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The rational basis of critique Pierlot, Mark Lorne


The main question I address in this thesis is whether critique of norms and social practices has theoretical underpinnings. A derivative question is whether the idea of "progress" can be philosophically justified. Habermas answers these questions in the affirmative with his construal of communicative rationality, which he argues provides the theoretical basis for critique. He believes that critique needs a rational basis to distinguish it from mere de facto acceptance. Furthermore, he believes that this critique-generating rationality is already operative in everyday communicative practice, albeit in attenuated form. Communicative action is rational insofar as it consists in defending claims on the basis of their validity. Such action thus has determinate rational presuppositions. Habermas's main task is to lay bare these presuppositions in order to show that critique has a substantive rational basis. Rorty answers the leading questions in the negative. He contends that while critical practices are operative, they do not need theoretical support, particularly not from any theory of rationality such as Habermas's. According to Rorty, it simply makes no pragmatic difference to critical practice whether or not such practice is considered to be theoretically grounded in any rational conceptions such as validity, justification or truth. My contention is that Habermas's theory of rationality, suitably pragmatically attenuated, provides a more substantive basis for critique than does Rorty's pragmatism. This implies that I hold that theory has an important role to play in critical practice. I have structured the thesis as follows. In the Introduction I present the main philosophical concepts Habermas uses, including his hermeneutic construal of justification, and describe his transcendental argumentative strategy. In Chapter One I lay out his "theory of rationality." This includes tracing the history of the development of the theory and giving Habermas's supporting arguments for it. In Chapter Three I present Rorty's contextualist objections to the theory, which hinge on scepticism concerning the need for theoretical notions in critical practice. In Chapter Four I give Habermas's rebuttal to contextualism and pragmatically reinterpret Habermas's theory in light of Rorty's objections. Finally, in Chapter Five I conclude that the "pragmatized theory of rationality" demonstrates that critique needs theoretical underpinnings.

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