Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 95, 2021

The Diakonia of Truth

William Rehg
Pages 67-78

Habermas on Moral Motivation and Secular Hope
A Contribution from Aquinas

In his massive 2019 work on the history of the faith-reason discourse in the West, Habermas replies to Kant’s question of rational hope with the prospect of an eventual intercultural agreement on cosmopolitan principles of justice. To warrant such hope he points to the growth of democratic institutions and human rights across the globe. Habermas’s answer thus relies on political structures that foster transformative social movements—but not on modern moral attitudes, which he regards as too individualistic to generate collective action. I argue that Habermas, following Kant, relies on flawed assumptions about social movements. As a result, his structural approach provides an incomplete basis for hope. In the spirit of ongoing dialogue between religion and secular thought, I translate Aquinas’s treatment of fraternal correction into an ethics of moral leadership that can fill the gaps in Habermas’s project.