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Volume 8/9, 1996

Rationality II & III

Raymound Boudon
Pages 237-259

Une éthique est-elle possible en l'absence de croyances dogmatiques?

A recurrent topic among philosophers as well as social scientists since Novalis, Comte, Weber, modem existentialists, and post-modern sociologists, etc. is that in the absence of what Tocqueville called "dogmatic beliefs” values cannot be grounded : you prefer liberty, I prefer equality; none of us would be neither right nor wrong. Contemporary writers as Rawls and Habermas defend, against this current view, the idea that value statements can be grounded rationally. Habermas' theory of communicational rationality remains procedural, formal and on the whole mysterious, however: how can this peculiar type of rationality be definied and made analytical? A cognitive theory of axiological rationality is developed here starting from the basic point that normative statements and axiological beliefs should be analyzed as grounded on reasons with a transsubjective validity, as positive statements are. This theory is checked in a tentative fashion against some examples of axiological belieft from ordinary experience and against a few pieces ofdata drawn from experimental social psychology.