Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Linda Martín Alcoff

Committee Members

Omar Dahbour

Frank M. Kirkland

Jeffrey Flynn

Subject Categories



ethics, Habermas, political philosophy, morality, validity, democracy, affect


Discourse ethicists generally are anti-realists about moral rightness, in that the rightness of moral norms is a matter of discursive justification, and is not grounded in or by any objective feature of the world. Put differently, the position is that rightness is wholly constructed by our moral practices. Further, discourse ethics and liberal theories of justice more broadly generally rely on a distinction between goods that are generalizable, and goods that are in some way context-bound and particularistic. Jürgen Habermas’ discourse ethics makes the distinction wholly formal, abstaining from any theoretical commitment to which goods are generalizable and leaving this as a matter for discursive deliberation. Those goods that are discursively determined to be generalizable are the object of validmoral norms, and those that are not generally justifiable as goods involve at best ethical values. In this dissertation, I argue – against Habermas – for a moral realist conception of discourse ethics, and for a substantive modification of the formal structure of Habermas’ position, in order to accommodate a validity claim attaching to ethical discourses. I argue that Habermas’ position requires a goodness claim, in addition to the rightness validity claim attaching to moral discourses.

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