Conflict and Universal Moral Theory: From Reasonableness to Reason-Giving

Political Theory 35 (5):598 - 623 (2007)
Abstract
The solutions to moral problems offered by contemporary moral theories largely depend on how they understand pluralism. This article compares two different kinds of universal moral theories, liberal impartiality theory and discourse ethics. It defends the twofold thesis that (1) a dialogical theory such as discourse ethics is better equipped to give an account of pluralism than impartiality theory due to a more correct understanding of the nature of conflict, but that (2) discourse ethics cannot, contrary to what Jürgen Habermas claims, embrace the notion of impartiality connected to agent-neutrality. The article argues that pluralism reflects conflicts among values not only between but also within people and that discourse ethics can include both these dimensions since it recognizes the constitutive connection between deliberation and (moral) conflict. Thus, unlike impartiality theory, it can elucidate the transformative aspects of pluralism.
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