Volume 44, 1998
Robert van Es
Negotiating Ethics as a Two Level Debate
As a form of moral debate, discourse ethic, according to Habermas, is based on regulated discussion. Participating moral agents share a common understanding in the ideal speech situation. Following procedures they try to reach consensus on questions of justice and rights. Critics of discourse ethic point to the bias of Western assumptions regarding agents and methods, the danger of elitism, and the optimism and the pacifism that run through the theory. After modification, Habermas distinguishes two types of discourse: the discourse of justification and the discourse of application. The second is inferior to the first. In the second, there is room for negotiating. There is another way of looking at negotiation, one that takes negotiating seriously as an important category of human behavior. This category shows an interesting overlap with moral behavior. Distinguishing four concepts of negotiating and using reciprocity and trust as the moral minimum, Negotiating Ethics is presented as a two level moral debate, close to Habermas but morally different in essential aspects.