Models of Moral Philosophy: Charles Taylor’s critique of Jürgen Habermas

Title: Models of Moral Philosophy: Charles Taylor’s critique of Jürgen Habermas
Authors: DeSouza, Nigel
Date: 1998
Abstract: This article lays out Charles Taylor's three-tiered critique of Jürgen Habermas' theory of discourse ethics, which is reconstructed from an analysis of several of Taylor's writings. First, Taylor maintains that Habermas' discourse ethics is incapable of answering the question, "Why be moral?". Instead of owning up to the goods it is in fact moved by and on which it depends (e.g. a certain conception of rationality, modern hypergoods of universal justice and freedom) it strives to maintain its universal—and hence unsubstantive—validity by relegating the question of motivation to the lifeworld. Second, there is the question of the lack of fit between its procedural form and narrow focus on justice and the real moral world. The upshot of this form and focus is that the messiness and complexity of moral reality is lost from sight. Many of the really difficult moral questions involving, for example, conflicts between collectively pursued goods and individual rights or the problem of competing principles of justice, are again seen to lie outside the scope of moral theory and to be the task, rather, of discourses of application. Habermas is careful in this regard to define the tasks of his theory as including clarifying the moral point of view and the problem of justification. It is by no means clear, however, that Habermas’ notion of the moral point of view and his understanding of justification are in fact universally accepted. In fact, they patently are not. The point of his theory, however, is that they could be. Taylor’s third critique originates in the challenge to this claim and takes issue with the acultural theory of modernity on which it depends. Habermas’ discourse theory of morality is, for Taylor, simply too laden with cultural baggage unique to the West to be universally applicable.
CollectionPhilosophie - Publications // Philosophy - Publications