The ground of the normative force of discourse: A Lonerganian reconstruction of Habermas's communicative rationality

Edgar A Devina, Fordham University


This dissertation articulates a critical social theory that is sympathetic to the emancipatory project of modernity. It argues that Western rationality should not be overcome but be rehabilitated, that modernism should not be abandoned but be redeemed, that the isolated, self-centered, disembodied Cartesian cogito should be rejected to allow the emergence of a decentered self, and that the objectified world of science should be repudiated to realize a lifeworld that is constituted by common meaning. It sees the possibility of completing the unfinished project of human liberation through a systematic retrieval and reformulation of the conceptual foundations of modernity, namely, selfhood, rationality, and society, which will form the bases for a radical critique and overcoming of the phenomena of alienation, domination, and colonization in late capitalism. Lonergan and Habermas use two different paradigms in dealing with modernism. I argue that Habermas's paradigm of communicative action, which he develops from his critique and rejection of the philosophy of the subject, is based on a wrong understanding of the concept of consciousness as necessarily implying instrumentalism. This basic paradigmatic problem in Habermas leads to a neglect of the individual self, a one-sided conception of reason as merely linguistically constituted, and an excessively linguistic concept of the lifeworld that ignores the non-linguistic elements of social life. By complementing Habermas's communicative approach with Lonergan's paradigm of self-appropriation, we can recover a more comprehensive concept of selfhood that is embodied, situated, communicative, intersubjective, free, critical, responsible, and responsive to the transcendental precepts and validity claims. The Lonerganian reconstruction of Habermas's communicative rationality also leads to the recovery of reason that is both cognitively and linguistically constituted, critical, evidential, emancipatory, attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible. Our reconstructive project also gives way to a concept of lifeworld that is both linguistic and perceptual. The convergence of the two paradigms—communication and self-appropriation—is a new approach to modernity which we call "new modernism." The concept of "new modernism" shows that the emancipatory project of modernity can be completed through self-appropriation of the different levels of one's conscious intentionality in order to give way to a cognitive, communicative praxis that leads to truth, freedom, and justice. This process demands a further enlightenment, or what Lonergan calls Second Enlightenment, geared towards the restoration of meaning, empowerment, and emancipation through intellectual, moral, and affective conversion.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Social structure|Education philosophy

Recommended Citation

Devina, Edgar A, "The ground of the normative force of discourse: A Lonerganian reconstruction of Habermas's communicative rationality" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3310415.