Darwall, Habermas, and the Fluidity of Respect
Northwestern University School of Law
November 15, 2012
26 Ratio Juris 523 (2013)
Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 12-28
What moral commitments do we manifest when we make claims upon one another? The practice of claiming is inescapable, and so any normative presuppositions of that practice are similarly inescapable (at least on pain of self-contradiction). This inquiry thus promises an Archimedian point from which to address intractable moral disagreements in modern society. Whatever we happen to differ about, we can be shown to agree about these premises, and therefore to share commitment to whatever can be derived from these premises.
The most prominent developer of this approach is Jurgen Habermas, who has sought to ground, inter alia, religious and cultural rights on this basis. I will argue that the strategy cannot resolve disagreement in the way Habermas hopes, and that this has been shown, perhaps inadvertently, by Stephen Darwall, who for very different reasons seeks to work out the premises of the practice of claiming (and who never discusses Habermas). Darwall has no apparent interest in finding a universally convincing basis for resolving moral controversies. He seeks to address, not the practical problems of a pluralistic society, but some specialized, albeit important, questions of metaethics, having to do with what kind of entity a moral claim is.
Both Habermas and Darwall think that discourse presupposes a kind of respect among persons. Darwall, however, shows that respect is too fluid, and takes too many possible forms, to ground any but the most trivial specific moral claims.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 16
Keywords: Darwall, Habermas, Fluidity of Respect
JEL Classification: K10, K19
Date posted: November 15, 2012 ; Last revised: November 19, 2013