, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 471-487

Preconditions for Normative Argumentation in a Pluralist World

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Abstract

A problem arises, both for philosophy and for argumentation theory, in a pluralist world where people hold widely different beliefs about what to do. Some responses to this problem, including relativism, might settle but do not provide any criteria for resolving such differences. Alternative responses seek a means of resolution in universalist, culture-neutral criteria which must be invoked in assessing all human action. A philosophically adequate account of universalism would contribute to an ideal of critical rationality, as well as to the ideas of field-invariance and of convincing, as opposed to persuasive, argumentation. The account's adequacy would require universality both in form and in content. Universality in form is secured by seeking universal preconditions for practical reasoning in general, rather than specifically for morality. Universality in content is harder, and candidates such as freedom, autonomy and health are problematic. An alternative content is provided by the proposition that the satisfaction of material preconditions is necessary for the performance of any action whatever. Neglect of these preconditions may constitute a fallacy in the extended sense found in argumentation theory, and assumptions about them should form part of the point of departure for any practical deliberation.