Original Articles

Consensus and Cognitivism in Habermas’s Discourse Ethics

Published in: South African Journal of Philosophy
Volume 19, issue 2, 2000 , pages: 65–74
DOI: 10.4314/sajpem.v19i2.31308
Author(s): Darrel MoellendorfDepartment of Philosophy,


Habermas asserts that his discourse ethics rests on two main commitments:

Moral judgements have cognitive content analogous to truth value; and

moral justification requires real-life discourse. Habermas elaborates on the second claim by making actual consensus a necessary condition of normative validity. I argue that Habermas’s two commitments sit uneasily together. The second entails that his cognitivism is revisionist in the sense that it must reject the law of the excluded middle. Moreover, Habermas’s argument in defence of the need for real-life discourse is unconvincing and his derivation of the principle which requires consensus is fallacious.

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