Roundhouse Student Journal

A Critical Assessment of Steenbergen’s Discourse Quality Index

Martin King

Deliberative politics suggest that political decisions should derive from discourse. Habermas’ ideals of discourse ethics may be used to provide a model for discourse conducted in deliberative politics. The ideals prescribed by the discourse ethics seek to ensure that only the better argument, indicated by genuine consensus, prevails to inform political decisions (Steenbergen et al 2003, Habermas 2005). This must avoid solutions that are produced as a result of, for example, bribes, strategic manipulation, coercion as a result of party whips, or threats to one’s political career. If such factors influenced the decision, this would be unjustified by discourse ethics and deliberative politics. Critical Theory was developed with the intention of being applied to social issues (Habermas 2005, Dryzek 1995, Chambers 1996), and arguably the practical intentions of Critical Theory are integrated into the validity of the theory (Blaug 1997). There is debate concerning the limits of how the theory should be applied or related to practical issues. This paper will examine one application: Steenbergen et al’s use of discourse ethics as the model for the DQI and deliberative politics (Steenbergen et al 2003).

Steenbergen et al’s Discourse Quality Index

Steenbergen et al produce an interpretation of Habermas’ discourse ethics which they use to justify the coding categories of the DQI. Steenbergen et al’s interpretation of discourse ethics follows six categories: participation, justification, consideration of the common good, respect, constructive politics, and authenticity. These categories seem to capture the theory accurately; however, there are some peculiarities of emphasis observable in the categories. For example, justification emphasizes the requirement for reason to involve clear links between premise and conclusion. The common good is conceived in terms of appeals to utilitarianism or the good of the least advantaged. Respect is conceived in different “dimensions”: it can mean respect towards counter arguments, towards groups, or for demands (Steenbergen et al 2003). These categories and conceptions do not deviate too much from the principles of discourse ethics (though there is less emphasis on the role of participants’ own attitudes in validating, for example, a justification); these categories are then operationalised and given coding instructions.

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

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