Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Principles, Mediations, and the "Good" as Synthesis (from "Discourse Ethics" to "Ethics of Liberation")

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Principles, Mediations, and the "Good" as Synthesis (from "Discourse Ethics" to "Ethics of Liberation")

Article excerpt

In 1973, Karl-Otto Apel published in Frankfurt his work Transformation of Philosophy.' The same year, in Buenos Aires, appeared the first two volumes of my work Toward an Ethics of Latin American Liberation. Two weeks after the "fall of the Berlin Wall," on November 24th, 1989, we met in Freiburg. I immediately understood the importance and creative potential of Apel's thought for the project of an ethics of liberation. At the same time, however, I realized the insufficiency of an intersubjective formal morality that could not integrate the material moment of practical truth. At first, it was Marx's work that motivated me to reach this conclusion. Through six dialogues with Apel, I was able to express in a clearer fashion my original intuitions.3 Now, after our 1997 colloquium in Mexico, I believe to have advanced to a new level of architectonic distinctions. These new distinctions are what I wish to elucidate in this short work, which nevertheless presupposes all that has already been articulated in the prior works that emerged from our encounters. I will divide the presentation in two parts: fundamental ethics and critical ethics or ethics of liberation. In both parts I will consider three levels: A, B, and C, in counter position to Apel's distinctions between Parts A and B of his discourse ethics.

1. First Part: Fundamental Ethics

As indicated by its name, the "fundamental" (or foundational) part analyzes the problematic of ethics in its basic structure, which was inevitably studied by all schools of ethics, in some fashion or another, whether by articulating aspects, parts or specifications of it. A reconstruction from the perspective of an ethics of liberation articulates its own theses, which will not escape the reader.

1.1 Level A: Abstract "Universality"4

To begin, and accepting partly this distinction, although giving it another sense, this level concerns the moment of maximum abstraction or "universality" (Allgemenheit) of every possible ethics, which is arrived at through use of the Hegelian distinction between levels of generality.

1.1.1 The Principle of Discursive Validity or of Formal Morality

Without question, one of the irreversible contributions of modernity to ethics has been the thematization of the moral "validity" (Gultigkeit) of the human act. To achieve this decisive level it was necessary to go through the linguistic turn, and in particular, the form it assumed under discursive pragmatics. It is thus that an act is "valid" (Gultig) if it is intersubjectively "accepted" by a community of communication, whatever its reach. It is in this way that the first version of the Kantian categorical imperative is re-interpreted, which now speaks of "validity," and not directly of "goodness" or the "good" (Das Gute): So act that the maxim of your will could always hold at the same time as the principle of a universal legislation.5

The condition of possibility of the "validity" of a maxim of action consists in its "acceptability" by the other members of an affected community with respect to that which is under discussion, for which linguistic communication is necessary. The "affected community" includes those who will suffer the consequences of the action were it to be realized. A "valid" act is that which has received the rational and symmetrical assent of all the affected in actu, under equal conditions and rights, and not by the mere fact that someone "has assumed the place" of others, as Kant suggests.6

There can not exist a "good" act which is not first "valid." Validity is one of its conditions of possibility. But the "good" act, as we will see below, is so not only because it can be "valid." It also depends on other conditions. Herein resides the error of discursive formalism, namely on subordinating goodness solely to validity.

The discursive principle of validity could approximately be formulated in the following manner: one who acts morally ought to arrive at a valid decision through a community of communication with the symmetrical participation of all the affected through the medium of rational argumentation, without coercion of any sort whatsoever. …

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