Justice and the good life : an analysis and defense of a communicative theory of ethics
Meehan, Mary Johanna
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The central question of this dissertation 1s whether Habermas's discourse ethics can successfully take account of the kinds of criticisms of Kantian formalism, first raised by Hegel, without at the same time abdicating the universalism of the Kantian conception of justice. Specifically, it considers whether the universality of moral principles can be maintained while recognizing the particularity of our experiences and values. This question is pursued in the context of a discussion raised by contemporary Anglo-American ethicists. Communitarians such as Michael Sandel and Alasdair MacIntyre argue that . our notions of the right and the good are derived from a notion of the good life which defines the character of any given community. This would seem to undercut the force of Habermas's quasi-deontological position, which asserts that norms are only legitimated by universally valid criteria. This dissertation maintains that Habermas's theory of moral character accounts for both our historical rootedness and our ability to adopt a universalistic standpoint from which to question and assess our culturally mediated beliefs. When Habermas's position is considered in light of the arguments of critics such as Carol Gilligan, Martha Nussbaum, and Larry Blum, who criticize neo-Kantian tendencies to characterize morality as moral argument and the consequent failure to develop concepts of moral character, moral perception, moral emotion, and moral judgment, it becomes clear that Habermas needs a general moral theory that extends to the private sphere. It is posssible to reformulate Habermas's ethical theory so that the distinction between norms and values issues from an ideally regulated discourse that at the same time defines the boundary between public and private. The gap between norms and values also can be bridged by incorporating the notion of symmetrical reciprocity as a meta-norm of discourse, which would ground both principles of justice and a notion of the good without privileging any historically specific vision of the good life.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Boston University, 1990.
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