File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_1997/habermas.9710, message 11

Date: Sun, 19 Oct 1997 02:18:48 -0800
Subject: HAB: What makes citizenship compelling, beyond emancipatory values, Discourse?

Continuing from where I left off, at “HAB: Being exemplary in the
neighborhood.II,” 10/13 (a subject line that was not intended to be
self-referential! Rather it indicates the interface of “ethical” and
“moral” interests.)....

Up to page 7 of  “Employments...” (page 7)--not that I’m going to plod
through every paragraph of this essay!--the merit of the moral outlook
is an appeal to political-systemic exemplarity, inasmuch as one’s own
actions may have political meaning or consequences. Not only is this a
plausible interpretation of Habermas’ differentiation of a moral
interest from an ethical interest in practical reason (that reflects his
general career interest in what’s political); but it could be that no
so-called “moral” interest has *valid* meaning other than as some
version of the democratic interest (apart from variously ethical

Generally (beyond “Employments” for a moment), one is not only in a
citizen position of approving or rejecting acts of power that have broad
consequences (speaking Truth *to* Power). *Basically*, the moral outlook
claims that its value is compelling for any “one’s” own life; the value
of citizenship--political responsibility and political
accountability--belongs to every “one” as *duty*, as well as right; not
only is citizenship an entitlement, it is a duty. But what makes this
claim compelling? What makes the “command” of moral duty motivating?

Someone who doesn’t find this outlook--this duty-imposing
value--compelling is said to be provincial; from the point of view of
the moral outlook, to not find the political implications of one’s life
regulative in one’s deliberations *is* what it means to be provincial or
ethically self-limited (if not oppressed or / and deluded). 

But why would someone who is *overtly* apolitical in their activity (or
thinking)—being non-“political” in the systemic-regulative sense--*care*
whether enthused democratic parties see their “ethical” lives as
provincial? Given that being exemplary in one’s neighborhood of choice
(extended family, work, organizational memberships) is important in
itself, for reasons that Habermas grants are “ethical,” is the
moral--the democratic--interest more than a call for leadership within
neighborhoods for the sake of *pragmatic* interrelations among
neighborhoods? The moral interest is at least this; but what more than
this can it be?  And inasmuch as it *is* at least this, what *is* the
duty of s/he, who can be a leading voice, to realize her/his potential
as political example?

What is the nature of *Self* interest that makes the value of
citizenship (if not leadership) compelling and governing over contrary
values in-and-for one’s life? I presume that subscribers to this list
have immediate thoughts and feelings about why the democratic interest
is so *obviously* important--from pragmatic reasoning about how a good
world works to essentialist reasoning about our social nature.

But, what makes citizen responsibility and accountability *actually*
compelling is not easy to ascertain, relative to the low degree of
electoral participation in the U.S. generally, the low degree of
community activism (outside of crisis Moments and “negative” movements
against oppression), and the low marketability of communication that
requires extended attention and effort, such as “positive” movements of

One important dimension of apolitical tendencies in lifeworlds is the
character of lived *time*: how (first of all) organizational
colonization of a lifeworld drains one’s energy and pre-empts one’s time
for reading, thinking, and community participation. But this is a
“clinical” matter, best addressed within the context of “ethical” life
and one’s emancipatory interest relative to this. 

How can the moral outlook itself create interest in democratic
responsibility and compel political accountability? What guidance can a
moral outlook provide for *giving* value to possibilities of citizenship
that become governing over contrary values within one’s neighborhood? 
Without a constructive answer to this kind of questioning, the moral
outlook or the democratic interest cannot have any sense of autonomy
from ethical life which Habermas claims it has. Indeed, inasmuch as
autonomy only emerges *for* lifeworlds, the potential for autonomy
*within* ethical life may be the condition for the possibility of the
compellingness of the democratic interest relative to other values of
one’s life.

If the moral outlook is one which, by definition, counterposes itself to
an ethically *provincial* or constrained lifeworld, does this make the
moral outlook basically emancipatory? Inasmuch as this *is* the case
(there is compelling evidence in Habermas’ career that an emancipatory
interest is advanced by the practical interest), how can the moral
outlook ground its emancipatory potential for educing one’s *general* or
democratic interest, except in terms of the ethical life that “must” be
motivated to act politically in a committed, long-term way?

Yet, the moral outlook is not *primarily* emancipatory, except inasmuch
as one conceives the democratic interest as primarily emancipatory,
which is a mistake (as the history of the Left attests so well). Rather,
the democratic interest has *always* idealized itself in terms of the
realization of human potential, beyond liberation from *imposed*
oppression and crisis.   

Habermas aside, where can *anyone* find post-emancipatory, “positive”
potential for realizing *ideals* of democracy associated with advancing
human potential, beyond necessary entitlement to “negative” freedom (or
liberty), if not in the pre-oppressive (childhood) and pre-critical
(pre-crisis-driven) desire of a person for self-realization? 

But, then, what is the character of self-realization that happily grants
the democratic interest a governing place in one’s life?

Inasmuch as an emancipatory point of view as inherent to the moral
outlook of practical reason (even if not exhausitve of the moral
outlook), does “moral” urgency shrink in importance as ethical life
matures in some yet-unclarified but clarifiable sense (a sense one would
pursue with Habermas in terms of Kohlbergian “moral” development)?  The
moral outlook--which is basically counterpoised by Habermas against
ethical egoism (next paragraph below)--could be rhetorically codependent
on ethical underdevelopment, in the Kohlbergian sense. This is not the
kind of thing that Habermas has ever articulated (as far as I know), but
it accords with the broadest horizon of his career. Apart from ethical
life (differentiated in a modern sense, as I outlined earlier, and will
return to) and apart from an emancipatory interest, the moral outlook
seems all the more to be only the democratic interest in valid
governance, which very many persons find non-binding.

                                                   *   *   *

Looking at the moral outlook as at least an emancipatory interest is not
only compelled by Habermas’ longstanding sense of the practical interest
of knowledge, but is also suggested indirectly by Habermas in
“Employments” --remaining “True” to his earlier sense of practical
reason--when he *directly* counterposes the categorical imperative to
egocentrism: “A categorical imperative...first signals a break with the
egocentric character of the golden rule...”(8).

But what is *compelling* about this “signal”?  In traditional fashion,
Habermas notes that “only a maxim that can be [validly]
generalized...can command assent and to that extent is worthy of
recognition...”(8), which is the valid condition of legislated
regulation. That rationale which is worthy of such recognition is, “in
other words,... morally binding” (8). “[W]hat *one* ought to do” is that
which is in accordance with legitimate regulations; the modifer ‘moral’
seems irrelevant. A rationale which is worthy of recognition is, for
*that* reason, governing or “binding” on action, whether legislated,
factual, or self-reflective in a life-centered sense.

What reason is there to consider that “moral commands” are more than
this: pragmatic regulatives that are compelling by reason of “my”
identification with their reasonableness? Since the moral outlook *is*
only the authority of truly democratic imperatives that are only as
binding as the degree of one’s identification with their reasonableness
relative to one’s own life, how can it be valid to claim that “moral
commands are categorical or unconditional imperatives” (8), except
inasmuch as some democratically constituted imperatives are
unconditionally worthy? What imperatives are--and by whose authority are
they--unconditionally worthy of recognition?

Granting that moral imperatives are that which they are defined to be
(while not being actually imperative by definition!), it’s plausible to
claim that there are none that are substantively compelling except *for*
an ethical life that is already disposed to *identify with* the
conditions of their unconditionality (whatever those turn out to be).
And there’s the problem: the *existential* conditions for the
possibility of there being unconditionally compelling worthiness. The
universalizability of the inherence of reason to communicative action
doesn’t imply substantively unconditional results of reason for actual
discourses (that take place within particular environments, at
particular times in history, relative to various kinds of knowledge that
are grasped are various levels of sophistication).

All in all, Habermas is anticipating a comprehensive justification for
governmental authority that remains to be clarified in terms of a
lifeworld’s bredth of sense of its own connection to the rationality of
pragmatic arrangements. Such a self-clarification of the compellingness
of valid governance remains to be developed in, arguably, three *kinds*
of inquiry: political (e.g., _Between Facts and Norms_), philosophical
(the discourse ethic as such and formal pragmatics), and ethical (in a
differentiated sense, most addressed by his examination of
“moral-cognitive” development).

Anticipating the political sojourn, Habermas writes: “Moral
judgment...serves to clarify legitimate behavioral expectations in
response to interpersonal conflicts resulting from the disruption of our
orderly coexistence by conflicts of interests” (9). The moral outlook
may be not only legislative, not only emancipatory (executive?), but
also adjudicative. Yet, its adjudicative calling appears to be only
pragmatic, albeit at a systemic level, as a responsive agent of
clarification that is *partial* toward common ground. Moral judgment
offers “omnipartial” impartiality that, I believe, is no more compelling
than its appreciation of the order of coexistence that is disrupted, and
the significance of such impartiality can be no greater than what
genuinely belongs to that orderly coexistence: possibilies of learning,
imaginative identification, healing, and constructiveness that
altogether compose the potential of “ethical” life.

Could it be that the weight of “moral” judgment is epistemic, not
“categorical”? It *stands* for generalizable knowledge about systematic
contexts of interaction that, it *claims*, is worthy of consideration in
problem solving or that deserves a governing role. Its contributions are
proposals for interpretation and organization of action that can be
justified *for* co-existential conflicts, not as an imperative over
orderly coexistence, but as a participant in conflict that *represents*
the standing of available knowledge that is relevant. Yet, judgment that
contributes *systematically-tested*, epistemically-grounded precedent
*for* the sake of learning, imaginative identification, healing, and
constructiveness in the resolution of conflict is compelling only in
view of its standing relative to the coexistence it seems to adjudicate,
the scale of neighborhood in which the conflict exists. But this
relativity--by no means “unconditional”--applies to all knowledge, all
judgment, whether in regard to what’s true, what’s regulative for
systemic interaction, what deserves to be normative for action, and what
is genuinely expressed. What is *”moral”* in judgment still seems to be
only what’s in the democratic interest, which is more than likely
irrelevant to most conflicts. After all, “legitimate behavioral
expectations” pertain to procedural contexts generally--processes of
inquiry, organizational arrangements, and professional practices--which
can be sufficently understood, I think, in pragmatic and ethical terms,
without political import. One could easily disagree that any context is
without political import, but justification of that claim is not likely
to be compelling by way of “moral” or political advocacy, rather by
clarification of strategical, instrumental and pragmatic relations of
power that are allegedly inherent to the organization of interaction.
Making a conflict resolution a political issue is an option for
co-existential conflicts, but an option that has no special merit
relative to co-existential conflicts. It seems. 

A jurisprudential *pragmatic* is not “moral” in any non-pragmatic,
non-ethical manner of unconditionality: “Here we are concerned
with...reciprocal rights and duties” (9) that can be no more commanding
than the facticity of particular laws that need be appropriated,
enforced, revised or created. Only the deeply implicit *conditions* of
law, vested in a historical discourse of constitutionality, approaches
the conceptual neighborhood of unconditionality, but then only
*relative* to a previously *constituted* neighborhood (municipality or
geographic region of jurisdiction). 

*Between* neighborhoods is another matter. Here, political discourse
*is* faced with its own conditionality, which is fatefully substantive
(not unconditional at all): national, international, or humanitarian,
and this brings “one” back to, up to, into “ethical” discourse, in a
*philosophical* sense (a sense, however, that is not compelling in
Kantian terms). 

In the meantime, much short of a Discourse that is at *once*
philosophical, ethical, and political, the moral outlook is at best the
face of progressive government. Practical reason lives in a world of
ethical lives, campaigns of progressive government, and discursive
possibilities of highly principled questioning. 

The “categoricality” of the moral outlook’s mysterious claim to
compellingness is disseminated throughout the domain of legislative,
emancipatory, and judicial interests, dramatically “directed to the
*free will*, emphatically construed, of a person who acts in accordance
with self-given laws...” (9), exemplified by the philosopher. By
“emphatically construed,” Habermas means, I think: contrued relative to
the expressive validity interest, which is addressed by dramaturgical
approaches to communicative action. To say that action is emphatic is
just to emphasize one validity claim of genuineness within reasonable
action, which Habermas has always recognized in a rigorous sense (but
seldom dwelled on): the interest in self presentation that makes a claim
(through the expressive component of every speech act, i.e., *“I”*
assert that...) to genuineness and which may take up its own standing as
the content of its communication, as self presentation. 

But the *Kantian* advocacy of self, Kant’s claim to exemplarity, is a
matter of a specific case of self presentation, independent of formal
pragmatic inherence of expressive validity claims in all speech acts or
cases made or positions developed--all Standings. 

Imagine!: “self-given laws.” It is the heart of Kantian freedom: a
philosophical insightfulness of ethical leadership. What was It that
Kant imagined there to *be* available to all, in acting *for* all
“morally” (i.e., for Kant, in accord with categorically given freedom)? 
Whatever it was--or is, this *self-formativity* of a “person”, this
*ethical* potential of action!--“is autonomous in the sense that it is
completely open to determination by moral
[philosophical-ethical-democratic] insights” (9). What is it to be this
way, “completely open” to maximally comprehensive Insight?

“Kant confused the autonomous will with an omnipotent will” (10) writes
Habermas, “and [Kant] had to transpose it into the intelligible realm in
order to conceive of it as absolutely determinative” (10), yet can a
*compelling* autonomy be conceived that is *not* confused with an
omnipotent will? 

YES. Something about the “Kantian” imagination remains so compelling for
Habermas, that one might think he hopes to transpose its conception into
some intelligible realm that is *not* absolutely determinative (unlike
Hegel, according to Habermas in _Knowledge and Human Interests_). 

I believe that this is the case with Habermas:  Something about the
capacity of human self-formativity is expressed in the Kantian
aspiration of free will, which Kant’s time didn’t give him the resources
to *validly* articulate, and Habermas (along with Karl Otto-Apel and a
few others) have sought to further the possibility of intelligible free
will, but  in “postmetaphysical” terms of a quasi-transcendental
discourse (formal pragmatics) whose ethic is *rigorously*
democratic--fundamentally Open, in its epistemic endeavors. Even in the
heights of philosophical Standings (also the depths of understanding),
“the autonomous will is efficacious only to the extent that it can
ensure that the motivational force of good reasons outweighs the power
of other motives” (10), outweighing claims, say, to visionary
originality whose authority stands in convictions about the authenticity
of revelation (in which, I believe, Kant ultimately vested his own
beautiful intelligence--an intelligence of Beauty). 

In the final analysis, Kant is irrelevant. “For Kant practical reason is
coextensive with morality” (10) in his categorically willed sense, but
for Habermas “there result three different though complementary
interpretations of practical reason” (10), and (I think) the singularity
of practical reason as such cannot be specified without a scale of
attention that comprehends governmental systems and orders of existence
discursively, i.e., relative to all the domains of knowledge that are
relevant to governmental systems and orders of existence.  

                                                          *   *   *

Habermas writes that “moral-practical discourses...require a break with
all of the unquestioned truths of an established, concrete ethical life,
in addition to distancing oneself from the contexts of life with which
one’s identity is inextricably interwoven” (12). But this applies
equally as much to truth-functional discourses and existential
discourses; that is, this applies to practical *discourses*, not
especially to politically-implicative (or “moral”) discourses.

What is the character of the break with unquestioning and the distancing
from inextricable interwovenness that is actually general to reasoning
and appropriate deliberation? This character does not break with all of
the truths of ethical life, in being appropriately reasonable; nor does
this character distance itself from all the contexts with which it

Moreover, there’s no reason to believe that practical reason faces
simply either concrete life or the interests of All; in between is a
gradation of “we”s that may only face the interests of all rarely, and
then only relative to systems of pragmatic regulations, as I’ve argued
(to perhaps a tiresome degree). Though a “higher-level
intersubjectivity” (12) can be clarified--and is most philosophically
interesting!--it is misleading to directly associate the usual
appropriateness of practical deliberation with the limit conditions
under which reason as such takes place. “The higher-level
intersubjectivity [is] characterized by an intermeshing of the
perspectives of each with the perspectives of all” (12) others who are
anticipated to be affected, including those who are available within
actual discourses and for real deliberations. But, being *ultimately*
“constituted only under the communicative presuppositions of a universal
discourse” (12) should not be read as implying a specific or accessible
universal discourse as the actual presupposition of practical reason. 

A universal discourse only makes sense relative to *intergenerational*
anticipations about the growth of knowledge and communicative action,
which imposes *provisionality* on actual deliberations in direct
proportion to the scale of one’s anticipations of the “universe” of
affected parties; i.e., the greater the universe of potential affect (be
it across contemporary space or across historical time--both ways!: into
past precedents and into future advents), the greater the provisionality
or range-specificity of actual agreements and decisions. For example,
jurisprudential decisions on highly controversial issues tend to be
narrow in scope, *because* of the constraints on anticipation of the
effects of broadviewed decisions on an evolving circumstance. Scientific
generalizations are usually very provisional, always within strictly
specified parameters and relative to specific assumptions that are
theory-laden with the evolving paradigm of the institutional discourse
formation. THE Universe of Discourse is located in social evolution as
such; it is the evolutionarity of discourse as such, in which discourse
formations (altogether: the University, as a form of life) live and by
which the standing of particular discourses *will be* over time

“This impartial standpoint overcomes the subjectivity of the individual
participant’s perspective” (12) *within* deliberation (which is only
available to individuals!) *as* the discursive implicature of one’s own
values, beliefs, interpretations, and representations. It “breaks” with
one’s life and “distances” itself from contexts appropriately--as fits
the neighborhood of a problem. But it is not imperative to “impede
access to the intuitive knowledge of the lifeworld” (13) in order to be
free to take a distanced perspective on it. My sense of the Earth is not
impeded by flying above it; rather I get a gestalt of topography that
beautifully complements the ground that I’ve traversed by car. “The
objectivity of the so-called ideal observer” (13) is, indeed, ideal in
an ideal sense, for it instills a disposition toward *scale* of
neighborhood (interscale of relativity) that can be out-of-this-world in
its belonging to the world as such, and is appealing in itself to anyone
who has been brought to “See” it (unless one has conceptual acrophobia,
which is appealing in itself to *dispell*!). 

Discourse in any domain always becomes philosophical, if it proceeds
freely long enough. There is a discursive interest that is generalizable
over all discourse formations, and it is essentially philosophical. The
philosophical interest is the essential human interest in advancing
one’s own self understanding of the world as such and of one’s place in
the world as a human being. It is the interest that compels an interest
in knowing, for its own sake (exemplified by ontogeny, pure science and
artistic life); an interest in exploration, regardless of where it may
go; an interest in self-clarification, regardless of who or how or what
one turns out to essentially be. This is what philosophy has always
been, classically and curricularly. Being philosophical in the classical
sense doesn’t imply metaphysical stances. Philosophy, in its most
academic sense (which can express our evolutionary potential), is always
already latent to any indication of discourse.

Discourse--not just “moral-practical discourse[, implies] the ideal
extension of each individual communication community from within” (13).
In discourse, “a common interest of all” always holds the potential of
becoming *the* interest of all in realizing and advancing our own
nature, however this can be validly characterized. Norms of discourse
pertain basically to epistemic claims, whether truth-functional,
existential, regulative or meta-discursive (pertaining to a validity
claim to comprehensibility that Habermas doesn’t indicate often, but
which is essential to formal pragmatics, at the level of linguistic
immanence, and which is essential to a discourse’s self understanding,
at the level of conceptual cogency). 

Therefore, it can be misleading to conceptualize discourse relative to
one kind of validation: “moral-practical” events of validation.
Normativity in discourse logically transcends practical discourse,
relative to standards of discourse as such (which is theoretical,
ethical, and pragmatic altogether). It is the case that, “in this forum,
only those norms proposed that express a common interest of all affected
can win justified assent” (13), but this is a condition holding for
discourse altogether, not especially “moral” discourse; it is more
appropriate to speak of discursively derived *standards* that express a
common interest of all affected, in light of which proposed norms within
political, existential, theoretical, or pragmatic discourses can win
justified assent. Understood in this way, a will that is determined by
discursive grounds does not remain external to ethical deliberation, and
thus not external to ethical responsibility and accountability of
whatever scale of relevance, epistemic validity at whatever scale of
relevance, or systemic realism of whatever scale of relevance.
THEREFORE, “the will determined by moral grounds does not remain
external to argumentative reason; the autonomous will is completely
internal to reason” (13), because the potential for discourse is
completely internal to our form of life. 

But Habermas’ evident attachment to the example of Kant straps him with
a problem of “how norms, thus grounded, could ever be *applied*” (13)
which doesn’t arise for the route through discourse that I am outlining
here, since this route never has to break with ethical life, nor to
justify a sense of “moral” categoricality that *arises* relative to
egocentrically conceived existence (which was indeed Kant’s problem:
what to do with all that desire and sensibility that clouded his
faculties). But I say this, not having yet dwelled on how it is that an
egocentrically conceived life may gain discursive altitude, so to speak,
within itself in such a way that the democratic interest is grounded

In any case, one can’t turn to Kantian perspectives--and Habermas does
not--for a solution to the problem of application when it *does* exist,
as it must for any systematized context of interpretation
(jurisprudence, theory-testing, evaluation of pragmatic means) when it
is faced with *living* persons (distinct from formal persons, like
parties in law or nations in treaties; in the case of formal persons,
application is not a special problem, it is *the* problem, with which a
system of law or diplomacy is *designed* to deal very *formally*).
Habermas’ problem of application pertains to only the higher levels of
legislation, policy formation and adjudication, which connect to the
lifeworld in highly mediated ways that are pragmatic and, ultimately,
ethical in a discursive sense. Though all discourse is susceptible to “a
principle of universalization constraining participants in discourse to
examine whether disputed norms could command the well-considered assent
of all concerned,” only very specific and specialized situations of
discourse are required (due to the scale of applicability) to
*determine* that, in fact, disputed norms *can* validly command; and
very few situations of discourse are required to be commanding “without
regard to...existing institutions.”  The situation of writers of
constitutions and treaties comes to mind. 

“The validity claim we associate with normative propositions certainly
has obligatory force” (14), but it is not the case that “duty, to borrow
Kant’s terminology, is the affection of the will by the validity claim
of moral commands” in any practical sense that is broken and distanced
from ethical life.

So, what to do with an egocentric mind? 

[To Be Continued]

Best regards, 


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