Roundhouse Student Journal

A Critical Assessment of Steenbergen’s Discourse Quality Index

Martin King

This paper first outlines Habermas’ discourse ethics; it then outlines Steenbergen et al’s DQI. Finally, this paper explores issues raised by this application. This paper argues that the challenges raised against this application suggest fundamental problems with using Habermas’ discourse ethics to engage in objective research. However, this paper does not deny that it may be possible, desirable and useful to apply Habermas’ theory to social problems, including issues of political deliberation and parliamentary debate.

Discourse Ethics and Deliberative Politics

This paper now outlines Habermas’ theory, discourse ethics, and how this relates to deliberative politics. Habermas suggests that any act of communication raises validity claims, anticipating coherence, truthfulness, rightness and sincerity[1]. Communication breaks down if these validity claims are challenged – for instance, if a subject deliberately misleads or contradicts himself (Chambers 1996, Habermas 1996b). The validity claim most relevant to discourse ethics (though all have a role) is rightness: when an individual expresses a moral command they raise the validity claim of rightness (Habermas 1996). Habermas suggests that morals cannot be objectively true or false, but must appeal to an intersubjective world of norms (Habermas 1996:180). The speaker’s claim may be validated; evidence for this would be intersubjective acceptance of a norm, manifested in actions conforming to a norm. When the claim is rejected a number of outcomes are possible. Interlocutors may attempt to coerce or manipulate one another into conforming to a principle; alternatively they may try to convince one another by appeal to reason (Chambers 1996). Discourse ethics aims to capture this final possibility, since this represents a means of establishing a consensus or norm (that is, an intersubjective recognition evidenced in sincere belief in a norm) not derived from force. Discourse ethics must exclude anything that signifies a breakdown in communication, such as coercion (Chambers 1996, Habermas 1996).

A Critical Assessment of Steenbergen’s Discourse Quality Index - Martin King [PDF file]

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