Roundhouse Student Journal

A Critical Assessment of Steenbergen’s Discourse Quality Index

Martin King

Clearly it is not sufficient to justify a moral claim with a monological appeal to hypothetical individuals, since this would not necessarily reflect an intersubjective norm (Habermas 1996). Furthermore, Habermas claims that individuals should be the “last court of appeal regards their needs and wants” (Habermas in Chambers 1996:102). Thus for a norm to be valid it must be intersubjectively recognised. The best way of adducing this would be through discourse between participants affected by a norm. Habermas identifies the ideals that should be aimed for in order to establish an intersubjectively accepted norm. These ideals are not intended to be attainable: clearly, some moral actions involve coercion, and real life discourses do not allow every possible alternative equal opportunity for various reasons (for example, time constraints). Rather, they indicate desirable goals that should be strived for and anticipated in discourse (Dryzek 1995, Habermas 1996, Chambers 1996).

Habermas suggests three sets of rules concerning discourse ethics, which relate to three levels of argumentation (Chambers 1996). The first requires participants be coherent – to speak the same natural language and adhere to general conventions of semantics and logic. The second requires that participants desire to reach an agreement. To do this effectively they must be sincere, state only what they believe to be a right norm (corresponding with their subjective world), and respect one another’s demands and desires as sincere, even if they do not agree with the claims. Participants must not be engaged in strategic discussion, express insincere desires, or try to manipulate or convince other people of a norm by means of threats or bribery, but only by the merits of their argument. The third set of rules aims to ensure that repression and inequality do not obtain in discussion since this would be contrary to the goals of reaching an understanding. This requires participation: any competent speakers affected by the norm should not be denied access to discourse; furthermore, their participation should be free from external and internal coercion. They should be allowed to express any demand or argument, but nonetheless should strive for impartiality and consideration of the common good (Habermas 2005, Chambers 1996, Dryzek 1987).

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

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