Communicative Action, Autonomy and Global Justice Raffaela Giovagnoli Università di Roma Tor Vergata
1. The Public Use of Reason. Autonomy is the core of the Habermasian political discussion on naturalism and religion. These topics generated a lively international discussion in different fields. Habermas analysis of the concept of autonomy is based on a reformulation of the Kantian principle of categorical imperative and entails important implications for his political theory.
The first assumption that makes plausible the priority of autonomy of citizens over institutional political power is the Habermasian study on the “pre-political” fundaments of the democratic State of law. Habermas presents a form of political liberalism as non-religious and post-metaphysical justification of the normative fundaments of the Constitutional democratic State. His argumentation is based on two fundamental points:
1. The democratic process in virtue of the satisfaction of conditions of an inclusive and discursive formation of opinion and will justifies the presumption of rational acceptability of the results;
2. The juridical institutionalization of this procedure of democratic jurisdiction in parallel requires the concession of fundamental rights (i.e. liberal or political).
For the sake of my argumentation is relevant to underscore the fact that the point of reference of this strategy of foundation resulting in a form of post-Kantian republicanism is the constitution that citizens commonly give to themselves and not the domestication of an already existing state power, because this ought to be previously created through the democratic constituent process. My analysis on the relationship of autonomy and justice in the context of the Habermasian discussion on naturalism and religion concerns three points: (1) The public use of Reason, (2) The intersubjective concept of autonomy and (3) the relationship between pluralism of cultures and global justice.
It is a fact that in our multicultural societies religious values continue to have a great relevance for citizens in their private as well as in their public spheres. Most of the numerous conflicts in which our western culture is involved are fought in the name of religious credo. According to Habermas, the classical distinction between State and Church must be revisited because the neutrality of the Liberal State is not more sustainable.
John Rawls proposes a vision of the public use of reason that plausibly takes into account the fact of the pluralism of religious points of view. Naturally, Habermas does not follow the idea of liberalism proposed in the Rawlsian theory of justice, because the laic character of the State is a necessary but not sufficient condition for guaranteeing religious freedom.
In Habermas terms:«The scope cannot be reached with the compliant benevolence of a laicized authority that tolerates until now discriminated minorities. About the precarious distinctions between the positive right of practicing a religion and the negative freedom to be protected from the religious practice of the others the very parties must find an agreement. If the principle of tolerance must escape from the suspect of a repressive interpretation of the limits of tolerance the definition of what can be or cannot be tolerate needs evident reasons, that could be accepted by all the parts. Equal rules can be formulated only if the participants learn to undertake each time the perspectives of the others. A democratic formation of will deliberatively constituted, is proposed as procedure to reach the scope» (Zwischen Naturalismus und Religion trad. it. p. 25).
Habermas maintains the principle of neutrality of the laic State but the democratic Constitution must represent the source of legitimation with respect to the ideological neutralization of the State authority. It is the constituent praxis that grounds fundamental rights citizens ought to reciprocally attribute. The attribution of rights founds the democratic procedure by virtue of two components: first the equal political participation of citizens that guarantees that the addressees of laws can consider themselves as authors of them and second, the epistemic dimension of the forms of a discursively governed debate that motivate the presumption of the rational acceptability of the results.
The point I find shareable of the Rawlsian conception of the public use of reason is that the exercise of political power that could not be impartially justified is not legitimated as it favors the dominance of a part on the other. In order to avoid this wrong result citizens of a democratic community ought to give reciprocally reasons because this is the only way they have to discover the repressive character of political power. If we formulate this assumption in Habermasian terms it emerges a normative constraint to be given to the liberal State. Namely, they cannot be forced to neutralize the substantive content of their religious reasons when they participate in discussions in the “informal” public sphere. At the same time, it must be clear that in the “formal” public sphere only laic reasons count. It is a fruitful dialog among citizens that favors a cooperative form of “translation” of the content of the different reasons; this translation is fundamental because citizens are all together authors of laws to which they are subject as addresses.
The fundamental question, raising under the condition of a pluralistic world, was rightly posed by Rawls.
This is a crucial question, according to Habermas, cannot be solved by binding political questions to a sort of ideological naturalism that takes for granted only assertions of empirical sciences. Rather:« If the liberal response to the religious pluralism could be accepted by all citizens as the right response depends on the availability of religious and laic citizens to commit themselves from their peculiar point of view to an interpretation of the relationship between science and faith, which only makes possible a reciprocal self- reflectively illuminated relation in the politic public sphere» (p. 50).
2.The “Intersubjective” Concept of Autonomy. The Habermasian account of “communicative action” represents a good model to relate autonomy to a linguistic normative competence that applies to the question of global justice. According to Habermas, autonomy is bound to the acknowledgment of presuppositions or linguistic rules as conditions of universal validity of theoretical and practical claims. He plausibly introduced the issue of interpersonal recognition related to formal linguistic conditions of a rational and egalitarian dialog (The Inclusion of the Other, Truth and Justification). In my opinion Habermas account of the relationship between autonomy and socialization is convincing because it shows plausible arguments against the contemporary reductionist strategies. The problem of reductionism in our society is worthy of serious considerations as it is the source of an increasing scientistic perspective that threatens every possibility of mutual respect among religious and laic citizens.
For the sake of my discussion I would refer to the essay Freedom and Determinism in which Habermas shows how the classical metaphysic debate on free will is obsolete. The criticism of Habermas is directed against those reductionist strategies, which consider individual freedom as an appearance because what is taken as “mental causality” would be a net of neuron conditions under the laws of nature. This idea is incompatible with the fact that normally we consider the others and ourselves as imputable because we are able to take responsibility for actions. It is also important to define a plausible concept of action. According to Habermas:«A Design that concentrates planning, decision and execution of a body movement in a restrict lapse of time by detaching it from each context of long term goals and motivate alternatives can grasp only artifact, which do not possess the intimate connection with what can transform actions into free actions: the intimate conception with reasons. It is a misunderstanding to see the freedom to act some way or other as embodied in the Buridan donkey. In the “nude” decision to stretch out the left or the right arm does not manifest itself freedom of action, as there is not contact with reasons as for instance the ones that motivate a cyclist to turn right or left» (p. 57)
The concept of action involves the idea of a rationally motivated choice: the decision to act forms according to rules. The fact that reasons motivate actions entails the fundamental consequence that the process of judgment gives the agent the title to be considered as the author of a certain decision. In this sense, the constraint of the best argument that guides our choices is different from the causal constraint that forces us to act contrary to our will. Nevertheless, freedom ought to be thought as requiring constraints otherwise it is unthinkable. According to Habermas, the rational motivation by reasons can be explained only from the point of view of the participant to the game of giving and asking for reasons. This is an important observation because this game is not based on the primacy of rational consent. In this sense it lives open the possibility of an account of the agent autonomous point of view in the linguistic situation.
Following some Habermasian suggestions, we can argue for a concept of autonomy as an essential component of the self-realization of a subject living in a society that develops in communication, in intersubjective acknowledgement of commitments or validity claims. Language that we share gives us the possibility of being autonomous. The condition for being autonomous is to be intentionally bound by conceptual-linguistic rules that are not individual desires and preferences. An analysis of the concept of “liberty” needs investigations on individual motivations like desires and preferences. In this sense, we are free to act according to our mean-end reasoning without the necessity to assume a detached, responsible perspective over personal desires and preferences. Naturally, we are free to act when external or internal constraints do not exist. Autonomy can be considered as that capacity human beings normally have of decentralizing their own point of view, thus of distinguishing subjective and objective reasons. Autonomy comes into play also when an agent has conflicting subjective reasons for acting.
The public sphere is a place of validity in virtue of which we can confront our opinions. Again I would refer to Habermas concept of communicative lifeworld as the most clear and plausible proposal of the process of communication with its constructive and creative aspects. I argued for the primacy of a dialogical rationality and this option entails the primacy of shared linguistic rules. But, the lesson we learn from Kant and his interpreters is to underscore the primacy of the public use of Reason namely the public use of human capacity for autonomy. In my opinion, the capacity for autonomy that allows phenomena of resistance must be investigated at the level of a normative linguistic competence. The importance to participate in the game of giving and asking for reasons emerges in case of marginalization. Even if we are not so sure about the validity of our commitments, if we participate to public discussions we have the possibility to come to know and to inherit them. Moreover, if we have the chance to participate to fruitful and open dialogs, i.e. we are exposed to different reasons, we can reach an autonomous point of view namely that point from which we can accept or refuse validity claims.
My theoretical proposal is to adopt the scorekeeping model (Brandom, Making It Explcit, Cambridge University Press, 1994), based on the primacy of the performative attitude of the speaker so that we can grasp the know-how implied by the “social role” of the autonomous agent as “scorekeeper”, who participates in the game of giving and asking for reasons (I develop this possibility in my book Autonomy: a Matter of Content, Firenze University Press, 2007). This social role is defined by the use of language bound to certain social attitudes (attributing and undertaking commitments and entitlements) through which the recognition of deontic statuses (commitments and entitlements) seems possible. Even if we accept the inferential structure (based on material incompatibility) of this space proposed by Wilfrid Sellars, we must also give an explanation of the social perspectives from which we can undertake and attribute commitments. I’ll propose the thesis that the autonomous agent occupies the social role of scorekeeper, thus she is able to justify and to take responsibility for her assertions (or the assertions of others). The normative competence of the autonomous agent is bound to the social structure of the space of reasons. In this context, we have two possibilities: (a) to rely to the recognitional model presented by Brandom in his paper on the desire for recognition (on line forthcoming) or (b) to rely to a kind of linguistic normative competence described in scorekeeping terms. In my opinion, this latter possibility is worthy of consideration as it addresses to a wide concept of justification of reasons for acting that does not require too strong conditions for autonomous agency.
(a) Let’s begin with the first possibility. Brandom maintains that recognition is fundamental to clarify the structure of the social space of reasons in which agents can freely express their points of view. Actually, the notion of recognition Brandom introduces focuses on identification of reasons one ought to recognize in communication. This fact means that the agents ought to understand that (1) they are responsible and entitled to commitments implied by assertions and actions, (2) also the others move from the same deontic structure and (3) without reciprocal recognition it is not possibile to have a representation of oneself i.e. self-consciousness. Once we are conscious to have a self who expresses his/her voice in the reciprocal exchange of reasons we acquire a “robust” self-consciousness. The limit of this account is that autonomy is possible only by virtue of a shared background of objects and norms. We acquire autonomy only through self-consciousness as recognition of inferentially structured commitments that constitute the natural and the social worlds. Consequently, we fall into a form of dangerous relativism because we have only the possibility to recognize commitments of our own communities. In my opinion autonomy requires an explanation of critical reflection bound to an intersubjective discursive practice that favors a process of reciprocal comprehension among different forms of life.
(b) In this sense (second possibility), for an agent to be autonomous she ought to internalize the normative structure of a “dialogical” rationality. Here we are moving at the normative level of communication i.e. the level we consider as sufficient for autonomous agency. A self-transparent process of identification of shared commitments is not required for autonomy. The entitlement to a claim can be justified (1) by giving reasons for it, or (2) by referring to the authority of another agent, or (3) by demonstrating the capacity of the agent reliably to respond to environmental stimuli
Because of the participation in the game of giving and asking for reason, we can master the communicative structure of justification by “default” and “challenge”. Autonomy is relational in two senses: (1) the “semantic” sense that shows the inferential commitments (governed by material incompatibility) the agents must acknowledge and (2) the “pragmatic” sense that reveals the normative structure of that acknowledgment as a social net of deontic attitudes.
Which is the competence an agent must possess to be able to constitute an autonomous and critical voice in the public space? Let us consider a question of global justice: the case of a politician who is committed to the following action:«If the dissidents attack, I’ll respond to». From the point of view of the justification by default, P could refer to his/her own knowledge of the norms that regulate war conflicts, or to the authority of others who are reliable. Naturally, this knowledge depends on the content of norms authorizing certain practical commitments. The fundamental trait of the scorekeeping model is that it represents a dynamic model, in which social practices are always exposed to the risk of dissent. In this context, social practices entail the dimension of “challenge”, i.e. the case in which the scorekeeper challenges the interlocutor to justify and eventually to repudiate his/her commitment. The speech acts implied by this critical role are: disavowals, queries and challenges. Even in the case in which an agent acquires the entitlement to act by deferral, i.e. by indicating a testimonial path whereby entitlement to act can be inherited, the query and the challenge assume the function of fostering P’s reflection. But if P can refer to the authority of a set of legal norms, it becomes difficult for the scorekeeper to alter the score of conversation. The disavowal is successful if the scorekeeper shows to P that his/her inference implies incompatible commitments from the subjective incompatibility perspective: for example that the response to the attack entails catastrophic consequences. In this case, P can be forced to perform a different inference such as:«If the dissidents attack, I’ll find a diplomatic solution».
In the present context, I would say that this analysis is compatible with Habermas account of autonomy in terms of theory of communicative action (Rorty). Recognition of validity is not bound to identity recognition (Honneth) but on attributions of validity to speech acts. Thus the:«self of the practical relation-to-self reassures itself about itself through the recognition that its claims receive from an alter ego. But these identity claims aiming at intersubjective recognition must not be confused with the validity claims that the actor raises with his speech-acts. For the “no” with which the addressee rejects a speech-act offer concerns the validity of a particular utterance, not the identity of the speaker. The speaker certainly not count on the acceptance of his speech acts if he did not already presuppose that the addressee took him seriously as someone who could orient his action with validity claims. The one must have recognized the other as an accountable actor whenever he expects him to take a position with “yes” or “no” to his speech-acts offers. In communicative action everyone thus recognizes the other in his own autonomy».
3. Pluralism of Cultures and Global Justice. Autonomy based on accountability of agent in intersubjective praxis is the moral idea that ground political procedures. This idea differs from the classical liberal conception of individual autonomy as the classical liberalism runs the risk to reduce the sense of the equal ethical liberties to a coercive individualistic notion of subjective rights to be intended in an instrumental manner. This perspective misunderstands the normative dimension of solidarity which put in relationship family, friends, and neighbours in the private sphere and moreover the citizens of the State as members of a political community beyond pure juridical relations. Contrary to the classical liberal point of view, the republican tradition that moves from the thought of Rousseau proposes a different and intersubjective notion of freedom bound to the role of citizen in the democratic State. In this context, the equal rights of communication and participation make possible a practice that citizens of the State commonly develop and evaluate as end in itself. Democratic self-legislation grounds a form of “abstract” i.e. juridically mediated solidarity, and makes citizen ranged for another (even by recoursing to arms). The kind of solidarity generated by Republicanism is due to equal rights that guarantee ethical freedom not in the sense as subjective freedom of the citizen in civil society, but as freedom intended as sovereignty of jointly liable citizens in the State. According to Habermas, ethical republicanism accept the element of solidarity (for the concept of solidarity in Habermas I would refer to an insightful paper of Larry Wilde) among citizens in the State by paying the price of a limitation of egalitarian universalism:«Each citizen possesses equal rights only in the ambit of his own particular ethos, presumably shared by all the members of a political community. The fusion of citizenship of the State and national culture entails as its consequence an interpretation of the rights of citizenship that is “monochrome” and not sensitive to cultural differences. The political primacy of a common good ethically based on an effective guarantee of equal ethical liberties cannot but bring to discrimination of deviant ways of life in the pluralistic societies and, on the international level, to impotence respecting to a “conflict of cultures».
According to Habermas, a cultural politic is liberal as it favours symmetric relationships of reciprocal recognition, - also among members of different identity groups. We can observe that cultural rights and politics of recognition can reinforce the capacities for self-determination of marginalized minorities, at the same time, the threat of sanctions cannot alter the register of social values. Following Nancy Fraser and Seila Benhabib, we observe that the end of multiculturalism, i.e. the reciprocal recognition of equal dignities, requires mutate interpersonal relationships, which are established by communicative action and discourse, and takes place into the public space where agents discuss on politics of identity. Moreover, one must take into account the difference proposed by Fraser between inequality due to marginalization namely in the sphere of membership and inequality due to vertical status relationship that is a question of social justice. Indeed inequality raises in the dimension of distributive justice rather than in the inclusion of new members. To the distinction of dimensions corresponds a distinction between politics of redistribution and politics of recognition. If we want to refer to a enlarged notion of social State cultural rights can be justified only by taking into account the possibility of an equal inclusion of all citizens. According to Habermas, it remains questionable whether the revision of the classical notion of juridical person bound to the double role of citizen of economy and member of a community, distributes ambivalent group’s rights, that could in some cases conflict with individual rights.
The problem of a strong form of multiculturalism is a misunderstanding of the ontological constitution of the symbolic objects. It is indeed difficult to assign the culture the role of juridical subject because it cannot fulfil the conditions of its own reproduction but it must refer to the agency of citizens who accept or refuse values. Collective rights cannot guarantee the survival of identity groups or the persistence of their cultural background. According to Habermas, young people ought to grow up in a certain tradition and ought to be convinced to live in a cultural horizon a life that is neither empty nor failed. A cultural tradition is vital if it offers resources to solve actual problems and what is fundamental, in my opinion, is the test the tradition are required to pass by a confrontation with different alternatives. The presence of different reasons is fundamental for autonomy. In Habermas terms, the more inclusion we realize the more we have the possibility of reaching a genuine universal and right perspective. Collective rights can reinforce the self-affirmation of a group only if they contemporary guarantee to the members the space they really need to reflexively decide among appropriation, revision or refusal. In this sense:«For the survival of cultural groups it is decisive the guarantee of the internal space that is indispensable to appropriate of a tradition under conditions that admit dissent. A dogmatically protected culture, especially in a social, rich of alternatives environment, cannot reproduce itself» (p 204).
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