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Deliberation in Context: Reexamining the Confrontation between the Discourse Ethics and Neo-Aristotelianism

Ryan Holston’s “Deliberation in Context: Reexamining the Confrontation between the Discourse Ethics and Neo-Aristotelianism” appears in Telos 181 (Winter 2017). Read the full article at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our online store. Individual subscriptions to Telos are now available in both print and online formats.

Deliberative democrats continue to emphasize universal justification as the key criterion for establishing political legitimacy within pluralistic democracies. However, this essay argues that their refusal to acknowledge the limits to mutual appeal posed by the scale of the ethical life (Sittlichkeit) is utopian. Moreover, the cost of such utopianism is the failure to acknowledge the vital role of a sensus communis for meaningful deliberation. Drawing on the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer, this essay aims to combat the abstraction that has characterized much of the recent debate over deliberation. It will bring a greater historical awareness to the conversation in two respects. First, it will assume that the current discussion did not emerge ex nihilo, but that its contours have necessarily been shaped by earlier articulations and exchanges on the subject. Second, it will identify a critical moment when deliberation came to be understood abstractly, making excessively formalistic claims about norms later appear plausible. By shedding light on the origin of this problem and calling attention to the concrete conditions that support genuine deliberation, the essay aims to restore an appreciation for small-scale communities that exist over time and the need for rootedness among interlocutors.

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