Habermas, Rorty, and the Problem of Competent Interlocutors

Análisis Filosófico 40 (2):213-246 (2020)
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In texts such as “Richard Rorty’s Pragmatic Turn” Jürgen Habermas defends a theory that associates, on the one hand, the truth-claim raised by a speaker for a proposition p with, on the other hand, the requirement that p be “defendable on the basis of good reasons […] at any time and against anybody”. This, as is known, has been the target of criticisms by Rorty, who−in spite of agreeing with Habermas on the central tenet that the way of evaluating our beliefs must be argumentative practice−declares that the only “ideal presupposed by discourse” is “that of being able to justify your beliefs to a competent audience”. We will consider two texts from 1971, -surprisingly neglected in most approaches to the debate-, in which Habermas did include such a “competence condition” to elucidate the notion of truth. We will discuss whether there are good reasons to relinquish such a condition and to refer, instead, only to the formal or procedural properties of argumentative exchanges, as Habermas does in presenting the notion of “ideal speech situation”. As we will try to argue, there are no such good reasons.

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