Basic principle for guiding human society

The Theory of Communicative Action
Theory of Communicative Action

Source: Philippe Portier, ‘Religion and Democracy in the Thought of Jürgen Habermas‘, Culture and Society, Volume 48, Number 5 / September 2011, pp.424-43

[German Jurist] Böckenförde links human dignity to the “creatureliness” axiom.31 Man only accepts his lot after acknowledging his dependence on his Creator and begins to behave according to divine law. On the contrary, Habermas advocates the principle of “artificiality.” Like Fichte, he believes that “man is accidentally minor and originally major.” The role of man is to build the moral order in which he lives. Far removed from the injunctions of traditional authorities, he only has the support of his decision-making ability. This conception of man leads to an open approach to history. We cannot fix things through reference to a world that once was. One must be able to “introduce the novel” into the movement of the world.32

The traditional conception of the state developed by Böckenförde broadens the theory of the subject. He holds that political power directs its legal output through natural law. Habermas rejects this idea because it seems contrary to the imperative of freedom. Political society must be organized by aggregating “free and equal persons” through debate rather than transcendence. “In a democracy,” Habermas writes, “the subject of sovereignty is not fed by a pre-political substance.” 33 Based solely on the exchange of autonomous reason, does one risk leading society into chaos and injustice? Such is the concern of conservatives. But it is not Habermas’ view. Democracy, if it remains open to all forms of wisdom, can produce sufficient communal bonds and meaning: “A pluralistic community can find legal stability by assuming a limited formal consensus regarding procedures and principles.”34

I feel Habermas is right, though it seems to contradict Rom 1:20.

How to establish natural law? This is the biggest challenge for all those who want to argue for the biblical mandate of Mic 6:8 based on Rom 1:20. Neo-liberal Pragmatism (for Habermas and against natural law) and intuitionism (for Böckenförde and for natural law), which one comes as more foundational?
In once sense, pragmatism subsumes human [moral] intuition but it offers much more than that. Thus it has a larger application than intuitionist argument, which fails logically to derive any law that is counter-intuitive.
That is to say, there are right things that are naturally counter native human intuition and can only be appreciated as true and good after certain level of education and cultivation (such as the idea « saving for the future » is counter human consumption impulse. We cultivate the virtue of saving for long-term practical concerns, in which we also suppress our  economic intuition- that is, our wasteful desires).

On the other hand, those who support intuitionism are typically those who won’t simply accept animal and creaturely laws for guiding human society. Rather, they are also as eager to introduce the concepts of common good into the society as other ethicists. But in reality natural law can only do minimum service to this. They fail to understand that many moral codes and cultural traditions are either theological/revelatory in roots or are developed and preserved based on pragmatic concerns (« corporate stability and harmony is best for self-preservation and the succession of one’s own seeds »; cf. Thomas Hobbes).

For example, killing a baby makes me guilty and blood makes me psychologically uncomfortable. This is called intuition and it applies to most though not all people. But to act corporately based on this intuition is pragmatism, not intuitionism- for the ultimate root conviction is that we don’t enjoy feeling guilty, we don’t enjoy having to fear about others’ revenges, and most of us do not have killer’s instinct; we don’t enjoy the biological response to criminal acts (though in a war time- when the practical circumstance demands it, we may acquire the virtue of a warrior by being trained to enjoy killing).

In consequence, as intuitionists and natural law advocates press on the spirit of justice, love, compassion, and so on to be the basic moral code of the society, they have unwittingly become highly pragmatic but their agenda-driven intuitionism will not help them recognize the pragmatic components in their thoughts.

I am convinced that a theology-neutral natural law does exist and can be reached. But the moral codes that flow from it is light years from what we understand as justice, love, and compassion. The Golden Rule of religions (« Treat others as you want to be treated ») is not based on intuitionism as some (e.g., Mencius 孟子) would tend to think!  By intuition we all want only our own gain and not others’. It is rather by pragmatic selfish thinking process and by educational effort that we should reach this Golden Rule. And to advance any further we need great help from the explicitly confessional theologies from all sides, (including all faiths).

Now I couldn’t help but feel that by keeping Caesar’s coin to Caesar, Habermas has become the most friendly philosopher  of postliberals.


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