“Moral rules operate in a reflexive manner; their power to coordinate action is confirmed on two interconnected levels of interaction. On the first level, they regulate social action immediately by binding the will of actors and orienting it in a particular way; on the second level, they govern the critical positions actors adopt when conflicts arise. The morality of a community not only lays down how its members should act; it also provides grounds for the consensual disagreements that can be resolved convincingly from the perspective of participants on the basis of potential justifications that are equally accessible to all. Sociologically speaking, moral obligations recommend themselves by their internal relation to the gentle, persuasive force of reasons as an alternative to strategic, that is, coercive or manipulative forms of conflict resultion. To put it another way, if morality did not possess a credible cognitive content for members of the community, it would have no advantage over other, more costly forms of action coordination (such as the use of direct force, or the exercise of influence through the threat of sanctions or the promise of rewards).
When we examine moral disagreements, we must include affective reactions in the class of moral utterances. The key concept of obligation refers not only to the content of moral injunctions but in addition to the peculiar character of moral validity (Sollgeltung) which is also reflected in the feeling of being obligated. The critical and self-critical stances we adopt toward transgressions find expresion in affective attitudes: from the third person perspective, in abhorrence, indignation, and contempt, from the perspective of those affected, in feelings of violation or resentment toward second persons, and from the first person perspective, in shame and guilt. To these correspond the positive emotional reactions of admiration, loyalty, gratitude, etc. Because they express implicit judgments, these feelings in which actors express their pro and con attitudes are correlated with evaluations. We judge actions and intentions to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, whereas our terms for virtues refer to personal qualities of agents. The claim that moral judgements admit of justification also reveals itself in these moral feelings and evaluations, for they differ from other feelings and evaluations in being tied to obligations that function as reasons. We do not regard them as the expression of mere sentiments and preferences.
From the fact that moral norms are ‘valid’ for the members of a community it does not follow, of course, that they have intrinsic cognitive content. A sociological observer may be able to describe a moral language game as a social fact, and even to explain why members are ‘convinced’ of their moral rules, without himself being in a position to give a plausible reconstruction of their reasons and interpretations. But a philosopher cannot remain content with this. He will pursue the phenomenology of the relevant moral disagreements further in order to comprehend what members of the community do when they justify something morally. Of course, ‘comprehend’ here means something other than simply ‘understanding’ utterances. Reflective reconstruction of the everyday practice of justification in which we ourselves participate as laypersons premits reconstructive translations that foster critical understanding. In this methodological attitude the philosopher extends from within the participant perspective beyond the circle of immediate participants.
The results of such efforts can be gauged by examining modern programs in moral philosophy. These theories differ in their degrees of hermeneutic openness. Their reconstructions of the cognitive content of our everyday moral institutions are more or less comprehensive to the extent that they are sensitive to the intuitive moral knowledge of the participants” (Habermas 1998:4-5).
1998 The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory. Ciaran Cronin and Pablo De Grieff, ets. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
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