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Meaning and Truth in Habermas's Pragmatics

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The article examines Habermas’s formal-pragmatic theory of meaning from the point of view of his attempt to defend a postmetaphysical yet context-transcendent conception of validity. It considers his attempt to develop a pragmatic account of understanding utterances that emphasises the mediation of knowledge through socio-cultural practices while simultaneously stressing that understanding has a cognitive dimension that is inherently context-transcendent. It focuses on his recent “Janus-faced” conception of truth, looking more briefly at his purely epistemic conception of moral validity. It raises three objections: the first to his attempt to maintain a notion of “unconditionality” that has no otherworldly origins but is purely immanent to this world, the second to the alleged non-arbitrary status of his conception of truth, and the third to his rejection of metaphysical thinking. It concludes that the objections, if valid, have profound implications for Habermas’s postmetaphysical enterprise and for his programme of formal pragmatics.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of German, University College Dublin, Ireland

Publication date: 2001-04-01

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