The Force of Reasons: Habermas on Norms and Justification



Richard Rorty’s approach to moral discourse, like his approach to theoretical discourse, is radically deflationary. It involves what Jürgen Habermas has aptly described as a “liquidation of unconditional claims”: talk of obligation is replaced by talk of solidarity, just as talk of truth is replaced by talk of justification.2 As Rorty sees it, there is no such thing as an “unconditional claim.” “This is a notion,” he writes, “for which I can find no use.”3 All claims are conditioned by the contexts of practice within which they are made and defended. From these contexts there is no escape into a rarified realm of transcendent truth or duty. But in rejecting a platonistic perspective on our practices, Rorty seems to forfeit the critical capacities required for reforming them. Without a notion of “unconditional validity,” we would appear to lack the resources for contesting the prevailing moral and theoretical consensuses of our respective times and places. In the absence of any further authority, the majority becomes — in effect — a law unto itself.


Moral Judgment Moral Norm Discourse Ethic Social Criticism Validity Claim 
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© Richard Amesbury 2005

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