File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_1997/habermas.9710, message 2

Date: Sun, 05 Oct 1997 23:05:05 -0800
Subject: HAB: Is Kantian morality irrelevant to practical reason?

Though I want to discuss “...Employments...” further, I know that
nothing can be resolved about Habermas’ thinking strictly on the basis
of that essay. But, in view of the first chapter of _Between Facts and
Norms_, it’s clear that “...Employments...” provides a precise
indication of Habermas’ sense of the difference between the ethical and
the Kantian moral interest. My conjecture that the moral interest is
really a pragmatic extension of an ethical interest into social
environments of alienated interests (though Habermas wouldn't agree) is
strongly corrorborated by the beginning of _BFN_ (and the 1994
“Postscript” to BFN), as well as by Habermas’ defense of a moral point
of view (unsatisfactorily, to me) against Bernard Williams’
“Aristotelian” view of philosophy in one section of Habermas’ “Remarks
on Discourse Ethics,” in _Justification and Application_. 

I believe that Habermas has an unnecessarily constrained sense of the
ethical interest that is apparently motivated by his commitment to a
Kantian notion of the autonomy of the will that, I believe, is
unnecessary to his discourse theory of democracy, if the ethical
interest is given fair scale (in light of "higher" educational
processes), and I will show how this is the case (not this weekend,
though). I want to defend the ethical interest against a sense of the
Kantian moral interest that gives the latter (according to Habermas) a
unique and necessary place in a theory of democratic law, which I think
is implausible and unnecessary to Habermas' democratic project. It’s my
contention that, apart from the sense of morality that is just as well
served by traditions of specifically *ethical* discourse, the Kantian
remainder is an implausible account of the reality and basis of
democratic deliberation; and the Kantian sense of universalism is
unnecessary for a discourse ethic that can accomplish what Habermas
would have it accomplish. In order to contribute to an *advance* of
Habermas’ discourse theory of democratic social evolution that seems
more realistic, I want to argue for the dissolution of the moral
interest in pragmatic transpositions of *ethical* solidarity into social
environments as law. What is moral, that is not especially ethical, is
the interest in pragmatic transpositions of ethical understanding into
general forms of law, but *not* actually with Kantian aspiration. The
“moral” interest, apart from the ethical interest, is wholly derivative
of ethical interests, but relative to *pragmatic* aspirations for a
generalization and institutionalization of ethical insights throughout
social environments, which can be done validly in light of a democratic
discourse ethic without Kantian moralism. 

An ethical foundation to Habermas’ theory of democracy is not only in
keeping with the basic requirement of Habermas’ theory of democratic
legality that “the law draws its socially integrating force from the
sources of social solidarity” (BFN 40), which are ethical (not moral, in
the Kantian sense), but an ethical foundation shifts the weight of
democratic ideality from the potential of law to ensure democratic
process (which deserves to be advanced in its own right) to the
potential of *education* to advance the communicative scale of the
neighborhood in particular political deliberations (which decreases the
“facticity” of law).  This may seem like an odd view, pushing the
potential of ethical solidarity to heights that rival the ideality of a
Kantian morality. But I will show that an educational interest in
advancing the “autonomy of the will” in *ethical* terms (not an ethical
appropriation of a Kantian idea) is truer to the historical reality of
political deliberation than a Kantian legislator who would act in the
name of all of humanity presently. 

But I’m not ready to make the case this weekend, sorry to say. 

                                             *   *   *

Opening my trusty _Encyclopedia of Philosophy_ (1967), which is a good
indicator of what philosophy in America traditionally took itself to be,
I find no entry on morality. Rather, I’m referred to the encyclopedia’s
long article on “Religion and morality” (and the article on the history
of ethics), which reminds me of the origin of “morality” in the *law* of
God, whose *exemplarity* was advanced by revelatory writers for the sake
of a largely illiterate community as the basis of “law” that, like the
mysteries of nature, universally pervade reality with a force that one
has a duty to respect, if one wants to survive. As the universe is the
product of God’s generosity, so His example is a “universal” law
pervading nature. This longing to embody a universality inherent to
nature itself became incorporated in Platonic Christianity as the
corporation of a Church that strives to be catholic (i.e., universal)
through ecumenical imperialism. As science forced a differentiation of
the “laws” of nature from the Law of God, Man sought to transpose the
universalism of the Church into a universe of secular jurisprudence. As
an American Revolution swept the British colonies and a French
Revolution captured the imagination of Europe, Kant hoped for a
cosmopolitan domain of legislation that spoke for all mankind. 

But the German Idea did not in fact prevail. Rather, Romantic ideas of
individual perfectability (Locke, Rousseau, Jefferson, etc.), which are
basically ethical rather than moral in the Kantian sense, seem to me to
have had a prevailing role in the evolution of the few longstanding
constitutional societies. Only after World War II has there emerged
universalistic discourse in a real way, exemplified by the UN, but now
with a sense of global village that reduces universalism to rather
tangible realities of intercontinental trade, global markets, and the
controversial prospect of an international neighborhood enforcing
regional agreements relative to transgressive “persons”. In fact, the
globalization of the communication community has revealed the “universe”
to be the neighborhood of a small planet, where nations interact
(whether in concert through the U.N. or, almost always, in 1-to-1
strategic partnerships) like corporate “persons”. The ethical venue of
the intersubjective group (and problems of strategic egocentrism within
it), working on the basis of solidarity (or compensating for a lack of
this) to manage conflicts among members who all know each other in the
same neighborhood, seems to be an adequate model of the "universe". In
practice, the Kantian dream seems to have become antedated by
technological shrinking of the distance to the Other in historical
venues that don’t dream of legislating in the name of humanity, except
in *ethical* terms of substantive human rights that pertain to human

I could be misguided.  And I can accept that---in light of good
arguments.  But an ethical foundation of democratic theory has a lot of
appeal, I wish to argue, especially if a Kantian idea of morality is
outdated and unnecessary to Habermas' discourse theory of democratic

Thanks again for your interest!


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