their stantial interaction role from their background lives (and don’t accept third-party mediation?). 

In any case, the interaction scene pertains to any central value difference, not especially “moral” (i.e., corrective or pre-legislative). What’s constructed among participants pertains to the horizons of the participants; there’s no need for universalistic claims, unless that’s one’s legislative interest. 

The merit of central values and intrinsic values belongs to the well-being of involved lives, which is fully comprehensible within the horizon of specifically-ethical interest (which is derivative of intrinsic human interests belonging to the good of well-led lives). Needing new agreements which have “to be generated by all participants symmetrically and reciprocally taking on each other’s perspectives” (234) doesn’t imply need for perspectives beyond that. “[D]ecentering one’s given ego or ethnocentrically limited interpretive perspectives” is a matter of interaction-motivated distantiation (as rendered above); no “categorial imperative” is implied. An adequate communicative ethic of norm formation doesn’t need to become a discourse ethic of legislation in order to resolve conflicts!

Of course the need to decentralize becomes particularly significant with regard to questions of justice.

But institutionally-specialized jurisprudence and legislation is another matter, and its “universe” is nothing more than the purview of legislative mandate. Procedural generalization of principles of fairness which originate from ethical life is just scaling up (i.e., pragmatic systemization of) ethical values. 

The “moral” here is nothing more than scaling up ethical interests systematically. To say that “In moral discourse, interlocutors who can contradict one another encounter each other not in the role of arbitrary others, but as particular individuals” (235top) is the same as to say “In ethical discourse...” Much of the modern history of philosophical ethics has for good reason treated ‘ethical’ and ‘moral’ as synonyms.
“The morality of equal respect” is nothing more than a principle of fair respect which can be found in any longstanding community, because the human interest in kinship and civil life is integral to healthy communities, and it’s generalizable because we may aspire to scale up what we enjoy living: caring to identify with others who matter. No categorical imperative can compel caring.
“[E]qual respect” is a minimalist condition that won’t go far in actual conflict management, because people want the integrity of individuality (thus genuine differences) appreciated and appropriated, not smoothed into the Original Position of public policy impartiality. Therefore, what’s called for is understanding and agreement that’s appreciative of the actual character of interaction.
“[J]oint responsibility” is another vague notion that won’t go far for defining complementary relations—varying role definitions—in resolutions of conflict. 

All of this can “be justified from the ethical perspective of a single community concerned about its common good” because every longstanding community has a legacy of need for fairness and resolution-implementation, and common good in all longstanding communities expresses central values and intrinsic human interests. 

Human rights derive from intrinsic human goods, and those goods show in all societies. 

Liberal democracy is as valuable as the diversity of community life that it enables, protects, and advances. Legislation and jurisprudence serve the value of enabling, protecting, and advancing our humanity. It’s a mistake to collapse the institutional conditions of the latter (modeled by discourse ethics—which is a philosophy of law) into the local conditions of communities learning to share common ground (modeled by communicative ethics, “the ideal speaking situation” and ordinary conditions of problem resolution), then require of communities that discourse ethic. 

Habermas surmises that, inasmuch as “Dewey explains intelligent behavior in terms of the model of scientific method,” this suggests that “scientific expertocracy...[is] a superior form of social organization” (235). But Dewey might seem prescient to students of public policy: Complexity in advanced societies that ensures accomodation of all interests—especially progressively—is very difficult to understand and manage. “Popular sovereignty” is part of democracy, not the toil of day-to-day governance: Good public policy is a knowledge-intensive venture. Important legislation is an intricate matter. Jurisprudence requires expertise. Excellence of leadership is rare, but sorely needed. How do we create good expertise in our universities and other institutions? We need more, not less


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Also: This discussion is associated with the “good thinking” area of

Be fair. © 2017, g. e. davis.