Lifeworld, discourse, and realism: On Jürgen habermas’s theory of truth

Philosophy and Social Criticism 30 (4):503-514 (2004)
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In this paper, I give a systematic account of the core features of Jürgen Habermas’s revised approach to truth that comprises both realist and epistemic components. While agents in the lifeworld are pragmatic realists and work on the basic assumption that their beliefs about the world are true, beliefs that have become problematic can be scrutinized only in the form of validity-claims in rational discourses. Thus Habermas introduces a discursive truth predicate that involves a procedural idealization of the conditions of discourse in terms of ‘justified acceptability under conditions that are currently ideal’. He argues that this truth predicate has to be understood in connection with agents’ pragmatic realism to give a comprehensive account of truth. This paper is concerned with the tension between truth-in-the-lifeworld and discursive truth. I argue that Habermas’s account is troubled by two problems: firstly an unclear conception of the role of the truth predicate; and secondly, the suggestion that agents in discourse temporarily abandon their lifeworldly realism. While the first problem can be remedied by exploring the distinction between a truth predicate and a truth criterion, the second difficulty requires a modification of Habermas’s account. I show that the consistency of his approach depends on the acceptance of the principle of bivalence throughout, and hence on the subscription to a certain kind of realism that extends beyond the lifeworld. Key Words: bivalence • discourse • Habermas • lifeworld • pragmatism • realism • truth



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