Habermas Commentary/Books/TCA1/p20

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Cultural Values, Norms of Action, and Claims to Universality (20.1.8)[edit]

A normative expression makes a validity claim to the effect that a certain act is right or wrong. The meaning of that validity claim is, in part, the set of reasons that could be given in its support. The imperative speech act citing a norm rests upon the claim that people should follow it. There may be a circle of intersubjective recognition (but not necessarily general assent) among some members of a culture regarding a cultural value. Cultural values of the type Habermas has in mind are those that arise in "the discussions of art, music, and literary criticism" (TCA1, p. 20). That is, they are not values of a culture (e.g., Hispanic); they are simply values of culture (i.e., "high" culture, e.g., oenophilia). The values expressed in such contexts may be advanced, but are typically not successfully defended, as universals.

A cultural value becomes a normative value to the extent that its proponent suggests that it does indeed apply to others generally. The question appears to be, then, whether a personal value crosses the line into normative territory when, "if occasion arises," others begin to critique it. But I think that people do generally -- indeed, almost invariably -- internally critique personal values expressed by others, regardless of whether those values consist of personal reflections on (high) culture or on less commonly approved phenomena.

I would construe the rotten apples example as an instance of "one’s own desires and inclinations" (TCA1, p. 21) -- which, in the reference to desires, seems to me to be a continuation of the concept of the reference to desires on page 20. That is, on page 21 Habermas seems to be addressing the case of self-deception, but without seeming to depart from his attention to cultural values.

On page 19, Habermas distinguished the objectivist perspective of theoretical discourse from the internalist approach that people do (and/or should?) adopt toward personal values (i.e., "interpreted needs and wants") in practical discourse. In the internalist, personal context of value claims, there is presumably neither attempt nor desire to bind others to any common standard capable of being argued over in theoretical discourse.