Democratic ethics - Habermas' discourse ethics
Rawls certainly offers one approach to a democratic ethics. I'd like to suggest another approach, that of Habermas.
In the tradition of critical theory (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1997), Jorgen
Habermas's main aim has been to construct a theory focusing on an analysis of
advanced capitalist industrial societies and of democracy and the rule of law in a
critical social-evolutionary context (Habermas, 1990, 1993, 1996, 2003). Over the
last twenty years or so, Habermas has developed discourse ethics, which represents
the pivotal program of his comprehensive social theory and tries to advance the
goals of human emancipation, while maintaining an inclusive, universalist moral
framework. For Habermas, members of modern, pluralistic societies find themselves
in a dramatic situation of change, where the substantive background consensus on
the underlying moral norms and values has been shattered and where global and
domestic conflicts need to be regulated. Discourse ethics proposes a morality of
equal respect and solidaristic responsibility for everybody by outlining a way to
arrive at a universally accepted and acceptable moral and ethical consensus through
discourse (Habermas, 1990,1996,2003). The basic idea is that the universal validity
of a moral norm cannot be justified in the mind of an isolated individual reflecting on
an issue to be discussed but only in a process of argumentation between individuals.
Every validity claim to normative Tightness depends upon a mutual understanding
achieved by individuals in argument (Habermas, 1998).
Normative validity cannot be understood as separate from the argumentative
procedures used in everyday practice, such as those used to resolve issues concerning the legitimacy of actions and the validity of norms governing interactions.
Discourse ethics states that the sources of moral consensus are contained in the
formal pragmatic preconditions of speech and language, the communicative action, and are not drawn from particular religious convictions or the conception of
a "good life" internal to a particular group or culture (Finlayson, 2000); Habermas,
1996). To understand what Habermas means by that, we first describe the notion
of communicative action and how it provides a basis for an approach to normative
theory [GT : not included]. Second, based on the Habermasian concept of communicative action, we
outline the principles of discourse ethics, which offer procedures for validating moral
choices in discourses. Finally, we introduce forms of practical reason that play a
significant role in Habermas's recent publications. As the focus of our paper is an
analysis of social accountability initiatives and related discourses between MNCs
and their stakeholders, we only discuss those Habermasian concepts that are necessary to understand and criticize these topics. We do not examine the economic and
political institutions within which discourses take place. It should be mentioned,
though, that Habermas (1996, 1999, 2003) recently places emphasis on political
science and the theory of democracy. (Dirk Ulrich Gilbert and Andreas Rasche, 'Discourse Ethics and Social Accountability: The Ethics of SA 8000', Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Apr., 2007), pp. 187-216 : 190-1.
Dirk Ulrich Gilbert and Andreas Rasche, 'Discourse Ethics and Social Accountability: The Ethics of SA 8000', Business Ethics Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Apr., 2007), pp. 187-216.
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communicative action: Reflections on the detranscendentalized 'use of reason.' In
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