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Jürgen Habermas: Morality, Society and Ethics: An Interview with Torben Hviid Nielsen Author(s): Torben Hviid Nielsen and Jürgen Habermas Source: Acta Sociologica, Vol. 33, No. 2 (1990), pp. 93-114 Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd. Stable URL: . Accessed: 07/04/2011 18:45 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. Sage Publications, Ltd. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Acta Sociologica.

Habermas Interview

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Page 1: Habermas Interview

Jürgen Habermas: Morality, Society and Ethics: An Interview with Torben Hviid NielsenAuthor(s): Torben Hviid Nielsen and Jürgen HabermasSource: Acta Sociologica, Vol. 33, No. 2 (1990), pp. 93-114Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.Stable URL: .Accessed: 07/04/2011 18:45

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.

Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . .

Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].

Sage Publications, Ltd. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to ActaSociologica.

Page 2: Habermas Interview

Acta Sociologica 1990 (33), 2:93-114

Jurgen Habermas: Morality, Society and Ethics* An interview with Torben Hviid Nielsen

Jurgen Habermas. J. W. Goethe-Universitdt, Dantestrasse 4-6, Postfach 111932, D-6000, Frankfurt am Main 11, BRD; Torben Hviid Nielsen, Roskilde Universitetscenter, Postboks 260, DK-4000, Roskilde, Denmark.

T.H.N.: The main topic will be your thoughts on morality and ethics, in particular as they have developed since the publication of your Theorie des kommunikativen Handeln in 1981 (English version: The Theory of Communicative Action, hereafter TCA, 1984 (vol. I) and 1988 (vol. II)). In part I we will concentrate on the formal, non-substantial, concept of morality in your 'discourse ethics' - in particular the limitation to 'justice' as the telos or object, and the relation between 'justice', 'law' and 'care'. Part II concerns the linguistic or universal-pragmatic argumentation for the discourse ethics. The focus here is on the truth of norms, the status of the ideal speech situation, and the demarcation and separation from democratic procedure. In part III we will deal with morality and ethics in relation to 'lifeworld' and 'system' in your two-level concept of society in TCA, and with the mediation from morality to society and ethics - especially your discussions of 'pragmatic ethic', 'practical reason' and 'choice' as attempts to grasp this mediation.

T.H.N.: How should we understand the development from the sociological critique of the pathologies of modernity in TCA to the philosophical morality and ethics in Moralbewusstsein und kommunikatives Handeln (MkH) (1983) and a succeeding series of articles and lectures? Can the discourse ethics be seen as an individual, 'philosophical', answer to the unsolved 'sociological' question of the proper, non- pathological relation between system and lifeworld in modernity? Why have you, since 1981, concentrated more on questions of philosophical morality and ethics than on the open question of the proper reiation between system and lifeworld, which was left over from TCA?

J.H.: I see this differently. What was of primary importance for the philosophical basis of the TCA was the speech-pragmatic introduction of the concept of com- municative rationality. Following Weber and Durkheim I did, it is true, go into the

* The topics and the outline of the interview were discussed at the University of California, Berkeley in the autumn of 1988, and the questions were answered in written form from Frankfurt am Main in the autumn of 1989. The interviewer thanks Wolfgang Schluchter for discussions during preparations for the interview.


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question of legal and moral development; but the two theoretical approaches I built upon in my discussion, discourse ethics and Kohlberg's Theory of the Stages of Moral Consciousness, did not receive any special emphasis at the time. Only in the subsequent years did I work up the matters I had left lying. The title of my essay on 'Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action' dates back to my time at the Starnberg Institute, and to the kind of research generally undertaken there. My essay on discourse ethics came out of seminars I held directly after my return to Frankfurt, in other words, in a philosophy department. Since 1983 1 have been working in a different professional context; and this also influences the particular emphasis of one's research.

The concern with moral-theoretical questions picks up a number of problems which I had already discussed in 1973 in the final part of 'Legitimation Crisis'. At that time I suggested a model of 'suppressed generalizable interests' in order to show the sense in which it is possible to distinguish between 'general' and 'particular' interests. Subsequently, in the TCA I did not return to this; rather, as you rightly recall, I tried to describe social pathologies by means of a two-level concept of society; that is, as deformations which arise from distortions in the reproduction of the lifeworld (Vol. 2:142 ff.).

In this context my particular interest was in pathologies which arise when critical imbalances in systems either of the state apparatus or of the economy are displaced onto the lifeworld and intervene in the latter's reproduction (Vol. 2:385 ff.). Had I wanted to analyse more closely this phenomenon of the reification of communicative relationships through monetarization and bureaucratization - the phenomenon referred to by Marx with the general term of 'alienation' - moral- theoretical considerations would have been out of place. Rather, the description of such phenomena would have necessitated a more careful definition of the concept of systematically distorted communication. I considered this - on the basis of the empirical research on pathologies within the family - as the interpersonal equivalent of those intrapsychical disturbances which in psychoanalysis are attributed to the unconscious avoidance of conflict and explained as corresponding defence mechanisms. But since 1974 I have not returned to these thoughts on communication pathologies arising on the level of simple interaction. I still consider my suggestions relevant, and find confirmation of this in the interesting work of Jim Bohman and Martin Low-Beer.

T.H.N.: The discourse ethics is presented and argued both as the continuation or completion of your own earlier, theoretical occupation with ethics and as a reply and answer to the political agenda and the public discussions in the 1980s. Have you experienced a tension between the two, i.e. your own theoretical development partly of questions posed in the 1960s, and the public agenda of the 1980s? More specifically: has the agenda of the 1980s contributed to your apparent shift of emphasis from a social ('Hegelian') ethics to an individual ('Kantian') morality?

J.H.: Actually, my research programme has remained the same since about 1970, since my discussion at that time of formal pragmatics and of a discourse theory of truth which I first presented in the Christian-Gauss lectures. Of course, anybody at all sensitive to politics, including the political impact of theories, is bound to react to new contexts. In the 1960s one had to tackle the theories of technocracy of the one side; in the 1970s the crisis theories of the other. And since the mid-1970s I


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felt the pressure of both the neo-conservative and the post-structuralist critiques of reason - my response to this was the concept of communicative rationality. This particular constellation continued into the 1980s, and it was for this reason that I continued to work on a critique of the philosophy of consciousness, a critique to which I lent greater philosophical precision. In Der Philosophische Diskurs der Moderne ('The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity') it was my intention to show that 'vorstellende Denken' can be replaced by something other than the defeatism of the deconstructivists or the contextualism of the neo-Aristotelians.

It was in the context of this intersubjectivist self-criticism of reason that I then also reacted to the not altogether unsuspicious popularity enjoyed by philosophical ethics today and went on to elaborate the issues which, following Mead's Com- munications Ethics, I had always been interested in (Vol. 2:92 ff.). Discourse ethics, like Mead's work, therefore follows on from a number of the intuitions contained in Kantian moral theory without adopting the latter's individualistic premises.

T.H.N.: The discourse ethics is an ethics of and for modernity - as TCA and Der Philosophische Diskurs der Moderne (1985) are defendants of the Enlightenment and modernity against the old traditionalism and the new post-modernity and obscurity. Virtues are, both to you and to one of your main opponents, the neo- aristotelian, A. Maclntyre (After Virtue, 1980), incompatible with modernity. Why and how is it that all the traditional, substantial moralities have become obsolete and incompatible with the conditions of modernity?

J.H.: In my opinion, After Virtue has two principal weaknesses. Firstly, Macintyre makes things too easy for himself in his critique by choosing in A. Gewirth an untypical and rather easy-to-criticize example of a universalistic position instead of looking at Rawls or Dworkin or Apel. And secondly, his recourse to the Aristotelian concept of praxis gets him into problems as soon as he tries to extract a universal core from the inevitable pluralism characteristic of modernity which accepts various equally legitimate forms of life. Where does he find the equivalent of what Aristotle could still assume; in other words, what is Maclntyre's substitute for the meta- physical characterization of the polis as the exemplary form of life in which people, all those, that is, who do not remain barbarians, were supposed to realize the telos of a good life? Because in modemity you cannot philosophically prejudge the multitude of individual life-projects and collective forms of life, and because the way to live is given over to become the sole responsibility of the socialized individuals themselves and has to be judged from the perspective of the participants, what is able to convince everyone is reduced to the procedure of rational will formation.

T.H.N.: The discourse ethics is in two ways a narrow or minimal understanding of ethics. It is deontological, cognitivistic, formalistic and universalistic in form. And it is constricted to justice as the only telos or object. Thus traditional goals of ethics as the good or happiness (or a combination of the three) are excluded. Why this limitation to 'justice' as the one and only goal of ethics, and do you regard it as a necessary feature of all modern ethics?

J.H.: Given modern conditions of life, none of the various rival traditions is any longer prima facie binding. Also in practical relevant questions convincing reasons can no longer be based on the authority of unquestioned traditions. And if we do not want to decide normative questions in the basic matter of our living-together by open or covert force, by coercion, influence or by allowing the might of the


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stronger interest to prevail, but rather by non-violent conviction on the basis of a rationally motivated agreement, then we will have to concentrate on those questions which are amenable to impartial judgement. When we ask what is good for me, or good for us, or good for them, we can't expect a generally binding answer; we should rather ask: what is equally good for all. This 'moral point of view' throws a strong but narrow beam of light which picks out in the mass of evaluative questions just those 'action conflicts' which can be resolved by reference to a generalizable interest; in other words, questions of justice.

In saying this I am not claiming that questions of justice are the only relevant questions. Usually ethical existential questions are the source of far greater concern to us - problems which force the individual or a group to work out clearly who they are and who they'd like to be. Such problems of self-understanding may well be the source of greater concern for us than questions of justice. But it is only the latter whose structure is such that they can be resolved to the balanced and equal advantage of all. Moral judgements have to meet with the agreement of all those who might be concerned, each from their own perspective - and not, as in the case of ethical judgement, on the basis of the way you and I understand ourselves and the world. And it then follows that moral theories, if they adopt a cognitivistic approach, are essentially theories of justice.

T.H.N.: How and why is it that justice remains one and undivided? Why do the disunions and split-ups in modernity, to ask more generally, stop with the three Kantian critiques, and thus let among others justice remain undivided? Michael Walzer's Spheres of Justice is one long argument for dividing also justice in its spheres (membership, welfare, money, education, etc.) in order to defend pluralism and equality. 'The principles of justice are themselves pluralistic in form, different social goods ought to be distributed for different reasons, in accordance with different procedures, by different agents' (1983:6).

J.H.: I agree unreservedly with Michael Walzer's proposition here, but not with his consequences.

The idea that a norm is just or in the general interest is equivalent to saying that this norm deserves to be recognized. 'Justice' as such is not material, not a particular value but a dimension of validity. Just as descriptive sentences may be true, that is, may express what is the case, so normative sentences too may be right and may express what has to be done. But the various principles or norms with their semantic content, regardless of whether they are valid or not, are something on a different level.

For instance, there are different principles of distributive justice. They are material principles of justice such as 'everyone according to his needs', or 'everyone according to his ability', or 'equal shares for all'. On the other hand, principles of equal protection, of equal respect for all, the principles of due process or equal application of the law relate to a different kind of problem. What is at issue here is not the distribution of goods or opportunities but the protection of freedom and integrity. Now, in that they appear to be universalizable all these principles of justice can be justified, and it can be asserted that they are prima facie valid. But only their application in particular concrete instances will show which of the various competing principles is the most appropriate in a given context.


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And that is the task of discourses of application: within the family, for example, conflicts regarding distribution will probably be decided according to the principle of need rather than according to the achievement principle, whilst on the other hand the situation may be the reverse in particular questions of the economic distribution of social rewards. That depends on which principle fits best in a given situation, the relevant characteristics of the latter having been described as fully as possible. But I find the idea of matching principles of justice generally to a priori delimited total spheres of action highly problematical. In my view the sort of considerations Walzer entertains could be accommodated in discourses of appli- cation; but then they'd have to show themselves to be valid for each single case in its own right.

T.H.N.: The limitation of morality to justice implies a sharp distinction between moral questions (which, under the aspect of universalization of justice, can in principle be decided rationally) and evaluative questions (which are questions of the good life and as such accessible to a rational discussion only within the horizon of a historically concrete life form or individual life history). But do you quite exclude a possible congruence between justice and the good life? John Rawls, whose theory of justice as fairness also gives right priority over the good, suggests the congruence 'at least in the circumstances of a well-ordered society'. And the structure of an ethical doctrine depends to him not only upon how it defines the differences, but also 'how it relates the right and the good' (1971:446).

J.H.: Yes, in a society which possessed all the resources of a modem society and were at the same time well-ordered, just and emancipated, the socialized individuals would enjoy not only autonomy and a high degree of participation, they would also have greater freedom for their own self-realization, that is, for the conscious projection and pursuit of individual life plans.

T.H.N.: You separate 'justice' and 'the good life', but you include care and responsibility in 'justice'. That was, at least, your answer to Carol Gilligan's separation of the two ethics of 'justice' and 'care' (In a Different Voice, 1982). But how can Gilligan's 'care' and 'responsibility', from the cognitive point of view, be part of your 'justice' and 'discourse ethics'? The 'ethics of care' is directed towards a particular other instead of a generalized other; it is a contextual way of thinking instead of a formal-abstract; it is a relationship instead of a role, and the moral problems are due to conflicting interests instead of competing rights. How can these four differences be subsumed under one formal 'justice'?

J.H.: Let me take the first two points together, then the second two in the same way.

The impression that deontological ethics such as the Kantian one compel one to ignore the concrete other and his particular situation arises solely because of the one-sided preoccupation with questions of justification. It is in fact possible to avoid such one-sidedness. Kant conceives morality from the Rousseauistic perspective of a legislator who considers how a matter may be resolved in the general interest of all citizens, that is, from the point of view of the universality of the interests of each and all. In this version the problems to do with application are lost sight of. The true nature of a particular case needing resolution, the specific characteristics of the people involved are considered only after the problems of justification have been resolved. However, as soon as it has to be established which of the prima


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facie applicable norms is the one most appropriate to a given situation and to the associated conflict there has to be as complete a description as possible of all the normatively relevant features of the given context. Klaus Gunther entitles his exemplary study of discourses of application Der Sinn fur Angemessenheit ('The Sense of Appropriateness').

It is not possible to take complete account of 'Practical Reason' in terms of justification discourses alone. In the justification of norms Practical Reason finds expression in the principle of universalization, whereas it is expressed in the form of a principle of appropriateness in the application of norms. If the complementarity of justification and application is clearly grasped, one sees how discourse ethics can take account of those misgivings which you have voiced and which are shared by Carol Gilligan and Seyla Benhabib.

Now let us turn to the second main objection which claims that deontological ethics concentrates on rights and not on needs, neglecting also the aspect of membership relationships in favour of institutionally defined roles. Looking back at the individualism of the Kantian tradition this misgiving is clearly justified; but it does not apply to discourse ethics. For discourse ethics takes up the intersubjectivist approach of pragmatism and conceives of practical discourse as a public praxis of mutual perspective-taking: everybody is stimulated to adopt the perspective of all others in order that they might examine the acceptability of a solution according to the way every other person understands themselves and the world. Justice and solidarity are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand practical discourse is a procedure which allows everyone the right to influence an outcome by either agreeing or disagreeing; it is a procedure, therefore, which in this sense takes account of an individualistic understanding of equality. On the other hand, practical discourse leaves that social bond intact which encourages as well as urges all participants in the argument to be aware that they belong to an unlimited com- munication community. And it is only when the maintenance of this community which demands of all its members that they perform an act of selfless empathy in this ideal role-taking is secured that those networks of reciprocal recognition without which the very identity of each and every individual would necessarily disintegrate, can reproduce themselves.

T.H.N.: How are we to understand the borderline or separation between 'moral- ity' and 'law'. They are - following Durkheim as well as Weber - the two distinctive results of the division and split-up of the old, traditonal ethics; but they remain defined by the same object or telos. Are 'morality' and 'law' in modernity to be seen merely as different ways of institutionalizing and different procedures for arriving at the same goal?

J.H.: Positive law and post-conventional morality complement one another and together overlay traditional ethical-life. If you adopt a normative point of view it is not hard to grasp the fact that justified moral norms are in themselves incomplete. It is a precondition for the general acceptance of any norm which passes the test of universalization that the norm be in fact adhered to by everyone. And it is precisely this condition which a post-conventional morality cannot of itself guarantee. Thus the very premises of any serious post-conventional mode of justification produce a problem in that it can only be expected of any individual that he will adhere to a valid norm if he is certain that the norm is adhered to by everyone else. Kant


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himself justified in this way the transition from morality to law sanctioned by the state. And Kant also recognized the problem which arises from the exercise of the power. Political power is not a 'glassy essence', it has its own characteristics as a medium; the use and organization of this power need to be subjected in turn to moral constraint. The idea of the 'rule of law' is the classical response to this challenge.

There is in Kant and early liberalism a conception of the rule of law which suggests that legal order is itself actually moral in nature, or at least a form of the implementation of morality. But it is wrong thus to assimilate law to morality. The political element in law brings other quite different factors to the fore. Not all matters which need to be and can be resolved legally are of a moral kind. Even if legislation were to approximate to the ideal conditions for discursive will-formation the decision of the legislator could not be based solely on moral grounds - and this is particularly the case with legislation in a welfare state. There is always a significant role to be played here by pragmatic reasons for a more or less fair balance of interests which are not capable of generalization. Furthermore, there are ethical grounds for the acceptance of a given self-understanding and for the preferred form of life in a group in which different traditions all forming different identities come together and have to be harmonized. It is for this reason that the claim to legitimacy of positive law even if it had been based on rational will-formation could not be reduced solely to its claim to moral validity. With the introduction of pragmatic and ethical reasons other factors come into play in the question of the legitimacy of the law: there are more aspects to this legitimacy than the normative validity of moral norms.

The 'force' of the law, that is, legal validity, consists of two components: the rational component which consists in the claim to legitimacy is combined with the empirical component of the enforcement of law. Legal validity claims to justify both components at the same time vis-A-vis the addressees: the cognitive expectation that if necessary force may be brought to bear so that everyone will adhere to the various legal norms (it is for this reason that the law is satisfied by legality of behaviour, that is, by behaviour merely conforming to the norms); at the same time it claims to justify the normative expectation that there are available good reasons for recognizing the system of laws as a whole (which is why the law must at all times provide the opportunities for more than mere legality, namely, an autonomous obedience on the basis of an understanding of and in agreement with the legitimacy of the legal order).


T.H.N.: Let us shift the focus from the definition and demarcation of morality to your linguistic argumentation for the discourse ethics, in particular your devel- opment of Toulmin's analysis of the 'use of arguments', Wittgenstein's 'games of language' and Chomsky's 'universal grammer' to a formal-pragmatic.

I will already at this methodological level confront you with a new argument for an old objection questioning a possible occidentalism or eurocentrism in your defence of the Enlightenment and behind your concept of evolution. It can be questioned whether the whole notion of a universal formal-pragmatic is nothing


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but a bad generalization from the Indo-European languages. Lee Whorf (Language, Thought and Reality, 1956) found; contrasting Standard Average European (SAE) with a series of non-European languages, that such central features as the function of the verbs, the time structure and the relation between subject and predicate were principally different from the condition in the later developed universal pragmatics. There seems to be abundant linguistic data that gives the lie to or falsifies the whole notion of a universal pragmatic. You might argue that the non- SAE languages are merely less developed languages on their way to the universal grammar behind the universal pragmatics, but then you have to justify how an evolution or development is possible in the depth structure behind the universal grammar.

J.H.: The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was discussed at length in the 1950s, by and large with negative results. It is clear that the fact that the surface structures of individual languages may differ widely does not mean that there are not significant similarities in the semantic deep structure of simple assertive sentences or in the pragmatic basic structure of the speech situation (e.g. personal pronouns, deictics of time and place). What Whorf had in mind was rather those differences between linguistic world-views in which already Humboldt was interested, though his con- siderations did not lead him to posit the linguistic relativity thesis. I don't think that it is necessary to take recourse to the notion of an evolution of linguistic systems to avoid this thesis. Given the way natural languages are, the evolutionary assumption is inappropriate. The grammatical complexity of languages rarely changes over time.

Whorf's intuition has come to the fore recently on quite a different level, namely, in the rationality debate which was begun by anthropologists and has developed in many quite different directions. I think the crucial point in this debate is whether we take account of an asymmetry which develops between the interpretive capacities of different cultures in that some have introduced second-order concepts, whereas others have not. These second-order concepts provide the necessary cognitive conditions for a culture becoming reflective, that is to say, for its members adopting a hypothetical stance vis-a-vis their own traditions and being able on this basis to understand themselves as culturally relative individuals. This kind of pluricentric understanding of the world is a characteristic of modern societies. What the argument is about is whether cognitive structures of this kind indicate a threshold which demands of any culture that passes this threshold similar processes of learning and adaptation.

According to the contextualists, the transition to post-metaphysical concepts of nature, to post-traditional views of law and morality, characterizes only one par- ticular tradition among others and does not mean that tradition as such becomes reflective. I cannot see how this argument can be seriously sustained. I think Max Weber was right precisely in that cautious universalistic interpretation which led Wolfgang Schluchter to his thesis concerning the general cultural significance of occidental realism (1979:15 ff.).

T.H.N.: Your moral theory takes the form of an investigation of the moral argumentation. And the only moral principle is a principle of universalization, which has the same function in the moral discourse as the principle of induction in the experimental sciences. A norm is only justified if it is acceptable in an actual argumentation to all who are potentially affected by it, meaning that the norm


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satisfies the interests of each participant in the argument. Why do the participants have to agree on the consequences? Why can they not agree to disagree in a moral analogy to the constitutional politics with its consensus on certain themes and procedures for disagreement and struggle over other themes?

J.H.: Argumentation is not a process of deliberation immediately resulting in firm decisions, but in the first place a problem-solving procedure leading to convic- tions. Of course the argument about the truth claim of assertive statements or about the rightness claim of normative statements may remain undecided so that no agreement is reached; in this case one would leave the matter open for the time being whilst remaining mindful of the fact that only one side can be right. In practical discourse on the other hand it may turn out that the conflict at stake is not of a moral kind at all. It may be an ethical-existential question, affecting the self-understanding of certain persons or of a given group; in this case any answer, however reasonable it be, will be valid only in relation to the aim of my or your good, or let us say not unsuccessful, life; it will not be able to lay claim to be universally binding. Or perhaps it is a pragmatic question of balancing opposite, but non-generalizable interests; in which case the participants can at best reach a fair or a good compromise. Thus the failure of attempts at argumentation in the area of praxis can allow one to come to an understanding of the fact that negotiations or discourses of self-understanding are called for rather than moral discourses.

There is a rational core in parliamentary will-formation also: for political questions are capable of being handled discursively, either from the empirical and pragmatic or from the moral and ethical points of view. Of course, there are finite points by which decisions have to be reached in such legally institutionalized processes of opinion formation. The procedures combine the forming of opinions orientated towards truth with the reaching of a majority decision. From the point of view of a discourse theory, of course, which tries to rationally reconstruct the normative intent of such procedures, the majority rule must keep an internal link with the cooperative search for truth. Ideally, then, the outcome of a majority decision reached discursively should be able to be presumed as rational: the content of any decision reached in accordance with due procedures must be able to count as the rationally motivated but fallible result of a discussion provisionally brought to an end because of the pressure of temporal, social and other constraints. Accordingly, one should not confuse discourse as a procedure for making moral or ethical judgements with the legally institutionalized procedures for political will formation that is mediated by discourse.

T.H.N.: The cognitivism of the discourse ethics is derived from the truth analogy of the normative validity claims. However, the analogy can only be maintained by reducing norms behind the principle of universalization to normative validity. How can and why must a moral theory neglect the empirical valid norms without normative validity (with 'geltfing' but without 'gultigkeit')? And is the limitation possible without simultaneously cutting-off or preventing any dialectic or connection to a societal ethics?

J.H.: Seen from the point of view of the performative attitudes of their addressees, norms claim to be valid in a way analogous to truth. In using the term 'analogous' we have of course to remember that one must not equate the claim to validity of norms with the truth claim of sentences. The differences can be seen even prior to


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obvious differences in rules of argumentation and in the specific nature of the arguments permissible in both cases. Differences are manifest already in the fact that normative claims to validity originate ultimately in norms, that is, from structures which are on a higher level than single moral actions and regulative speech-acts, whereas truth-values are attributed to the individual assertive sentences, not to the theories into which they might be integrated. In the latter case the higher-level structures, that is, the theories, are valid by virtue of the set of true sentences which can be derived from them, whereas on the other hand individual commands or prohibitions borrow their validity only from the underlying norms.

From this follows another interesting difference; the belief that sentences are true does not have an impact on the dimension which is precisely essential for the truth of sentences, namely, the existence of states of affairs. In contrast, the belief that norms are correct is directly related to the dimension which is essential to them, namely, the regulation of actions. As soon as a norn governing actions is in fact recognized and adhered to by its addressees they develop a corresponding praxis - no matter whether the norm could be justified from the viewpoint of an impartial judge, and deserves recognition or whether it is simply followed de facto by being recognized for the wrong reasons or adhered to out of sheer habit. And it is for this reason that it is important to distinguish between the validity (gultigkeit) of a norm on the one hand and, on the other, the fact that it obtains in a society, that it has social 'Geltung', in other words that it is generally held to be valid.

I am not certain whether I am understanding what you really mean by your question. The moral theorist views things normatively; he shares the attitude of an addressee of a norm who takes part in discourses of justification or application. Seen from this vantage point we have to begin by suspending our prima facie belief in existing traditions, established practices and suspending our trust in existing motives; in short, one must somehow abstract from the established ethical-life of a society. On the other hand, it is precisely this ethical life which must interest the sociologist. But he adopts the objectivating viewpoint of a participating observer. We cannot adopt at one and the same time the second-person viewpoint of the addressee of a norm and the third-person viewpoint of a sociological observer. What you have in mind is, I think, the complicated case where knowledge gained from one point of view is interpreted from the other. That is the case of a sociologist, who measures a belief in legitimacy, which he has established descriptively, against the good reasons which can be adduced for the legitimacy of the observed order from the point of view of potential addressees. Correspondingly, the participant in an argumentation (or the moral theorist as his philosophical alter ego) switches his role as soon as he sees things as a political legislator and thus takes into consideration both the empirical aspects of the matter awaiting resolution and the acceptability of regulations within a given community. These various ways of seeing things and the various objects must be clearly distinguished from one another. But such differences provide no argument in favour of a final sociologization of moral theory.

T.H.N.: The conditions of the discourse ethics are only met on Kohlberg's last, post-conventional stages. And only a minority of the adult population reaches - according to all longitude studies in Kohlberg's tradition (Colby & Kohlberg 1987) - this stage. Combining the two we get the apparent paradox of a post-conventional


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society with a prevailing majority of the population on a pre-conventional or conventional moral stage. How is it possible? And how is it compatible with your underlining of 'the normative structures as the pacemaker of social evolution'? (1979:120). If the answer is that the post-conventional morality is embedded in 'law' or 'structure', then the burden of rendering likely, how that can be a stable situation, a kind of equilibrium, must be yours.

J.H.: Social innovations are often instigated by marginal minorities, even if they go on to be generalized in the whole society on the institutional level. This may be the reason why positive law in modem societies is to be understood as a form of an institutionalization of post-conventional structures of consciousness, although it is found that many members have only a conventional level of moral consciousness. Nor does a conventional understanding of a post-conventional system of laws have to lead to instability; such an understanding, to give an example, more often prevents radical interpretations which may occasionally lead to civil disobedience.

What's more, the research findings about the moral consciousness of the members of a society may be problematical; it is a matter of contention whether Kohlberg's survey methods do not in fact lead to artificial results in the definition of stages. For instance, children are able to perform the moral judgements of a given stage long before they are in a position to explicate verbally the intuitive knowledge they have vis-a-vis the well-known dilemmas.

T.H.N.: The final question related to the truth-analogy of norms is a repetition. It was originally asked in 1984 by New Left Review, but remained unanswered. 'How do you conceive the relation between philosophical and scientific truth- claims? Are philosophical truth-claims cognitive claims, and would a rational consensus ultimately guarantee the truth of a consensus theory of truth itself?' (1986:160).

J.H.: I believe that philosophy today is playing two roles at the same time - the role of an interpreter, in which philosophy mediates between the lifeworld and the cultures of experts, and a more specialized role within the scientific system, where it cooperates particularly with various reconstructive sciences. In so doing it produces statements which claim to be true in the same way as other scientific statements. The discourse theory of truth contains assertions which need to be defended against rival theories of truth in the context of the relevant universe of discourse.

But your question expressed another doubt. I understand you are suggesting that the self-referential nature of philosophical, in this case truth-theoretical, statements necessarily reduces the discourse theory of truth to absurdity. Of course, the reconstruction that I propose for our intuitive understanding of truth in terms of a discourse theory of truth might well tum out to be wrong or at least unsatisfactory. But the praxis which depends, in our everyday existence or in science, on the correct use of this intuitive knowledge is not affected by these attempts at philosophical reconstruction - or by their possible revisions. It is not possible to 'refute' the knowledge manifest in use the same way as a wrong description of this knowledge.

T.H.N.: The concept of performative contradiction, borrowed from Apel but released from his transcendental justification, is decessive for the transcendental- pragmatic argument. No competent speaker can avoid the validity claims, because the very speech-act in which he would announce his refusal would 'rest on non- contingent presupposition whose propositional content contradicts the propositional


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content of the speech-act itself (1983:90). The argument behind the 'performative contradiction' appears convincing in the narrow sense, that an agent cannot sys- tematically avoid communicative action without throwing his own rationality in doubt, but how is the principle able to justify and sort out one type of ethical position at the expense of another?

J.H.: The demonstration of performative contradictions plays a part in the refutation of sceptical counter-arguments. This casuistic practice can be developed into a method and then serves, as it does with Strawson, to allow the identification of unavoidable presuppositions underlying a praxis, like communicative action or argumentation, for which there are no functional equivalents in our form of life. Apel and I both use this method in order to discover necessary pragmatic presuppositions of argumentation and to examine these for their normative content. In this way I am trying to justify a certain principle of universalization as a moral principle. The intention in the first place is simply to demonstrate that moral- practical questions can in principle be solved by means of reasons. These necessary pragmatic presuppositions of argumentation have the same place in discourse ethics as has the construction of the 'original position' in Rawls's theory of justice. It will then be for the discussion between such theoretical approaches to show which version of a Kantian ethic is the better one. This professional dispute will be conducted from a number of points of view; it most certainly cannot be resolved straight away by direct reference to performative contradictions.

T.H.N.: What is the status of the ideal speech situation in the moral discourse, and what does the 'performative contradiction' demand or presuppose from it? Is it partly contrafactual; is it part of thefiction of society as lifeworld or is it a hypostasis to reality? Or how are the three related?

The first position is explicitly your own in MkH (1983:102). The second position follows from an understanding of the discourse ethics as a further development of the last of TCA's three fictions necessary in order to conceptualize society as lifeworld, i.e. 'the transparency of communication' (1981 11:148). And the third position is ascribed to you as a consequence by Schluchter, who claims that it is in the logic of your argumentation 'to hypostatize the ideal speech situation from a necessary precondition to an ideal of reality' (1988:1 323).

J.H.: For present purposes we can ignore the second position, which relies on a concept of lifeworld which I myself did reject as idealistic. The first position holds only that the unlimited - unlimited in social space and in historical time - communication community is an idea to which we can approximate our real argumentation situations. At any given point in time we are orientating ourselves by this idea when we endeavour to ensure that (a) all voices in any way relevant can get a hearing, and that (b) the best arguments we have in our present state of knowledge are brought to bear, and that (c) disagreement or agreement on the part of the participants follows only from the force of the better argument and no other force. Unfortunately, I once called the state in which those idealizing conditions would be fulfilled the 'ideal speech situation'; but this term is easily misunderstood because it is too concretistic. It leads to the sort of hypostatization which Schluchter, albeit with a number of reservations, attributes to me. Schluchter bases his case on the term 'Vorschein einer Lebensform' which I withdrew as long as ten years ago. But at no time have I intended the 'unlimited communication community' to be


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understood as more than a necessary presuppostion. I would not like to see it as an 'ideal in reality' as Schluchter, who cites Wellmer, would have it.

Indeed, I hesitate to call this communication community a regulative idea in the Kantian sense, because the idea of an 'inevitable idealizing presupposition of a pragmatic nature' cannot be brought under the classical contrast between 'regu- lative' and 'constitutive' ideas.

From the point of view of the participants, what is regulative is the idea that the truth of presuppositions, which we declare here and now can be fallible assertions. On the one hand all reasons at our disposal hic et nunc justify us in claiming the status of truth for 'p'; on the other hand we cannot be certain that 'p' will stand up to all future objections - we cannot know whether it will be one of the valid statements which would meet in the unlimited communication community with agreement again and again ad infinitum.

But the necessary pragmatic presuppositions of argumentation are not merely regulative, because these conditions must, in sufficient degrees of approximation, be fulfilled hic et nunc if we wish to argue at all. The level of fulfilment is 'sufficient' when it gives our actual argumentation praxis the status of a component - localizable in space and time - of the universal discourse of the unlimited communication community. But this does not mean that the latter changes, for example into an idea which constitutes a reality. The concept of the world-constitution is inapplicable here. It is rather the case that if we want to enter an argumentation we must de facto make those presuppositions, although they have an idealized content and can only be approximated to.

With the claims to validity made in communicative action there enters into the social facts themselves an ideal tension which comes to consciousness, for the participating subjects, as a force which points beyond the given context and transcends all merely provincial criteria. To put it paradoxically, the regulative idea of the validity of utterances is constitutive for the social facts produced by communicative action. As Schluchter notes, I depart from Kant's figure of thought here, but I do so without thereby accepting the totalizing thought pattern of Hegel. Already with Peirce the idea of an unlimited communication community serves to replace the idea of the unconditionality or of the timeless nature of absolute truth with the idea of a process of interpretation and understanding which transcends the limits of social space and historical time as it were from within. The learning processes of the unlimited communication community will forn an arch in time bridging all temporal distances, and in the world they are to realize the conditions whose fulfilment must be presupposed by any act of raising the unconditional claim to a transcending validity.

This truth theoretical concept also shapes the idea of a society which emerges from communicative action, for these interactions can proceed only via intersubjectively recognized claims to validity. It is for this reason that even counterfactual pre- suppositions of the subjects acting communicatively can count on the favourable response of social reality: every de facto claim to validity which transcends our given lifeworld creates a new fact as soon as the addressee accepts or rejects it. Mediated by this cognitive/linguistic infrastructure of society, the results of the interplay between inner-world learning processes and world-disclosing innovations take shape. This is the Hegelian element which Schluchter detects, but which he


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sees from his Kantian point of view - and in my opinion erroneously - only as the impermissible objectivation of a regulative idea.


T.H.N.: As a 'reflective communicative action' the discourse is connected to or situated in the lifeworld and its perspective. But perhaps more striking and pro- voking from an ethical point of view is the absence of norms and ethics in TCA's other level of society, the systemworld with its media, money and power. The coordination of action through the systemworld is - at least in passages of TCA - as free from norms as the coordination of action through communication is free from force or power. Honneth has characterized it as 'two complementary fictions' (1985:328).

You have already elucidated how the expression 'norm-free sociality' has led to misunderstandings. The system-integration remains - even after the modem uncoupling of system and lifeworld - indirectly achieved by way of mechanisms of consensus, at least 'to the extent that the legal institutionalization of the steering media must link up with the normative contexts of the lifeworld . . . The claim is only that the integration of action systems is not ultimately based upon the socially integrative achievements of the communicative actions they demand and of their background in the lifeworld. It is not illocutionary binding effects, but steering media that hold the economic and administrative action systems together (1986c: 14- 15).

The answer might soften the position in TCA, but it maintains the understanding of the system-world ('market' and 'state') and the media ('money' and 'power') as mechanisms of integration, which demands of the actor a strategic attitude. And that seems in turn to imply a kind of rational (instrumental) choice at the market and to presuppose the separation of politics and administration in the state. The next three questions all doubt these assumptions or preconditions.

The strategic acting man on the market is only part of your post-conventional ego, but the part shares decessive characteristics with the neo-classic economic man. Why do you neglect or take as insignificant the arguments of the 'institutional economics' that market man with his pure strategic and utilitarian action died out at the latest with Smith's 'invisible hand'. Etzioni's latest book is one long enu- meration of evidences and arguments that 'that most important basis of choices (also on the market) are affective and normative. That is, people often make non- or subrational choices, first because they build up their normative-affective foundations, and only secondly because they have weak and limited intellectual capabilities' (1988:90).

J.H.: I think that is a misunderstanding. I use 'system' and 'lifeworld' as concepts for social orders which differ according to the mechanisms of social integration, that is, the modes of coordinating interactions. In 'socially integrated' areas of action the interactions are linked either via the intentions of the actors themselves or via their intuitive background knowlege of the lifeworld; in 'systemically integrated' areas of action order emerges objectively so to speak 'over the heads of the participants' and it does so via consequences of actions which interlock functionally and stabilize one another. The concept of lifeworld I propose has to be introduced


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in terms of a theory of action. But only if the concept of system had to be introduced in this same way would one be permitted to establish that clear and linear connection between systemically integrated spheres and just one type of action - purposive action - which you are attributing to me.

I introduced, as you remember, the concept of systemically integrated, that is, self-steering, recursively closed spheres of action via mechanisms of functional integration, the steering media being money and power. There are certainly cor- relates of the latter on the level of social actions, in the form of interactions based on media steering. But this fact in no way prejudices the rationality of the decisions of actors. The medium only determines the standards by which persisting conflicts can be ultimately resolved. The structural limitations which media-steered inter- actions are subject to provide stimuli for a more or less rational planning of action, but they neither require that action be rationally orientated nor can they oblige the actors to behave thus. The empirical evidence which you mentioned is therefore compatible with a media-theoretical description of economic or administrative behaviour.

T.H.N.: The understanding of state as system and power as media is taken over from Parsons, and both presupposes the separation of politics and administration in the state. McCarthy has criticized this as 'contrary to both empirical investigations and your own concept of democracy'. 'If self-determination, political equality and the participation of citizens in decision-making processes are the hallmarks of true democracy, then a democratic government could not be a political system in Habermas's sense' (1985:44). And you often emphasize yourself that the democratic state cannot be reduced to its legal order; it puts - to take an example - in the case of 'civil disobedience' its legality at the disposition of those who are in a position to care for its legitimacy (1985b:106). But how can civil disobedience, thus understood, avoid breaking the separation of politics and administration behind TCA's under- standing of state as system and power as media?

J.H.: I do not regard the processes of legitimation as of themselves part of an administrative system regulated by power; rather, they take place in what I have called the 'public sphere' (Offentlichkeit). Here two opposite tendencies meet and intersect. The communicatively produced power (H. Arendt) which develops out of democratic processes of will and opinion formation comes up against the pro- duction of mass loyalty by and for the administrative system. How these two processes, the more or less spontaneous will and opinion formation through public communication on the one hand and the organized creation of mass loyalty on the other, affect each other as they come into contact is an empirical matter. A similar interference takes place in the institutionalized forms of political will formation, for instance in parliamentary bodies. Only if the political parties became totally absorbed by and integrated in the state-apparatus would this institutionalized will formation become part of an administrative system which - albeit within the limits of current legislation - programmed itself.

To return to your question: the boundaries between communicatively steered political will and opinion formation on the one hand and administration steered by power on the other hand could under the conditions of modern life be blurred only for the price of a dedifferentiation of the administrative system. The emergence of


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communicative power from autonomous public spheres obeys a quite different logic than the maintenance and exercise of administrative power.

Civil disobedience - in the sense of a non-violent transpression of rules intended as a symbolic appeal to a majority which is of a different opinion - is only an extreme case which allows one to study the interplay between non-institutionalized public communication and the institutionalized decision-making processes within democratic bodies. One can influence the other because the latter enshrines the idea I have just mentioned: it is the liberal meaning of parliamentary will formation that truth orientated opinion formation is brought into play as a kind of filter before majority decisions in such a way that the latter may claim the presumption of more or less reasonable outcomes.

T.H.N.: Let us for a moment suspend the doubt behind the two preceding questions. How can state and market, even if they are both media, be analogue, parallel and complementary? TCA enumerates - again following Parsons - three differences (in measurement, circulation and depositing), but retums to just the 'fundamental simularity', which the 'Rejoinder' denies, that 'the lifeworld no longer is necessary for the coordination of action'. And the very motivational link to the lifeworld, which the Rejoinder emphasizes, appears anything but analogue and parallel for the market and the state. The state-power is a cause-effect causality from intention to consequence; while the market through the money is expected to transform a selfish attitude to a common good. Thie right attitude towards the state as administration is obedience; towards the market it is selfishness, i.e. two different stages on Kohlberg's scale. How can these differences in the linking up with the lifeworld be consistent with their parallelity as media in the architecture of the two- level concept of society?

J.H.: The contradiction you have just elaborated can be resolved as follows: the two media, money and power, work symmetrically in so far as they serve to hold together differentiated and self-steering systems of action, independent of any intentional effort, that is, attempts at coordination on the part of the actors. There is asymmetry in the way that each of these two media depends on the lifeworld, although it is true for both that they are legally institutionalized and therefore embedded in the lifeworld. But whereas the capitalist economy subsumes the production process including the substratum of labour power, the democratic state apparatus remains dependent on the repeated provision of legitimation, over which it can never in toto gain complete and long-standing control through the exercise of administrative power. In this case the communicatively produced power provides a substratum which is rooted in discursive processes of public will and opinion formation. It can never be cut off from these roots to the same degree as the capitalist production process in fact can be made independent from the lifeworld contexts of the force of labour.

This asymmetry should, however, not lead us to think that the administrative system can be reduced to categories of the lifeworld. The asymmetry is, it is true, a necessary condition for demands to be made of the administrative system in the name of imperatives emerging from the lifeworld; and these political imperatives raised in the public sphere do not, as in the case of consumer decisions, have to be formulated from the outset in the language of the steering medium in question, that is, in prices and directions, in order to become 'comprehensible' for the


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corresponding system. One can grasp this by looking at the different ways in which politics and administration handle law - that is, normatively or more instrumentally. The administrative system uses law more instrumentally; what counts from the point of view of the use of administrative power is not the practical reason involved in the justification or application of norms, but rather the efficiency with which a programme, in part received and in part further elaborated by the administration itself, is implemented. Those normative reasons, which, in the language of politics, have to justify given norms, retain in the language of the administration the status of constraints and post-hoc rationalizations of otherwise motivated decisions. At the same time, normative reasons remain the sole currency in which communicative power becomes operative. Communicative power can affect the administrative system to the extent that it husbands the pool of reasons from which administrative decisions, which are limited by the rule of law, must take their support. Not everything 'can be done' which the administrative system could do if the preceding political communication and will-formation had devalued those reasons necessary within a given legal frame.

T.H.N.: The three preceding questions can be drawn together in an argument for supplementing TCA's critique of the pathologies of modernity with a kind of 'reversal'. The systemworld and the media colonialize lifeworld; but there is also the tendency that the norms of the lifeworld, understanding, participation, etc., penetrate or invade the media to the extent that their integration cannot (any longer) be pure system-integration. TCA's analysis of the juridification of school and family can be supplemented with an analysis of cooperations and economic democracy on the market and participation, user's democracy, etc., in the state. Why does TCA systematically neglect the evidence behind such a reversal? And would their incorporation be compatible with the architecture and theory of evol- ution behind TCA?

J.H.: When I was writing TCA my main concern was to develop a theoretical instrument with which the phenomenon of 'reification' (Lukacs) could be grasped. But this way of approaching systemically induced disturbances in communicatively rationalized lifeworlds was one-sided: it failed to utilize the whole range of potential contribution of the theory. The question as to which side imposes limitations has to be treated as an empirical question which cannot beforehand be decided on the analytical level in favour of the systems. As a response to similar objections from Johannes Berger I have emphasized already in the preface to the third edition of the book that colonization of the lifeworld and the democratic control of the dynamics of systems unresponsive to the 'externalities' they produce represent two equally justified analytical perspectives. The one-sidedness of a view captured by a certain diagnosis of the time is certainly not inherent in the structure of the theory.

T.H.N.: You have, in a series of articles published shortly after MkH, discussed the use of a reduced or modified 'Hegelian' concept of pragmatic ethics in order to understand the mediation from the 'discourse ethics' to society. The concept judges the rationality of a lifeform on 'whether the context makes it possible or encourages the participants to convert the principal moral knowledge in praxis' (1984:228). But is the rationality eo ipso the morality? The pragmatic ethics seems to be reduced to the empirical norms of a society's public life. The question is then whether the empirical valid norms in society also have a normative validity - or if they promote


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them or at least make them possible? All 'ought' remains on the Kantian side of the individual morality. And a Hegelian identity of 'ought' and 'is' seems out of the question.

J.H.: The concept of communicative rationality comprises a number of aspects of validity. Hence the rationality of a life-form is not measured only by the extent to which the normative contexts or its potential to motivate facilitate the putting into practice of post-conventional moral judgements. Nevertheless, how liberal a society is seems to me to depend crucially on how far the patterns of socialization and the institutions, the political culture, all the traditions which form identity, and everyday practices, express a non-authoritarian form of ethical life in which an autonomous morality can take shape. Intuitively we can recognize fairly quickly - as ethnographers who have taken up residence, so to speak, in a foreign society - how emancipated, responsive and egalitarian the surroundings are, how minorities, marginal social groups, handicapped people, children and old people are treated, what the social significance is of illness, loneliness and death, how much tolerance there is vis-i-vis eccentricity, deviant behaviour, as well as towards innovation and danger, and so on.

Your question does seem to blur the lines between two issues, however. When I draw a distinction from the point of view of a moral theorist, or indeed from that of a participant in the argumentation, between morality and ethical-life I have in mind something different than when I use these terms as a sociologist, that is, when I compare the moral views of actors I observe, or the moral content of their legal principles, with the established practices, the concrete manifestations of moral behaviour. But even when I look at things as a sociologist it is not the case that the normative substance can be grasped only in the heads of those making moral judgements (or in the legal texts and processes). Of course, moral behaviour as it is actually practised, however much it may deviate from the declared morality obtaining in the society, also belongs to this normative substance.

T.H.N.: The Howinson Lecture from 1988 discusses the Kantian concept of practical reason in another attempt to grasp the same mediation. The lecture is quite clear that 'the application of norms requires an additional argumentation of its own. The impartiality of the judgement cannot again be secured by the principle of universalization' (1988b: 19). How can a new relativism on the ethical level be avoided when appropriateness substitutes the discourse ethical norms in all ques- tions of context-sensitive application?

J.H.: The logic of discourses of application can be examined from the normative point of view of the philosopher or the legal theorist; Dworkin provides both examples of this and a theory, and Klaus Gunther puts this approach into a convincing discourse-theoretical framework. He shows that both the principle of appropriateness and the principle of universalization allow impartiality to become operative in the rational treatment of practical questions and makes possible a rationally motivated consensus in this field. In discourses of application we also rely on reasons which can hold good not only for you and me but for all others too. One must avoid jumping to a conclusion: an analytical approach that requires sensitivity to context does not have to be itself context-dependent or lead to context- dependent results.


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T.H.N.: The Howinson Lecture is very outspoken, that the ethical issues - in contrast to the moral questions - do not require a complete break with an egocentric perspective: 'they refer, after all, to the telos of one's own life' (1988b: 7). And maxins are introduced as a bridge or connecting link between morality and ethics 'because they can be judged according to ethical and moral viewpoints' (p. 9). How are the maxims related to the norms behind the normative validity claims? Do they require both empirical and normative validity?

J.H.: Yes, ethical questions, questions of self-understanding, are relative to the aim of my and your good life. We look back at our own life history or our traditions and ask ourselves, with that ambiguity which characterizes strong preferences, who we are and who we'd like to be. The answers must therefore relate to the context of a particular perspective on life, which is assumed to be accepted by particular individuals or groups. Answers of this kind cannot be claimed to characterize an exemplary form of life, binding on all - which is how Aristotle defined the polis. But relative to a given context, ethical questions can be answered rationally, that is, in such a way that they make sense for everybody - not just the individual or group most directly affected, from whose point of view the question was put.

You touched on another point: what are maxims? With Kant we understand by maxims rules of action or habits which may constitute practices or even a whole way of living, by freeing an actor from the need to make constant decisions in everyday existence. Kant was thinking above all of the maxims of early capitalist society, stratified on the basis of trades and professions. Now, I said in my lecture that maxims can be judged from an ethical and a moral point of view. What may be good for me, as I see myself and would like to be seen, is not necessarily equally good for everyone else. Because maxims can be judged from two points of view, they themselves become twofold in nature.

And again, the normative discussion which we are conducting at this moment must be distinguished from a sociological discussion. Seen from the point of view of a sociological observer, maxims may recommend themselves as a class of phenomena by which the concrete morality of a group can be studied. Maxims have social validity; they are thereby, at least insofar as they are not mere conventions, normatively binding also for the actors themselves. Hence we can change our point of view and move from observation to judgement by considering whether the reasons from which they have selected their maxims are also good reasons for us.

T.H.N.: The ethical cognitivism is argued against scepticism, and sets - as a point of departure - the moral sentiments aside. However, they show up again; if not before, then in the application of the norms. The Howinson Lecture discusses them as a changing constellation of 'reason' and 'will' in the application of practical reason to pragmatic, critical and normative discourses. But what is the status of the moral sentiment? Do the emotions and the habits of the heart have a right and a function of their own? Or are they only - following Piaget and Kohlberg - part of the socialization to rationality and as such superfluous once rationality is reached?

J.H.: Moral feelings are both a big subject and a broad field, so just a few observations on this question.

Firstly, moral feelings play an important role in the constituting of moral pheno- mena. We will not perceive certain conflicts of action as being at all morally relevant if we do not feel that the integrity of a person is being threatened or violated.


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Feelings form the basis of our own perception that something is moral. Anyone who is blind to moral phenomena has blind feelings. He lacks the sensor, as we would say, for the suffering of a vulnerable creature which has a right to the protection of both its physical self and its identity. And this sensor is clearly closely related to sympathy and empathy.

Secondly, and most importantly, as you rightly observe moral feelings guide us in our judgement of particular moral instances. Feelings are the experiential basis of our first intuitive judgements: feelings of guilt and shame underlie self- recrimination, pain and the feeling of hurt underlie reproaches towards some other person who offends you, anger and indignation are the basis for the condemnation of a third person who offends another. Moral feelings are a reaction to problems arising in the mutual respect between subjects or in interpersonal relations in which actors are involved, be it from the first, second or third person point of view. That is why the structure of moral feelings is such that they reflect the system of personal pronouns.

Thirdly, moral feelings clearly play an important part, not just in the application of moral norms but also in their justification. At the very least, empathy, that is, the ability to feel one's way across cultural distances into alien and prima facie incomprehensible ways of living, predispositions to react and interpretive per- spectives, is an emotional prerequisite for ideal role-taking which requires everyone to assume the point of view of all the others. To look at something from the moral point of view involves not regarding our own sense of ourselves and the world as the standard by which to universalize a mode of action: instead it involves checking its generalizability from the point of view of all the others. It is unlikely that one will be able to achieve this significant cognitive act without that sensitive understanding which becomes real empathy and opens one's eyes to the 'difference', that is, the peculiarity and the inalienable otherness of a second person.

Of course, however crucial a function moral feelings fulfil, they do not have a monopoly on truth. In the final analysis it is the moral judgements which bridge a gap which it is not possible to fill emotionally. In the end we have to rely on moral insight if all of human kind is to have the right to enjoy moral protection. It is difficult enough to grasp the counterfactual idea that all men and women are brothers and sisters; even more fragile is the broad mindscape of mankind if it is to be filled with spontaneous feelings. So your question is not easy to answer. Certainly it is initially feelings which make us sensitive to moral phenomena; and when it comes to justifying and applying norms they fulfil an invaluable function. But they cannot be finally responsible for the judgement of the phenomena to which they introduce us.

T.H.N.: You have often emphasized that the narrow concept of morality demands a modest self-estimate of the moral theory. 'The philosopher ought to explain the moral point of view, and - as far as possible - justify the claim to universality of this explanation. Anything further than that is a matter of moral discourse between participants' (1986b:160). It appears, however, that this modesty and its division of spheres is about to be substituted by a new 'triangle' or 'trinity' in the entirety of your later writings, where a neo-Kantian morality (the discourse ethics) is mediated to a reduced Hegelian ethics (the pragmatic ethics) through a Kantian 'practical reason' and/or a Kierkegaardian 'choice'.


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J. H.: I consider that the job of philosophy is to clarify the conditions which will enable the participants themselves to answer moral and ethical questions rationally. Corresponding to the moral point of view which enables all of us to see generalizable interests, there is an ethical decision to live life consciously. It is only on the basis of this decision that a person or a group can acquire the attitude which will enable them to appropriate critically and in the light of an authentic life-project their own life history or the traditions which are identity-forming. But philosophy cannot relieve participants of the burden of finding answers to substantive questions concerning justice or an authentic not-unsuccessful life. Philosophy can help people to avoid confusing things; it can urge, for instance, that moral and ethical questions should not be confused and answered from an inappropriate point of view. But if it projects material contributions to a theory of justice - as John Rawls does in sections of his book - or if it takes part in the constructing of normative projections of an emancipated society - as do Ernst Bloch or Agnes Heller - then the philosophical author is retreating from the role of an expert, making suggestions from the point of view of the participating citizen.

Anyone who goes beyond the procedural questions of a discourse theory of morality and ethics and, taking a normative approach, sets about immediately formulating a theory of the well-ordered, possibly even emancipated, society will, let it be said, very quickly be faced with the limitations of his own place in history and his failure to take into account the context in which his own development has taken place. Hence I am pleading the case for an ascetic understanding of moral theory, of ethics even, indeed of philosophy in general, in order that there should be room for a critical social theory. Critical theory can serve the scientific mediation, and the objectivation, of processes of self-understanding in quite different ways; it should neither succumb to an hermeneutic idealism, nor should it fall between the twin stools of philosophical normativism and sociological empiricism.

References Benhabib, S. 1987. The Generalized and the Concrete Other. In Benhabib and Cornell (eds.),

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