The Transformative Nature of the Good Argument: Reason and Care as the Foundation for the Transformation of Human Systems

E John Vodonick

Abstract


This essay addresses the use of language--spoken, written and implied--in a specific way, and the transformational effect of the use of that specific form of language on the subject and the family, neighborhood, community and other organizations within which the subject exists to lay the foundation for the good argument.  Specifically, the nature of discourse ethics and the effect of discourse ethics upon the person and the community are explored through the development of Habermas' (1981/1987) discourse ethics as part of the subset of his theory of communicative action within the larger context of his enlightenment project.  A review of the theme of reason as the foundation of Habermasian discourse ethics and the presentation of examples of the appropriation of discourse ethics in human deliberative settings will demonstrate the practical relevance of this discussion.  By looking at the feminist critiques of Habermasian discourse ethics, the theme of caring becomes apparent as an enhanced (or new) foundation for ethical discourse.

     Next, examples from recent empirical studies in democratic institutions are presented to demonstrate the applicability of discourse ethics from the Habermasian and feminist points of view. I then show the expansion of the ethic of reason to accommodate an ethic of care through the development of human rights and the human transformation that grows from that development. Finally, the essay questions the argument that there is an inherent incompatibility between reason and care.  In this exploration, it is argued that reason and care are not necessarily best conceived of as related to male or female identity or personality, nor are they mutually exclusive as ethical norms. Rather, the addition of care as an ethical foundation of discourse will bring about the transformation of human beings and the human systems in which they participate.

     In this essay, a neo-pragmatist interpretation of reason, as opposed to the classic Kantian interpretation is developed.  While Kantian reason may be a useful tool to measure normative conduct, it is not the only tool. The use of care as a moral norm is also useful as a tool. This presentation will demonstrate that the use of a combination of care and reason as a justification for a claim of communicative validity is transformative of the person and the community. Both are necessary for the good to exist in what I am calling a good argument. Both are compatible with the neo-pragmatic understanding of reason.

Keywords


Habermas, Kant, discourse

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