The Advancement of Altruism as a Criterion of Moral Validity

In: Contemporary Pragmatism
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Jürgen Habermas’s discourse ethics is a method of intersubjective argumentation conceived to test the validity of moral norms on the basis of their universalizability. As some scholars have argued, Habermas’s proposal is problematic in that the process of argumentation is always affected by the circumstances of inequality and unfairness that pervade communal life and, therefore, it cannot be as inclusive and egalitarian as it needs to be in order to function effectively. In this paper, I argue that the solutions proposed by these scholars, namely, the improvement of social conditions and the pluralization of the process of argumentation, cannot by themselves resolve the practical limitation Habermas’s method presents. As an alternative, I adopt Philip Kitcher’s approach to ethics according to which the establishment of moral norms is oriented not to the resolution of disagreements but to the restitution of healthy relationships among individuals. On the basis of this alternative conception, I propose the addition to Habermas’s principle of universalization of a supplemental criterion of moral justification—one that makes the validity of norms dependent upon their potential to foster altruism.

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