Reason, tradition, and authority: a comparative study of Habermas and Gadamer

This thesis explores the possibilities for normative grounding of authority through a focus on the relationship between Habermas’s ‘critical theory’ and Gadamer’s ‘philosophical hermeneutics’, with particular reference to the bases of authority in East Asian culture. More specifically, it examines the role of reason and tradition in justifying political authority. Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics locates the conditions of authority in tradition, constituted in part by prejudice, while Habermas offers a theory of communicative action that transcends the limited horizons of tradition. The distinction between reason and tradition is applied in East Asian culture through an analysis of the practice of filial piety. The thesis endorses Habermas’s charge that Gadamer hypostatizes tradition. Habermas correctly identifies the political implication of Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, namely, that it obscures power relations. It is argued that Habermas’s ‘communicative action theory’ and ‘discourse ethics’ are better able to do justice to the basis for the normative grounding of authority. The relevance of discourse ethics for the justification of political authority in East Asian culture is explored
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