How to restrict the "Universal Pragmatics" to a narrow and formal theory of argumentation?

Dimitar Vatsov

The core of “The Theory of Communicative Action” and of the “universal pragmatics” is a metaphysical one, since it is constructed under the Gestalt of “reflexivity”.

The reflexive figure is the interpretative operator through which we accomplish the reproduction of a thing as something (S as P). This figure is to be discovered onto two main levels – metaphorically speaking, onto the vertical and onto the horizontal ones.

First, the reflexive figure discloses itself as a reflexive interdependence (“relevance”) between know how and know that, between the pre-predicative potentials of the “life-word” and the actually predicated “meanings”. Put it otherwise, the epistemic-correspondent reflexivity between “sign” and “meaning”, between language and reality, is being replaced with an epistemic-critical reflexivity (“relevance”) between “possible” and “actual”, between a priori and a posteriori. The “obscurity”, the rendering the life-world as “half-transcendence”, allows Habermas to uncontrollably and dogmatically thrust into it contingent “universal” structures such as: the consensus as the telos of the mutual understanding; the principles of egalitarianism and reciprocity between subjects into an interaction; the nature-society-culture triad; etc.

The reflexive figure is being once again reproduced on an upper level – on the level of “communication” itself. For Habermas, the linguistic interaction is to be conceived as a criticism and grounding of validity claims. A certain validity claim is being intersubjectively recognized when it is relevant (is “adequate”) to “the better argument”. The “relevance” here is not between the utterance and reality, but between the utterance and its argument. In other words, the epistemic-correspondent reflexivity between language and reality on the level of linguistic interactions is being replaced with intra-linguistic epistemic-coherent reflexivity between utterances. “The better argument” realizes “complete reflection” between what is potential and what is actual, inasmuch as it expresses the universal structural conditions of the intersubjective life-world. It is only the enclave of the phenomenological level of the theory into its pragmatist linguistic level that allows the linguistic interaction as a dispute between claims to be “sublated” in a common resolution, in consensus.

If we cut off – and this is exactly what I would suggest to be done regarding “universal pragmatics” – its phenomenologically-metaphysical background, then it would turn out to be a narrow and just a formal “theory of argumentation” (in that case both, our grounds and our confinements will be anthropological ones).

Published 9 March 2004
Original in English

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