Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Rationality

  • Eveline T. Feteris
Part of the Argumentation Library book series (ARGA, volume 1)


In his theory of communicative rationality, Jürgen Habermas sets out the conditions a rational discussion is required to meet. The publications in which Habermas develops his theory of communicative rationality most extensively are Theorie des Kommunikativen Handelns (1981), Moralbewusstsein und Kommunikatives Handeln (1983) and Vorstudien und Ergänzungen zur Theorie des Kommunikativen Handelns (1984).1


Logical Level Legal Process Legal Argumentation Legal Discussion Rational Discussion 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Moralbewusstsein und Kommunikatives Handeln (1983) is translated in English: Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (1990).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Tanner Lectures are published in English as ‘Law and Morality: Two Lectures’, The Tanner Lectures VIII, ed. Sterling M. McMurrin (Salt Lake City, University of Utah Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Because others have discussed Habermas’ theory of communicative rationality at length, I will confine myself to a summary of the central notions. For a more extensive discussion I refer the reader to Alexy (1989), and Rasmussen (1990).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    In Habermas’ communication theory, the question is not whether the result of a discussion can be considered true, but whether the result can be considered a ‘founded consensus’. The criterion of a founded consensus thus replaces the criterion of truth. Habermas (1983) opposes the correspondence theory of truth and chooses the consensus theory of truth in which a founded consensus is the criterion of truth.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See Habermas (1981,I:47, 1983:97 ff.).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Alexy’s rules (1.1), (1.3) and (1.4) (1989:188) which are discussed in Chapter 8 of this book.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The formulation of Alexy’s rules is taken from the English translation (Alexy 1989) of the original German version of the book (Alexy 1978).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Alexy’s rules (1.2) and (3.2) (1989:188 and 196).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    These rules are given in the version formulated by Alexy (1989:193).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See Habermas (1973:241–251).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See Habermas (1983:73 ff.). The strength of the argumentation, in Habermas’ terms the `consensus-generating strength’, does not depend on the logical relation between B and W but on the supporting force of B in relation to W.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    In Habermas’ theory, the principle of universalizability is an ideal of impartiality which underlies a rational practical discussion. Habermas’ principle of universalizability differs from similar principles such as the principle of universalizability developed by Hare (1963:10 ff.) and Singer’s principle of generalization (1961:34). According to Hare, it is sufficient if an individual can accept the consequences of the application of the rule for the satisfaction of the needs of all. According to Singer, putting forward a value judgement obliges someone to treat cases which are similar in relevant respects in a similar way. For a discussion of this principle in Habermas’ theory, see Alexy (1989:115–117), for an elaboration of this principle as a rule for practical discussions see Alexy (1989:190).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    The idea that in legal procedures the shortcomings of a practical discussion are compensated, forms a change of view with respect to a view defended earlier by Habermas that the law is a form of insitutionalized action which is not aimed at reaching a rational consensus. In a discussion with Luhmann, Habermas (1971:200 ff.) defends the opinion that a legal process can be considered as a form of strategic action. On the basis of the critique by Alexy (1981:287–288), that a legal process, although it takes place under restricting circumstances, can be considered as a specific form of a rational discussion (see also Chapter 8 of this book), Habermas (1981, I:61–63) changed his original opinion and now considers a legal process as a form of communicative action. 14. See Habermas (1988).Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    See also Habermas (1992:151–165 and 285–286) on the `principle of democracy’ which implies that citizens must have the freedom to use their political autonomy.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    See Habermas (1992:12–20).Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    See Rottleuthner (1970:82 ff, 1973:158 ff.).Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    For a more extensive treatment of Alexy’s theory see Chapter 8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eveline T. Feteris
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Speech Communication, Argumentation Theory, and RhetoricUniversity of AmsterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations