Habermas communicative rationality and how discourse ethics and a vibrant public sphere could break the stranglehold on rationality by elites

Te belief that meaning and reason were social in nature-i.e., required mutual cooperation and collaboration in its contruction-led early pragmatists to belive that an important part of the route to progressive social change lie in democratic deliberative approaches to addressing pressing social problems. These ideas are best illustrated by Dewey´s lifelong commitment to extensive citzen participation in politics as opposed to technocratic decision-making and his emphasis on public education as a means of achieving a more democratic society (Dewey 1927). These pragmatist insights on knowledge, language, and community, inspired Habermas (1987) to develop his ideas of communicative rationality and the public sphere. From pragmatist insights, Habermas saw the possibility that a discourse ethics and a vibrant public sphere could break the stranglehold on rationality by elites, a major concern of the critical theorists with which he was conversant. He argued that embedded in the logical relations of the pragmatist conception of meaning was an emancipatory potential in modernity (Habermas 1987). Namely, that if it is the case that partners in communication agree that communication is legitime, then setting up participatory discursive opportunities where speakers can be challenged to present the reasons underlying a claim and be confronted with competing reasons could liberate more work legitime (i.e., deeply socially justified) decisions. Discourse ethics created the best, in Haberma´s view, potential institutional design to free communication of distortion by strategic elites. Decision made through communicative processes offered, he argued, a more legitimate basis for democratic politics, policymaking and planning.

Extracted from: Gross, M., & Heinrichs, H. (Eds.). (2010). Environmental sociology: European perspectives and interdisciplinary challenges. Springer Science & Business Media.

 

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