Monday, January 16, 2006

Immanuel Kant, Jürgen Habermas and the categorical imperative

Anders Bordum
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

It has often been said that discourse ethics as developed by Jürgen Habermas can be understood as a dialogical continuation of the monological ethics developed by Immanuel Kant, as formulated in the categorical imperative in Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Like Kant’s categorical imperative, Habermas’ principle of universalization specifies a rule for impartial testing of norms for their moral worthiness. This article will substantiate that discourse ethics develops a dialogical version of the categorical imperative, and will make this explicit. This is done by presenting a new interpretation of the Kantian ethics. Renewing the traditional understanding, four instead of two or three formulations of the categorical imperative are identified. Finally it is shown how this interpretation relates to Jürgen Habermas’ discourse ethics. This analysis shows that one must specify which formulation of the categorical imperative one is talking about when discussing it.


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