The Ideal Speech Situation: Neo-Kantian Ethics in Habermas and Apel

  • Adi Ophir
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 128)


Two important contemporary philosophical programs have revitalized Kant’s critique of practical reason. In the U.S. Rawls has developed his theory of justice as an explicit “Kantian Constructivism.” In Germany Habermas and Apel have launched two separate projects whose affinities override their differences and allow one to speak about a shared program. Habermas’ “Universal Pragmatics” and its derivative “Diskurs Ethik” and Apel’s “Transcendental Semiotics” (or “Transcendental Hermeneutics”) and its derivative “Minimal Ethics” are two versions of a new form of Kantian transcendentalism in general and of ethical formalism in particular. Ours is an age whose intellectual predicament seems to be a sophisticated, linguistically informed historicism and relativism; it is an age in which any attempt to utter a universal claim is immediately deconstructed and shown to be something other than what it purports to be; in such an age these two programs are to be admired. Nevertheless, and fashionably enough, I will try to undermine them, and not only because, having no belief in foundations, I rejoice in deconstructionist work, but also because I think the two programs are ill-founded. I will examine the continental program only, trying to reconstruct what seems to me its principal argument. The main concept that I will explicate and criticize here is that of the “ideal speech situation.” The focus on this concept — and the limited scope of this paper — is a rationale for the preliminary exclusion of Rawls from the present discussion. Rawls’s “original position” can be interpreted as a form of an ideal speech situation or be shown to imply one. If such an interpretation of Rawls is warranted and if my radical criticism of the concept of ideal speech situation is justified, then Rawls’s whole program cannot get off the ground.


Language Game Normative Claim Categorical Imperative Moral Imperative Rational Speaker 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adi Ophir
    • 1
  1. 1.Tel-Aviv UniversityIsrael

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