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Communicative rationality

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N007-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 25, 2024, from

Article Summary

The concept of ‘communicative rationality’ is primarily associated with the work of the philosopher and social theorist Jürgen Habermas. According to Habermas, communication through language necessarily involves the raising of ‘validity-claims’ (distinguished as ‘truth’, ‘rightness’ and ‘sincerity’), the status of which, when contested, can ultimately only be resolved through discussion. Habermas further contends that speakers of a language possess an implicit knowledge of the conditions under which such discussion would produce an objectively correct result, and these he has spelled out in terms of the features of an egalitarian ‘ideal speech situation’. Communicative rationality refers to the capacity to engage in argumentation under conditions approximating to this ideal situation (‘discourse’, in Habermas’ terminology), with the aim of achieving consensus.

Habermas relies on the concept of communicative rationality to argue that democratic forms of social organization express more than simply the preferences of a particular cultural and political tradition. In his view, we cannot even understand a speech-act without taking a stance towards the validity-claim it raises, and this stance in turn anticipates the unconstrained discussion which would resolve the status of the claim. Social and political arrangements which inhibit such discussion can therefore be criticized from a standpoint which does not depend on any specific value-commitments, since for Habermas achieving agreement (Verständigung) is a ‘telos’ or goal which is internal to human language as such. A similar philosophical programme has also been developed by Karl-Otto Apel, who lays more stress on the ‘transcendental’ features of the argumentation involved.

Citing this article:
Dews, Peter. Communicative rationality, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N007-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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