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Book The Theory of Communicative Action - Lifeworld

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From the Back Cover : Jurgen Habermas opens volume 2 with a brilliant reinterpretation of Mead and Durkheim and then develops his own approach to society, combining two hitherto competing paradigms, 'system' and 'lifeworld. In the case of the money medium, exchange relations have to be regulated in property and contract laws, while the power medium of the political system needs to be normatively anchored by institutionalizing the organization of official positions in bureaucracies.

Therefore, the differentiation of systems requires a sufficient level of rationalization of the lifeworld through a separation of law and morality, and of private and public law. The separation of law and morality is achieved at the post-conventional level of social evolution, i.

Morality then becomes a personal matter of concrete but subjective moral-practical concerns, while law, as a social institution with external force, materializes abstract normative standards for the whole of society. The separation of private and public law corresponds to the independent functioning of the economy e. The underlying viewpoint of HABERMAS'S discussion of law as the normative legalization of the independent functioning of systems is that law can formally be conceived as an institutionalization of practical discourse on social norms HABERMAS acknowledges with WEBER that modern law in western societies is positive expressing the will of a sovereign lawgiver , legalistic applying to deviations from norms and formal what is not legally forbidden is allowed.

In this sense, modern law is positivized into a functional, technical system that seems to have suspended any need for moral deliberation. However and contrary to WEBER's view , HABERMAS argues that law at the post-conventional level of social evolution is still based on moral principles which remain open to discussion: 'The particular accomplishment of the positivization of the legal order consists in displacing problems of justification, that is, in relieving the technical administration of the law of such problems over broad expanses -but not in doing away with them' Modern law as a whole remains in need of justification, and can be criticized, precisely in order to unveil its systemic nature, under the abstract conditions of universalistic validity claims on normative rightness.

The second important role HABERMAS assigns to law from the perspective of the theory of communicative action concerns the thesis of the internal colonization of the lifeworld The concept of juridification generally refers to an increase in formal law in the following ways: the expansion of positive law, i. Habermas identifies four waves of juridification in the specific context of European welfare states. The first wave of juridification took place during the formation of the absolutist bourgeois state in Europe.

The sovereign's monopoly over force, and the contractual rights and obligations of private persons, were regulated to legitimize the coexistence of a strong monarchical state and a market of free enterprise. Second, the bourgeois constitutional state of the 19th century gradually regulated individual rights against the political authority of the monarch: life, liberty and property of private subjects were constitutionally guaranteed.

Next, with the creation of the democratic constitutional state in the wake of the French Revolution, citizens' social rights to participate in the formation of the political order were regulated to democratize the power of the state. Finally, with the rise of the social welfare state of the 20th century, the economic system of capitalism was for the first time bridled through legislation securing individual freedoms and social rights over and against the imperatives of the free market.

The three last juridification tendencies, HABERMAS argues, indicate how lifeworld demands attempt to resist the autonomous workings of state and economy.

This is achieved first by claiming individual rights against the sovereign, then by democratizing the political order, and finally by guaranteeing freedoms and rights against the economic system. HABERMAS claims that the present form of juridification in welfare states is nevertheless markedly ambivalent because each freedom guaranteed at once means a freedom taken away. HABERMAS discusses four central problems of social-welfare laws that explain this ambivalence: 1 the formal restructuring of legal interventions in the lifeworld entails an individualization of legal claims; 2 the conditions under which social laws apply are formally specified; 3 legal entitlements relate to social problems but are bureaucratically implemented through centralized and computerized impersonal organizations; and 4 socialwelfare claims are often settled in the form of monetary compensations the consumerist redefinition.

The demands of the lifeworld, then, are thereby transformed into imperatives of bureaucratic and monetary organizations, so that law comes to intervene in a systemic way into the social relations of everyday life. When legal regulations are observed to conform to the imperatives of state and economy, the lifeworld is also colonized, internally, by the law as medium. The law as medium applies to the legal organization of economy and state, as well as to the interventions of welfare policy regulations in the informal structures of the lifeworld. As instances of the latter case, HABERMAS mentions school and family laws that manage to convert contexts of social integration over to the medium of law in terms of bureaucratic and monetary controls.

These laws do not need any substantive justification but are simply a matter of functional procedure. Law as an institution, on the other hand, retains an intimate connection with morality. Legal institutions, such as constitutional and criminal law, refer to regulations that have to be normatively evaluated, and that remain in need of justification in terms of moral-practical discourse.

I will briefly review the main issues that these critical discussions and applications have dealt with, and specifically address some of the topics that are debated in this paper. In The Theory of Communicative Action , HABERMAS argues that modern law, rather than having rationalized into a completely functional entity, remains in need of moral justification in terms of a practical discourse on the rightness of norms. The question, then, is how this discourse can be conceived to assure rational argumentation? HABERMAS argues that from a post-metaphysical perspective, philosophy can no longer pretend to offer undisputed, rationally justified, right moral norms as the substantive foundation of legal norms.

Rather, philosophical investigations can at best outline the rational conditions of the procedure under which norms can, and should, be grounded by people in the context of their lifeworlds.

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The principle of the ethics of discourse therefore states: 'Only those norms can claim to be valid that meet or could meet with the approval of all affected in their capacity as participants in a practical discourse ' While HABERMAS realizes that any such discourse on norms can only unfold within the boundaries of specific ethical lifeforms, he nevertheless maintains that the suggested principle is strictly procedural and in this sense universally applicable.

Notions of democracy, autonomy and equality are taken up in HABERMAS'S theory, but only implicitly, which may have led him to underestimate the possibly distorting influence of concrete lifeforms in which practical discourse can take place.

On the other hand, it has also been suggested that HABERMAS does not develop a true moral theory, and that his formalistic proposition is normatively 'empty' The ethics of discourse, it is argued, is an indecisive methodology that does not provide any substantive moral principles and falls to formulate the road to an ideal society. A meaningful application of the discourse principle can at best be achieved through implementing and investigating procedural requirements inasmuch as they fulfill the realization of substantive principles of human rights, solidarity, care, freedom, or justice.

The proposition that HABERMAS'S procedural ethics of discourse should be expanded with substantive norms has also been taken up in some legal research inspired by the theory of communicative action. Notably the German legal theorist ROBERT ALEXY 21 has applied HabermaS'S discourse theory to an analysis of law, and suggested that an application of the model of practical discourse to legal discourse is in any case contextualized by the concrete norms that are already present in any given legal structure Thus, law always constitutes a substantive ethics to which analyses in terms of the discourse model are subordinate.

Legal research on the basis of the ethics of discourse, therefore, should take into account principles that are more fundamental than, and can serve as a standard to confront, normative claims in courts of law.

This would permit the laying bare, and criticizing, of the underlying normative principles that guide legal processes of, for instance, constitutional law and legal procedure. Finally, in line with the critique of the indecisive nature of the ethics of discourse, it has been advanced that legal research in terms of HABERMAS'S discourse ethics only makes sense if law is subjected to a critique in terms of procedural requirements inasmuch as they meet, or fall to meet, substantive normative principles. Particularly, human rights, far from being taken for granted, should be confronted with legal procedures.

While analyses from the CLS perspective share with Habermas the view that law and morality are closely related, CLS scholars have generally argued against the possibility of rationally reconstructing law's moral grounding in terms of a universal procedure of discourse. The moral justification of law is denied in favor of a demystification of legal morality and decision-making as an arbitrary 'patchwork quilt'. HABERMAS has responded to this position by arguing that, while CLS scholars perform a valuable task in criticizing the functions of law in terms of its own aspirations, they fail to offer any justification or rational basis for their criticism.


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They thereby confront the paradox of implicitly presupposing a rational standard to substantiate their own moral position, at the same time questioning the possibility of its existence in law LUHMANN suggests that societal evolution has reached such a high level of differentiation in modern societies that law is an autopoietic system which no longer needs any justification in terms of normative points of view. Other social systems, including morality, are in like manner closed, and while exchange of information between different systems is possible, the intransparency between systems prevents interference of any one system in the autonomous operation of another.

On the basis of the two-level perspective of system and lifeworld, HABERMAS interprets processes of juridification as the ambiguous result of lifeworld resistances transformed in terms of the imperatives of the political and the economic system. Is a university the same as a business, a company? Have students become products who have to sell themselves? Have things become ends in themselves, and human beings become disposable?

Again, we could spend the whole course on Habermas. We have to limit ourselves to several important questions and then move on. Can you now understand what Habermas means by the uncoupling of the life-world from the systems? What do you think of this article?

Robert Bellah at the University of California at Berkeley, first introduced me to the life-world and two systems of Habermas. These short descriptions have been gleaned from the concise pages of E. In Defense of Real Education , Bloomsbury, See the New York Times, Wed. Instrumental rationality becomes insubordinate to value rationality, replacing language, persuasion, and discourse in relationships of the life-world with money and power, colonizing the life-world and making persons and communities exist for the sake of the systems, rather than the systems, for the sake of the life-world.

Money and financial power from the economic system and coercive power from the political system replace the genuine relationships in the life-world that should be based on trust and communication. Money and power disturbs the relationships once enjoyed for their own sake.

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