Foundations of the open society: discourse ethics and the logic of inquiry.
A jury is called upon to debate the guilt or innocence of a woman accused of murder. The jury can deliberate or ask for more information about the case. They want to achieve a maximally truth-like verdict: they want to be as close as possible in their estimation of the woman's degree of responsibility for the murder to her actual degree of responsibility at the time of the murder. What principles should guide their verbal interaction? What rules of discourse and dialogue should they follow if they want to achieve maximal truth likeness in their verdict? How do current deliberation procedures and practices depart from the ideal of an open or authentic debate? This paper contributes to both the normative and the positive dimensions of the debate concerning the discursive forms of the open society, in two ways. First, it addresses the link between the rules for ethical discourse proposed by Karl Otto Apel and Robert Alexy some twenty years ago and the logic of inquiry proposed by Karl Popper as a normative appr oach to scientific process some fifty years ago. It is found that if a group's members abide by the rules of ethical discourse, then the process of discovery that their process as a whole instantiates will abide by the Popperian logic of scientific inquiry. Second, it provides an analysis of the ways in which forms of social organization that we are familiar with (markets, representative democracies) depart from the discursive ideals of the open society. I will end the paper by arguing that going from current 'crippled' forms of discourse that bound correspondingly 'closed' societies cannot be accomplished merely by asserting and guaranteeing the exercise of a right to 'freedom of expression; a more comprehensive 'discourse ethics' is needed in order to bring about the development of the open society. [C] 2000 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.
1. Prelude: the open society and its promises
Socio-economic analyses of communities and societies walk a fine line between moral reasoning and scientific inquiry. Unlike pure economic analyses that dwell on the ways people choose among alternatives in ways that maximize their utilities without breaking their budgets, socio-economic analyses incorporate a 'moral dimension' of human logos and behavior that is often irreducible to purely utilitarian considerations (Etzioni, 1988). One way to explore the moral dimension is by the constitution of a reified 'we' or a society whose 'will' shapes and constrains a person's travels and travails in the 'moral dimension'. The conception of the 'good society' ensures that not quite everything is possible - from a moral standpoint - and therefore that the moral penumbrae of actions are not mere epiphenomenona. No longer able to identify the 'social' with the 'religious' and the 'sacrosanct' or the 'spiritually pure', we can, nevertheless, seek, through normative inquiry, to identify the 'social' with the 'good' or w ith some 'good'. The question remains, however, 'How is this good to be arrived at? What are the norms of interaction that should guide our inquiry into the 'good'?
The path of such inquiry, however, is not an easy one, as I have tried to argue in a previous paper (Moldoveanu, 1999) which shows that the 'common will' of the 'social we' can hardly be represented by gathering together of a majority of voters around an issue. The resulting 'we' has an identity, but no cohesion. It has a representation, but not a will. It has a name, but no claim to moral weight. It is hardly a stand-in for the reified 'society' that the Enlightenment thinkers and their modern successors have demolished (Touraine, 1992). In the previous paper, I held out some promise for a 'we' whose moral identity is constituted not by majority voting, but rather by a commitment to open discourse and authentic communication. The main hurdle that I considered to the realization of such a 'we' was based on the finiteness of time and the need to act even before reaching some agreement. In this paper, I will assume that there are many situations in which authentic communication can be realized even in the face of time constraints, and explore hurdles of a different kind to its realization, namely, difficulties arising from individuals' self-defensive rituals and practices.
I will explore the constitution of the 'we' and the 'social' by a collective commitment to discourse ethics, by drawing parallels between the aims of authentic communication and the aims of practical or scientific inquiry. Karl Popper's normative logic of scientific inquiry provides an appealing normative model for the work of the scientist, and has already been proposed (by Popper himself) as a model for discourse about political philosophy and political theory. In his two volumes (Popper, 1943) Popper criticizes the 'master thinkers' such as Plato, Hegel and Marx for advancing either fatalistic prognostications for mankind based on irrefutable prophecies with great prima facie appeal, or programs of 'utopian social engineering' based on the inexorable logic of a historicist analysis of the Zeitgeist and its aftermath. he proposes in the place of the 'sphinx' -philosophies of the past a program of 'piecemeal social engineering' based on continued and gradual reform, reconstruction and evaluation of the resu lting world order. His proposal, however, remains at the level of 'meta-social philosophy': it is a regulative device for conversations among social philosophers about their subject matter, rather than a 'social philosophy' in its own right. Moreover, Popper does not work out the implications of a commitment to the open society for the everyday communicative patterns of individuals in a community or a society. Finally, he does not provide a psychological analysis of the hurdles to 'getting there from here' and of therefore constructing the 'open society' itself, just as 'alternative social forms' are themselves constructed in the open society. I will seek to make progress along these three directions in what follows here, and show how a 'common will' with moral weight can be constructed from a quasi-Popperian commitment to critical thinking and fallibilist inquiry, what the practical consequences of doing so are for the way we interact with others in such a society, what various types of organizing social lif e--including markets, representative democracies and dictatorships--look like vis-a-vis the open society, and what the individual-level hurdles to open discourse and authentic communication seem to be.
2. The logic of inquiry
Karl Popper has described a kind of dialogue whose function is to open up claims made by participants to criticisms advanced by others who have a stake in the truth-likeness of these claims. He proposed a normative commitment to this kind of dialogue as the only reasonable way in which to carry out an open-ended investigation of the world, in the face of Hume's challenge to the inductive justification of beliefs. Knowledge, in Popper's view, is conjectural, not definitive. A theory can only be refuted, never confirmed. Theories that have survived more severe tests successfully are 'better'--on his hierarchical scale--than are theories that have survived less severe tests.
There are three 'features' that enable Popperian discourse to fulfill its function. The first is the agreement of the participates in the discussion to adhere to a particular set of rules of logical inference, such as the principle of contradiction (not(p and (not p))), closure ("a [right arrow] b" [right arrow] a [right arrow] b) and the law of the excluded middle (either p or (not p), but not both, nor neither). This first feature enables criticism because it makes possible the refutation of arguments by true statements of evidence which logically entail the contradiction of the arguments they refute.
The second feature of Popperian discourse is a criterion for truth--the correspondence criterion--which states that analytical statements are true if they correspond to descriptive statements, and not true if they do not so correspond. To use Popper's example, the statement 'snow is white' is true if, in fact, snow is white. The (law-like) statement 'snow is white' therefore 'corresponds' or agrees with, the (descriptive) statement 'snow is white.'
The third feature of Popper's theory is a principle of demarcation between science and metaphysics, which requires that scientific theories be stated or in principle expressible in a way that makes them refutable by empirical statements. This third characteristic is required in order to combat one's temptation to make statements (such as 'people are motivated by self-interest' or 'everyone's ideas are the products of his or her socio-economic position') that are irrefutable by empirical evidence, and to 'smuggle' such statements into a body of claims that are supposed to be open to criticism.
The principle of demarcation is sometimes thought to be troublesome because of the 'theory-ladenness of observations,' which is the doctrine that the observation statements that are supposed to provide 'tests' of a hypothesis themselves rest on underlying theories and 'frameworks,' which provide the very 'language' used to make those statements (or to make them intelligible or meaningful). On this account, Popperian' confrontations' between 'theory' and 'evidence' are nothing but confrontations between different theories--some of which masquerade as 'objective data'; observation statements cannot, then, play the decisive critical role in the growth of knowledge which was hoped for by scientific realists.
Proponents of the doctrine of the theory-ladenness of observations can defend against the charge of dogmatism, should they insist that, necessarily and on a priori grounds, "all observations are theory-laden." In doing so, they have at once withdrawn from Popper's aim to open up various claims to validity to criticism and questioning. A falsificationist approach to the claim that observations are theory-laden would treat the statement as a hypothesis, which is to be questioned and criticized: each possible 'observation statement should--on a falsificationist account--be examined for 'theory-ladenness' using various methodological tests; once all such tests have been exhausted, it is of course still possible that there is some theory on which the statement critically depends, just as it is possible that the statement in question represents an exception to the general law regarding observation statements. Different accounts of what it means for an observation statement to be theory-laden will give rise to diff erent methodological tests of theory-ladenness. It seems doubtful, at this point, that the question of theory-ladenness of observations can be settled in general by an a priori argument--that is, that there is some intelligible formulation of 'theory-ladenness' that turns up the required result for any 'raw datum' in any possible world -although this remains an open question.
How should a falsificationist approach the claim that 'all observation statements are theory-laden? By sequential examination of various observation statements with the aim of exposing the theoretical commitments that underlie them. What kind of statements should go into such criticism? Preferably empirical statements as well. Why? Because such statements offer up the greatest likelihood of refutation by arguments from other persons. It may be argued that this approach leads to an intolerable 'entrenchment' of paradigms which have no other justification than that of commanding a high number of adherents, whose sheer number rationalizes the paradigm because it offers up the greatest likelihood of 'severely testing' its assumptions and observation statements. This claim is false, because the statements used to criticize observation statements are themselves not apparently constrained--except perhaps, by a requirement that they be intelligible by others. But, requiring that certain statements be intelligible is a precondition for dialogue and not only for scientific discourse: it is much more fundamental than the requirement that observation statements be theory-free. Therefore Popper's suggestion that criticism should proceed trough statements with empirical content is really a suggestion that critical dialogue be characterized by maximal mutual responsiveness among those carrying out the dialogue.
Seen through the prism of my concern with open dialogue, Popper's three devices that ought to govern scientific argumentation provide a corrective mechanism for turning sloganism, ideological rhetoric and parallel monologues into relatively open conversations. First, the law of the excluded middle provides an engine for the establishment and continuation of a conversation along critical lines because it sets up a tension between the will of the participants to behold truth-like theories, and the refutation and refutability of these theories by empirical evidence. If we want to believe true theories and we buy into the laws of logical inference, then we will react to the refutation of a theory by empirical evidence by abandoning the claim that the theory is true, and searching for a new theory.
Second, the scientific method encourages the explicit expression of assumptions, as well as predictions, because it places the highest value on those theories that have been most severely tested. Thus the self-defensive temptation--felt by some--to obfuscate or presume agreement about assumptions, is effectively negated by this approach. Third, Popper's discourse encourages responsiveness in dialogues by encouraging direct criticism of theories, and requiring theories to be stated in a criticizable form. The problem of discursive compatibility between the claims made by different participants to a dialogue is thereby resolved. Popper's approach discourages parallel monologues, by making the criticism of a theory the common goal of the discussants.
Of course, it is quite possible for two Popperian scientists studying the same phenomenon to never engage in dialogue: each can state his own theory in falsifiable terms and adduce evidence to test that theory, publish her results, and so forth, all the while ignoring the results of the other person, who is proceeding the same way. This kind of dialogue "between the deaf" is particularly easy to enact if the two scientists--though geographically accessible to one another--use theories which are not clearly reducible to each other, as is currently the case with the 'dialogue' between psychologists and neurophysiologists. Nevertheless, should people want to engage in dialogue, Popper's method of rational criticism points towards a way of carrying out a mutually responsive dialogue, rather than a set of parallel monologues.
I want to argue now that Popper's 'discourse ethics' does not go far enough--either on its face or as applied--towards the establishment of an open dialogue. In the case of social and psychological phenomena, in particular--which are the phenomena of most interest in public argumentation and social debate--the 'unreflective' application of the scientific method leads to a closed-ended discourse that undermines the aims of open dialogue. In the case of debate over moral norms and actions stemming from these norms, the application of the critical-rationalist discourse forecloses the exploration of alternatives in a way that makes resemble the discourses of totalitarian thought-systems which Popper carefully criticized.
I will proceed with this critique in three stages. First, I will examine the practical consequences of the establishment of scientific discourse, and will show that the closed community of scientists and the community of argumentative voters are the consequences of requiring defensive, anxious individuals to rationalize their decisions in the language of the scientific method. As applied, Popper's discourse ethics does not guarantee the establishment of the open community. Something more is required.
Second, I will show that social and psychological phenomena have a reflexive quality that is not recognized in Popper's discourse, and in particular in his definition of empirical evidence and experience. This shortcoming undermines the claim of social and psychological 'theories' to realism or truth likeness, and encourages a form of argumentation in which hidden assumptions are passively denied. This shortcoming becomes particularly evident when we try to speak in a critical-rationalist way about questions of the sort, "What ought Owe to do?" in order to arrive at normative principles and rules for applying those principles to practical scenarios.
Third, I will show that Popperian discourse is closed in at least one sense--it does not allow further discussion of its own guiding principles of logical inference, truth and demarcation between science and metaphysics. In this sense, Popper, the fallibilist, appears to be a well-disguised dogmatist. I will temper, however, the reader's annoyance or euphoria at this conclusion by showing that some sort of a priori agreement is required for any sort of open dialogue to take place.
When people who are tempted to seek justifiable answers such as theories and frameworks engage in Popperian discourse, the first casualty of the encounter between ideal and the actual is the fallibilist spirit of Popper's philosophy. The development of theories is pursued because theories provide answers which can be justified using Popper's method, more often than in order to achieve a truth-like image of the world in words and symbols. The 'scientist' will in general agree that the answers that he proposes cannot be proved or verified by his evidence, but only falsified. He may-though perhaps more rarely-agree with Popper that realism is the aim of science, and therefore that the assumptions as well as the predictions of a theory should be submitted to severe critical testing. These agreements, however, are purely formal in most cases. The actual discourse of scientists is based on a rarely challenged assumption that existing knowledge is inductively supported by experimental results, and that it is this l arge body of experimental results--rather than the process of critical testing--that makes knowledge 'cumulative.' It is also based on a tacit agreement that the assumptions or axioms of a theory may not testable, do not have to be testable or are not in need of testing.
The language games of science are played in an arena shaped by personal goals (research grants, academic publications, tenure processes) and institutional constraints (recognition by professional societies, the review of manuscripts in view of publication in specialized journals) which promote the pursuit of a narrowly specialist or 'expert' strategy that fits both the goals and constraints of the academic arrivists and their self-defensive temptations as people. The chief characteristic of such a strategy is a tacit acquiescence in the 'hard core' of a specialty--to use the words of Imre Lakatos. Quite often this acquiescence implies--as it does most strikingly in the practice of economic discourse--a perseverance in using explanatory models based on assumptions which have already been refuted by experimental evidence (as the standard assumptions of rationality have been refuted by the experimental results of Tversky and Kahneman and their followers).
The 'instrumental' approach to the scientific method has been defended by a three-step argument, claiming (1) that the purpose of a science or a theory is to predict the course of events, (2) that explanation is nothing but prediction in reverse and (3) that when we explain past phenomena, it is sufficient to account for our observations using a set of 'prior' constructs--hopefully more compact than the listing of the observations themselves--even though these constructs need not themselves be 'true' or truth-like. The explanation of a past event (an interest rate hike, say) in terms of the hidden actions of 'animal spirits' would, on the basis of the above argument, be as good as an explanation based on the pursuit of individual interests by the people making up an economic system. Yet the animal spirits explanation does not strike us as 'scientific'--precisely because its assumptions are not open to testing by empirical observations. 'Better' explanations of economic phenomena will involve constructs that are more open to critical testing--in this case to refutation by observation. Step (1) therefore does not seem justified. Step (2) is also incorrect, because the availability of a sense datum (a stock market crash) directs the attention of the scientist to a particular set of variables that might contribute to the event, and which therefore shall function as the 'obvious' explananda. The informational asymmetry that exists between past and future makes explanation a far easier task than prediction. Explanation is therefore not 'nothing but prediction in reverse': when explaining, we have 'something' to explain; when we predict, that 'something' must be constructed. Step (3) rests on steps (1) and (2) and falls accordingly.
(1 )-(3) are thought by many to justify the claim of economic reasoning to scientific 'rigor' and therefore the claim of economic discourse to openness to revision and criticism. Economic reasoning in turn is the dominant discourse at present for justifying social intervention by the government of the United States. It follows therefore that such an intervention is not the outcome of a dialogue that would pass Popper's procedural tests for openness.
I will now turn to a difference between psycho-social phenomena and physical phenomena in order to point out a key failing of the scientific method. Psychological and social phenomena have a reflexive quality due to the fact that their protagonists, being conscious and self-conscious, can change their behaviors on the basis of their observations and interpretations of what is 'happening' to them, and of what they are about to become in view of these events. Because people relate reflexively to the events in which they take part, their descriptions of an event ('this is a revolution,' 'that is a grimace') become part of the causal powers of that event, and therefore part of its properties and of its identity (Searle, 1984). The characterization, for example, of a chain of events by which people exchange money and goods as the instantiation of a market and of the protagonists to these events as 'buyers' or 'sellers' will influence one's behavior towards them, and, perhaps, their own response. Since a person's reaction to an event or a person determines the causal powers of that event or person, the description or interpretation of an event will influence its causal powers. The 'experience' of a smile is nothing like the experience of an electron's acceleration in view of its epistemic value, because one's interpretation of the smile alters the smile's causal powers and therefore its properties. Hypotheses about smiles are not immediately refutable, as hypothese about an electron seem to be. Experience, however, is supposed to provide an immediate test of a hypothesis--this is why we take the time to state hypotheses in empirical form. Therefore the criticism of theories about smiles cannot proceed in the same way as the criticism of theories about electrons.
A charitable interpretation of Popper's model of discourse is that it does not provide any guidance for dealing with reflexive phenomena--it is simply not concerned with such phenomena and needs to be elaborated for this purpose, Popper's own views notwithstanding (1957). A less charitable interpretation is that Popper negates the problem of reflexivity or interpretation altogether--and is biased against interpretative approaches because of their low 'empirical content.' This negation is implicit. It rests on a definition of empirical evidence as 'that evidence which is commonly used in the physico-chemical sciences.' Because this assumption of scientism is hidden, it is not freely available for criticism.
The use of the scientific method as a mode of discourse needs to be justified, just like any other norm. There s not a priori reason, for instance, which makes it necessary that the end of science is to build a truth-like image of the world (it may be to supply scientists with steady jobs) nor that the aim of participants to a dialogue should be identical to the aim of science (it may be to end up feeling good about themselves by effectively forbidding criticism of their ideas). Popper proposed that a falsificationist approach to the validation of claims can allow a person to avoid extreme skepticism about any proposition, in the face of David Hume's 'proof' that experience cannot justify belief. The 'dialogue' that Popper and Hume are having turns on the assumption that people want to have true beliefs. Introspection may reveal however that people value some beliefs no matter if they are true or false--the belief that 'we' as selves have value and meaning, or that the existence of the world is not only an i llusion of our minds. One must therefore acquiesce in the project of the truth-seeker in order to accept the path towards the critical method of discourse as a model of dialogue. But, why should we do this?
Popper is silent on this subject, and is therefore a dogmatist at this level. Perhaps he saw no need for further discussion, or perhaps he could not see how this discussion could be carried out. This is a difficulty that Soros, for example, owns up to, in an article pleading for an open society and arguing that the current combination of universal voting rights, mass media and market mechanisms is not yet its ideal embodiment (Soros, 1997). If Popper's approach is dogmatic, however, it is so at a very 'high' level: the discourse that he is proposing is far more open than the discourse currently carried out among laymen, politicians and scientists alike. It may be that a 'more open' discourse would allow us to argue for and against the justification of Popper's discourse; I will review a proposal for such a discourse in the next section. However, any conversation will be based on an agreement--about the application of rules of logic, for example--without which dialogue is not possible, but which itself cannot be justified. The aim of reflection, in this case, is not to justify that which must be agreed upon in order for dialogue to proceed. It is, rather, to make this agreement inescapable by other reflective individuals.
3. Discourse ethics
Open dialogue requires a commitment that is sometimes difficult to uphold. It requires, for example, the adherence by participants to a discussion to a mode of expression which lays bare their assumptions and encourages questioning and reinterpretation and criticism of these assumptions, in the face of powerful temptations to shield them from exposure and criticism. Given these temptations, the intuitive appeal of open dialogue and the esthetic value of the open community that results from it often pale. When they do, we may need to remind ourselves of our commitment, and to bind ourselves to it. A normative principle for justifying open dialogue which can itself be justified would go a long way towards this purpose.
The justification of any norm runs up against the problem of justification which Albert refers to as the Munchausen trilemma (Albert, 1985). According to his critique, there are three possible ways to justify a normative statement and they are all unsatisfactory: logical circularity, recourse to absolute certainty and infinitely regressive arguments. Both Kantian ('act according to a maxim which you can will to be a universal law') and Rawlsian ('act according to a set of laws which you would set in ignorance of your subsequent role or position in society') programs for the creation of norms fall prey to this criticism, in view of the need each of them has for its own justification. The possibility that, during a candid conversation, we discover that what we would have as a general rule of conduct, someone else would consider abhorrent throws some doubt on the Kantian method for the establishment of norms. Similarly, sharp disagreements can emerge during discussions about fundamental rights of individual per sons, even though these disagreements do not stem from conflicts of individual interests (these are canceled by the Rawlsian mechanism) but rather from differences of opinion about what it means to be a person. In both cases, open discussion helps, because it increases the legitimacy of the norms that emerge, and therefore of the resulting social actions.
Habermas (1990) has proposed to replace the Kantian principle for the universalization of norms with one requiring a process of open discussion of various alternative maxims, as follows:
(U) Rather than ascribing as valid to all others any maxim that I can will to be a universal law, I must submit my maxim to all others for purposes of discursively testing its claim to universality. The emphasis shifts from what each can will without contradiction to be a general law, to what all can will in agreement to be a universal norm. (Habermas, 1987, ibid.)
Habermas recognizes that a norm requiring 'discursive testing' raises the same problems of justification as does any other norm. He appeals therefore to Karl Otto Apel's argument for the justification of open dialogue, which criticizes as incoherent any principled refusal to participate in the discursive testing of norms. By including Popper's account of the scientific method among the normative principles in need of justification, I have made Popperian discourse a possible consequence of open dialogue, rather than its cause, precursor, or only realization.
Apel (1980) proposes that the skeptic's expressed refusal to participate in a dialogue involves him in a per formative contradiction: an unresolved tension between his stated position and his position as someone who expresses himself with the expectation of being understood. For example, the sentence, "I (here and now) do not exist" entails a per formative contradiction of the fact that I (here and now) exist, which in turn is a precondition for my ability to make the statement. Thus, Apel argues, "no sooner does the skeptic object than he commits himself to an argumentation game based on presuppositions that entangle him in a per formative contradiction." Participating in a dialogue for the sole purpose of saying that one does not wish to participate represents a contradiction of a set of preconditions that are already true--if one's refusal to participate is to be intelligible.
What are these preconditions? Robert Alexy (1990) has drawn up a list of them, some of which I would like to follow and discuss here in greater detail. Alexy assembles these preconditions into a discourse ethics, meant to govern the process, products and procedures of dialogue. Chief among Alexy's preconditions is,
(1) No speaker may contradict himself.
I suspect that Alexy meant to say 'contradiction' in a narrowly defined, logical sense. This precondition of dialogue (which also underlies Apel's idea of a per formative contradiction) carries with it a significant amount of structure. It requires, for example, that the law of contradiction ([sim](p&[sim]p)) be adhered to by speakers.
Does (1) also require the application of the law of the excluded middle (i.e., either p or (not p))? I believe that it does, particularly when conjoined with the next precondition:
(2) Each speaker may only assert what he himself believes.
If a speaker, when asserting p, does not automatically assert that not(not p) then (1) and (2) are vacuous--or rather, (1) is vacuous in view of (2). If the law of the excluded middle does not hold, then by agreeing with a statement, one does not necessarily disagree with its negation. Thus, agreement with a statement--or the expression thereof--become unintelligible.
(2) is a precondition requiring sincerity. Indeed, participation in a dialogue is not internally coherent in the absence of sincerity, since assertions must at least represent claims to truthfulness. Many conversations undertaken for 'strategic' or 'dramaturgical' motives--to use Habermas' language--are not dialogues, in Apel's sense of the word.
What if, in the spirit of (2), someone asserts that she does not believe in the law of the excluded middle? Alexy's rule (1) would make her position self-contradictory: for how could she be negating that which establishes the meaning of a negation, which lends sense to her negation in the first place. What if, to test the limits of (1) while heeding (2), someone says that she is not saying what she is really thinking? This also involves her in a contradiction, formally equivalent to the Cretan Epimenides' assertion that all Cretans are liars. Admittedly, this is a different kind of contradiction than the ones which Apel seems to have in mind. This contradiction involves one in a circular process of assertion and refutation (the statement is true if it is false and false if it true) which Kurt Godel has transformed into an overarching critique of all formal logical systems. I will discuss the implications of this critique to Apel's program elsewhere.
The injunction against self-contradiction is an implicit injunction to obey the law of closure. The reason for this is that two statements which seem to have opposite meanings will not be held to be 'in tension' if closure is denied. The requirement for closure can also be understood as a precondition arising from a performative contradiction. Suppose that someone says: "I do not believe in the law of closure." The statement 'entails' nothing, since it is the commitment to closure that 'does the work' of entailment. Denying closure therefore also denies one's (presumed) active participation in a dialogue, embodied in the expectation that one's words will be causally relevant.
Alexy next expands the requirement for logical consistency into a requirement for representational consistency:
(3) Each speaker applying predicate F to a must be willing to apply F to any b resembling a in every respect.
Why is this a precondition for a coherent participation in dialogue? Because it recognizes the role of language as an instrument of reference and representation, by means of which one can make claims to validity, and not only as a sequence of oral noises undertaken in response to unforeseen stimuli (i.e., 'ouch'). Words act as place-holders for the objects they represent. In this role, they represent the universal quantities that allow us to reason from one particular to another. In order for a universal to be able to 'refer' to particulars, we must either agree on the ways in which universals 'point'. Absent such agreement, or the possibility of reaching it though dialogue, words cannot refer, and cannot be interpreted to be more than oral noises.
(3) also serves the more complex purpose of disciplining the way in which we match universals to particulars so as to guarantee intelligibility when it is taken in conjunction with rule (4):
(4) Different speakers may not use the same expression with different meanings.
Of course, (4) may be problematic, depending on what one means by 'meaning.' In spite of our best efforts to be communicative and accurate, we may have different things in mind even when referring to simple predicates like 'red.' For, how can I know that my subjective experience of 'red' is not in fact the same as someone else's experience of 'green,' in spite of the fact that we both refer to red objects as 'red'? (Shoemaker, 1975). Thus, (4) should be revised to read,
(4r) Different speakers must exert their best efforts to avoid using the same expression with different meanings.
Alexy proposes the following set of preconditions that regulate the procedures of dialogue:
(5) Every speaker must justify what he or she asserts upon request, unless he or she can provide grounds which justify avoiding giving such a justification.
(6) Everyone who can speak may take part in the discourse.
(7) Anyone may question any assertion.
(8) Anyone may introduce any assertion.
(9) Anyone may express his or her wishes, desires and needs.
(10) No-one may be prevented from exercising the options created by conditions (5)-(9).
Why has one always-already agreed to justify one's assertions upon request, merely by the act of taking part in the dialogue? Because refusing to justify an opinion, having just stated it, places in doubt the claims--to truth, truth likeness and truthfulness--that are embedded in the assertion, thus leading to a performative contradiction. An assertion, if it represents a claim to validity, is an invitation for a request to justification. If the speaker does not mean to extend such an invitation, then the assertion carries no claim to validity, in which case it cannot be understood as a contribution to a dialogue, or as expressive act meant to be understood. Rules (6)-(9) are logically necessary preconditions for the interpretation of an assertion in a dialogue as a claim whose validity is thereby put into discussion.
Alexy also proposes a set of rules that govern the process of dialogue. These rules speak about 'how things are' between participants to a dialogue, once they have engaged with one another:
(11) Whoever treats person A differently from person B is obliged to justify this.
(12) Whoever has put forward an argument is only committed to further arguments in the case of a counter argument.
(13) Whoever introduces an assertion or a statement concerning his opinions, wishes or needs into the discourse, which as argument is not related to a different statement, has to justify upon request why he or she has introduced this assertion or this statement.
It is striking, perhaps, that Apel's mechanism for justifying discourse ethics also justifies a commitment to 'fairness,' as required by (11). Nevertheless, the argument goes through. Treating the statement p as it is uttered by person A differently from the statement p as it is uttered by person B implicitly denies that one is reacting to p alone. Furthermore, if one's opinion of A works its way into one's reaction to A's utterance of p, but that reaction is presented as a reaction to p alone, then one has already contradicted rule (2) concerning sincerity. Of course, one may be self-deceived in these matters, and this is often the case. Once one person has made a statement, we cannot ask another person to make the same statement in order to figure out exactly what we are reacting to. A person may not know, therefore, if her reaction to a statement is in fact determined or constrained by her reaction to the person making that statement. Therefore, (11) should serve as an invitation to more reflection toward s higher levels of self-awareness.
(12) represents an injunction against a 'mechanical' questioning of an assertion and all of its possible justifications, by an infinite sequence of "Why?"'s which could have been prerecorded and played back at timely intervals. Does the use of a tape deck for this purpose involve (the tape deck's owner) in a performative contradiction? It certainly does, since the tape deck's presence does not entail the commitment to dialogue implied by the questions it produces-it is not capable of ascertaining the meaning of the responses, and of adjusting its questioning strategy accordingly.
Following a line of reasoning due to Austin, Alexy argues for (12) on the basis of the vacuous nature of 'subsequent' requests for justification: "If you say 'That is not enough"' writes Austin (1970) "then you must have in mind some more or less definite lack. If there is no definite lack, which you are at least prepared to specify on being pressed, then it's silly (outrageous) just to go on saying 'That is not enough'." If someone makes a request for justification without being prepared to voice the difficulty which is making him ask for it in the first place, then what seems to be a request is really a dramaturgical or 'stalling' act, which contradicts the 'meaning' of the request, as it is understood in the context of a dialogue.
Suppose, however, that someone genuinely desires a justification for every one of a series of statements made by another participant to the discourse, and that he asks, for each statement, for a clarification of its terms, or a further justification of its claims, while being prepared to supply reasons for his need for further justification. Would Socratic discourse involve performative contradictions? It would not, so long as the person carrying out the inquiry has not precommitted to a strategy of Reconstruction before hearing any of the arguments of her interlocutor. A precommitment to a 'questioning' strategy would be a passive negation of the fact that one is taking part in a dialogue, since it would a priori foreclose the possibility that one can agree with some of the answers given. The 'openness of the future' with regards to the causal powers of words seems to be one of the features of discourse ethics.
(13) requires the renewal of the engagement of the speaker in the dialogue. It draws its energy from the need to differentiate dialogue from parallel monologues, which represent passive negations of the interactive nature of dialogue. The introduction of new claims 'on the sly' is usually undertaken for two purposes-both defensive: the first is to strengthen what seems to be a losing argument, without having to acknowledge one's own position in that argument. A new claim can be used, for example, to cast doubt on another discussant's credibility, by bringing up one of his past shortcomings. The second purpose is to effect a nimble 'change of subject,' and is a frequently used device in everyday conversation. "Don't raise controversial questions, don't hold on too hard to any opinion, don't talk too long about any one subject ..." parodies Max Horkheimer, with some irony, the advice commonly given to a young American man going off to a party, in an essay suitably entitled, Threats to Freedom (Horkheimer, 1965 ).
Both of the above examples of the 'naive introduction' of new claims entail implicit negations of the position entailed by one's involvement in the dialogue. In the first case, the introduction of 'new evidence' is usually undertaken for the benefit of an audience--a T.V. viewer ship, for instance--and represents a theatrical at, not a communicative one. In the second case, the positions of the discussants in a dialogue--as partakers of a particular argument or line of inquiry--are passively denied. A new dialogue is 'smuggled in' as if this was the dialogue that was carried on to begin with.
Alexy goes further, but I shall stop here. These thirteen preconditions of discourse justify a process that leads to the concrete characteristics of open dialogue--transparency of meaning, clarity of assumptions and openness to criticism. They can serve to transform a set of parallel monologues into a dialogue, although this transformation can certainly be escaped by clever transgressions. One can always fake ignorance of another person's concerns and pretend to ignore or misunderstand the intended meaning of her assertions. Fortunately, these tactics cannot be carried on ad infinitum, in view of the conditions (5) and (7), which guarantee that the query, 'Please explain what you mean by ...' can be asked and must afterwards be answered.
4. Discourse ethics and sophisticated methodological falsificationism
Whereas discourse ethics governs the form of a dialogue (encompassing the form of its procedures, processes and results), methodological falsificationism attempts to govern the content of the dialogue in question, or, more specifically, the process by which this content evolves over time. I am interested in reconciling the two approaches, with a view to providing a justification for methodological falsificationism on the basis of a commitment to open dialogue--in contrast to Popper's attempt to ground the norms of the 'open society' in the requirement for greater truth likeness of the resulting cultural products of that society. Such a recasting of the problem can be significant in virtue of the failure of Popper's criterion of verisimilitude to establish a proper preference relation among several competing, partially false theories, evaluated by a falsificationist process. In this section, I will examine how the 'sophisticated methodological falsificationist' form of scientific discourse--as outlined by Imr e Lakatos (1974)--fares by the norms (1)-(13) of discourse ethics.
I will proceed by first giving some background on Lakatos' argument. Then, I will 'compress' norms (1)-(13) to eight intuitive norms of open argumentation, and will evaluate how sophisticated methodological falsificationism fares by each of these norms. I will conclude that Popperian discourse--as elaborated by Lakatos--fares well (but far from perfectly) by the standards of discourse ethics. Its main drawbacks are the absence of a norm requiring ontological pluralism--which can affect the responsiveness of the dialogue, and the absence of a sufficiently detailed set of conditions requiring semantic consistency--or consistency in the mapping of 'raw' data onto observation statements. The second problem, I will then show, hinges on the articulation of an adequate account of the dependence of observation statements on prior theories.
Lakatos (1974) writes that a person who takes a falsificationist approach to the validation of statements is a methodological-falsificationist (rather than a dogmatist falsificationist) if he or she takes the view that all statements--including 'observation-statements'--are open to further questioning and criticism; or, in other words, that all statements are to be taken conjecturally, rather than dispositively. One way of criticizing an observation statement, for instance, is through the discovery of a(n) empirical theory that reveals the observation to be an illusion. For example, a statement to the effect that a disk is elliptically shaped can be challenged by raising the relevant alternative that the disk in question is circular and tilted. In such cases, the theory underlying the observation statement is that every point in the perceived object is in the same plane--and is easily refuted by more careful scrutiny aimed at testing the hypothesis that the disk is tilted.
A methodological falsificationist is sophisticated (rather than naive) if he or she believes that a theory cannot be abandoned in toto once one of its predictions has been falsified by an observation statement. Rather, such a theory (say S) can only be replaced by another theory (say T) which has excess empirical content over S ('predicts novel facts (which are) improbable in the light of, or even forbidden by, S' (Lakatos, ibid., page 116)), is logically connected to all of the observation-statements explained by S. and, in addition, successfully explains some new observations statements, which cannot be explained by S.
Lakatos writes that 'sophisticated methodological falsificationism offers new standards for intellectual honesty. Justifications honesty demanded the acceptance of only what was proven and the rejection of everything unproven. Neojustificationist honesty demanded the specification of the probability of any hypothesis in the light of available empirical evidence. The honesty of naive falsificationism demanded the testing of the falsifiable and the rejection of the unfalsifiable and the falsified. Finally, the honesty of sophisticated falsificationism demanded that one should try to look at things from different points of view, to put forward new theories that anticipate novel facts, and to reject theories which have been superseded by more powerful ones.' (Lakatos, ibid., page 122) In what follows, I would like to supplement Lakatos' evaluation of the 'intellectual honesty' of various approaches to the justification of claims with an evaluation of the suitability of these approaches for the instantiation of o pen dialogue, or, more specifically, the instantiation of dialogue governed by the rules (1)-(13) in section 4 above.
Let me first 'compress' the rules (l)-(13) above down to 8 basic principles of ethical discourse, as follows (the original injunctions are in parentheses):
I. Logical consistency (1);
II. Sincerity (2);
III. Semantic consistency (3&4); IV. Freedom to Express (8&9);
V. Freedom to Criticize (5);
VI. Democracy of discourse (6, 10 & 11); VII. Responsiveness (5&13);
VIII. Economy or Frugality of Expression (8)
Together, I-VIII represent minimal preconditions for the instantiation of open dialogue. Their application in daily dialogue can involve tradeoffs between degrees of compliance with different injunctions. For example, a commitment to semantic consistency (IV) with other speakers in the group may place one in the position to use words that do not fully 'capture' what one has in mind, and therefore would seem to violate (II). Furthermore, a commitment to logical consistency (I) might sometimes conflict with a commitment to semantic consistency, when the 'meaning' of a particular term--the observable consequences of its usage in a context-emerges over the course of several interactions among the speakers. I will leave these potential 'implementation' problems to another paper. Presently, I shall focus on the degree to which sophisticated methodological falsificationism 'passes' the test for openness embedded in injunctions I-VIII.
First, I note, en passant, that neither form of justificationism is actively conducive to open dialogue, because of the justificationist emphasis on reasons for believing that a particular claim is true. There is no requirement, in the justificationist discourse ethic, to make every effort to state claims in their most easily criticizable--and thus refutable--form. Neither is there a commitment to frugality: neojustificationist discourse in fact can lead to a domination of the most profusely adopted viewpoint, since arguments for a particular proposition are supported by results of experiments usually carried out by the proponents of that proposition. Similarly, both naive methodological falsificationism and dogmatic falsificationism are not on their face 'friendly' to the instantiation of open dialogue, because of their collective 'end-statist' focus: both emphasize the result of the process of rational deliberation, rather than the process by which that result is reached. Therefore conclusory forms of argu mentation are encouraged at the expense of conjectural forms of argumentation.
The prima facie difficulties of justificationist and 'early falsificationist' program of claim validation are at least partially relieved by a commitment to sophisticated methodological falsificationism, because of its emphatic focus on the evaluation of theoretical problem-shifts and therefore sequences of theories (rather than theories simpliciter). In what follows, I shall consider more carefully how this approach fares by the standards of open argumentation I-VII above.
Sophisticated methodological falsificationism fares well by I: the rejection of one of two logically contradictory expressions is the very engine of scientific progress. As Lakatos himself points out, 'It is not that we propose a theory and Nature may shout NO; rather, we propose a maze of theories, and Nature may shout INCONSISTENT' (Lakatos, ibid., page 130). The process also fares well by (II): if the common goal of the discussants is to arrive at truer predictions over time, then neither has an incentive to distort information or withhold it from the other. It also fares well by (IV), (V), and (VI), as it rests on criticism as a mode of relating to a claim and does not require speakers to justify their standing to speak (which is a distinct possibility in justificationist discourse, where the statement 'I have standing to speak' may be treated as a claim to validity for which reasons may be adduced, leading to an 'experts' club of arbiters of claims from various categories). Sophisticated methodological falsificationism is, in other words, both equitable and democratic. Furthermore, it heeds the advice towards economy of arguments provided by VIII.
The requirements for responsiveness and semantic consistency, however, pose rather deep problems for the rationalization of sophisticated methodological falsificationism on the basis of a commitment to open dialogue. In particular, saying conclusively that two statements are logically consistent or inconsistent requires that the terms used to construct the sentences in question are defined with enough precision that the resulting propositions can be linked by relations of logical entailment or contradiction. This injunction requires work of a hermeneutic or interpretative nature which sophisticated methodological falsificationism does not require anyone to do, but discourse ethics (implicitly) does. For instance, a debate between a social psychologist who explains 'events' in terms of immediate contexts and (intuitively derived and empirically supported) human responses to those contexts and a personality psychologist who explains human behaviors in terms of conformity to personal mythologies and the urge to fit a particular action to a particular myth would be hard-pressed to generate mutually exclusive propositions if their definitions of a standard behavior or event are different. Such incommensurability of discourses is usually cited (by Kuhn, for instance) as an argument against the proposition that scientific knowledge can 'evolve' through a process of trial and error, because the ways in which an 'error' is constructed is at issue when 'paradigms collide.'
There are at least two ways to 'repair' sophisticated methodological falsificationism so that its procedures and processes are more consonant with the norms of open discourse. The first is to append to its own norms a requirement for engaging in the hermeneutic work required to increase the commensurability of different discourses over time. This approach might be pursued by the development of a theory of perceptually minimal observation statements--or an account of events which can be agreed upon by people engaged in several different--and previously incommensurable--forms of discourse. It represents a specific example of what Habermas sees as the 'new' role of philosophy, as an interpreter and placeholder in the public debate being carried out among different communities of believers.
The second approach is to recognize that the difficulty it faces is one which it has in common with injunctions I-VIII themselves, and relates to logical inference and contradiction itself. By considering alternative logical forms, for example, one could hope to construct a revised version of I-VIII which governs the use of statements through relations of connectedness which are altogether 'looser' than those of logical entailment or of contradiction.
5. Criticisms and rebuttals
One may criticize the discourse ethics outlined above on 'practical' grounds: by stating, for example, that 'time is short' and therefore dialogue must be curtailed at an arbitrary point; that 'people must act,' since actions, rather than words, actualizes them as people; or that a commitment to dialogue entails the domination of the most skillful talker, thus negating the 'communication without domination' aim of discourse ethics. None of these criticisms is fatal to the practical realization of open dialogue.
The pressure of time is indeed the reason of choice that is usually given for cutting discussion short. People are usually involved in multiple projects, and some of these projects (such as making periodic payments on a bank loan) have internal 'clocks' that must be heeded lest some prohibitive costs be inflicted. What is even more overwhelming than the apparent objectivity of these time constraints is the sensation that the structures that impose them have always-already been there--that there is no point at which we could have chosen to 'opt out' of their gears.
Different participants to a discussion may be individually heeding different clocks, which means that the time scale on which 'decisions' must be made is shorter than the time scale of the fastest clock around. The greater the number of participants to a discussion, the shorter the time scale on which 'actions' must be taken, lest one of the participants' interests be compromised by 'unnecessary delays' imposed by dialogue.
Bolstered by the availability of a justification for their positions, the enemies of open dialogue--those who are interested in sheltering their views from understanding and criticism--easily fall into the habit of claiming to be pressed for time in order to escape a query for justification or clarification. It is worthwhile to note, therefore, that most of the clocks that measure out people's lives are the outcomes of social processes and choices: project deadlines, mortgage payment dates, quarterly earning reports, general election dates, business meetings, academic engagements, romantic engagements, and so forth.
The fact that these deadlines have always seemed to already be there does not render the imperative to heed them unalterable. No doubt, the struggle for authentic dialogue and against the pervasive clock and 'clock' arguments against dialogue now seems long and arduous. The progress of financial markets towards greater efficiency is simultaneously a drive towards the greater enslavement of individuals to clocks-brought about through the securitization of mortgages, loans and insurance contracts, the increased monitoring of managerial decisions with a view to their impact on sales figures, and the resulting pressures on people to produce earnings on increasingly rigid schedules. Just as the future seems to dissolve into the beat of a clock, the past seems to have been produced by the beat of a clock: for it may turn out, after some research, that in order to discover the origins of the original clock beats we need to go back to the time of the Neolithic Revolution, when some people exchanged the uncertainty o f life as hunter-gatherers for the higher certainty of the farmer, and unwittingly became enslaved by the schedules of plowing, sowing and reaping on which a whole year's food supply depended.
The propagation of real clocks is accompanied by increases in the numbers of imaginary clocks, used by the justificationists of 'executive' decisions that pre-empt dialogue. People's documented tendency to explain their own decisions in terms of external, objective constraints, even while explaining the actions of others in terms of agency and free will (Nisbett and Ross, 1980) provides a nourishing medium for the development of the myth of the clock. 'The pressure of time' is a seemingly objective justification for the refusal to justify an argument, or to engage in understanding another perspective. The realization that open dialogue and the attending freedom to understand and to express oneself understandably are gravely--though perhaps unintendedly--threatened by social innovations--such as the creation of new financial instruments for the diversification of risk--which seem on their face to promote freedom, is a first step towards resolving the 'ticking clock' objection to discourse ethics.
I do not think that the ad hoc postulation of a human need for timely action can be distilled into an adequate critique of discourse ethics. It is a pervasive feature of 'needs'--such as the need to act--that they impress us by their appearance of objective necessity until they are belied by those who question them. It is one of the purposes of open dialogue to arrive at new and possibly different understandings of what it means to be human. The imposition of an a priori concept of the purpose of man begs the question of its own justification--a justification that can only be carried out through dialogue governed by the ethics of discourse.
Finally, I will consider the argument that a commitment to open dialogue leads to the domination of the most 'skillful talker' and therefore negates the ideal of 'communication without domination' of Apel's ideal communication community. I do not think that the role of open dialogue is necessarily that of communication without domination. The 'prevalence' of 'skillful communicators' is often the 'prevalence' of people committed to the discourse ethics outlined above. 'Skill' in discourse governed by Alexy's rules is often a signal of earnest commitment to those rules. On the other hand, I conjecture that a lack of such skill is correlated with an unwillingness to engage in disciplined argumentation out of self-defensive tendencies (and suggest therefore that this conjecture can be tested by experimental social psychologists by testing for the correlation between elf-perception measures and argumentative prowess--such as a propensity to question assumptions). The 'prevalence of the skillful talker' can theref ore only be temporary, in the same way that Popperian 'knowledge' can only be conjectural. Discourse ethics tends to frequent 'beheadings at the top', because is no 'matter of fact' or 'bottom line' by which the skillful talker can institutionalize her 'prevalence.' The 'prevalence' of the skillful talker also brings with it an incentive for those who, for now, have not 'prevailed', to improve and refine their abilities to express their opinions and wishes, and to understand the opinions and wishes of others, so that they, too, may 'prevail' in the future. I have marked references to prevalence with quotation marks in order to highlight its suspect character in the context of an open dialogue. For, think of the purpose at hand: to understand more, each about the other and his or her self and his or her world. How can one 'prevail' in this project?
6. Departures from the ideal: the phenomenology of the closed community
I will argue that the nature of discourse, justification and rationalization that takes place in private and public conversations between people can be used to distinguish between 'closed' communities, which resemble or evolve towards totalitarian groups that are committed to a single body of ideas or dogmas, and 'open' communities, in which the self-awareness and consciousness of each member grows and changes through his or her open and critical dialogue with others. I will also show that the mere postulation of a right to freedom of speech is not a sufficient condition for the enactment of the open community; on the contrary, this right can be used as a 'mantra' by those who put forth propositions that undermine open dialogue and curtail the freedom to understand and to be understood.
Imperceptibly from day to day, but inexorably over longer periods of time, people are becoming entrapped by the structures and rituals of the closed community. The ways in which they relate to others, the forms of argumentation they use in order to justify and persuade, and the theories that they accept as explanations for the events they experience are increasingly constrained by logical structures whose purpose has long ceased to be questioned, whose meaning is no longer under discussion and whose predictions have survived repeated refutation. The closed community--which can be a family, organization, town or society--is that in which claims to validity can only be justified relative to a prevailing body of beliefs--or a dogma--whose own validity is beyond questioning. The closed community is therefore 'closed' to the change and renewal of self-understanding and mutual understanding of its members through reflection and dialogue. Most of its members have lost the desire or the capability to understand and criticize the foundations on which the conversations which they carry out are based. These endeavors have been relegated to the experts, and a suitable doctrine--that of the economic advantages of specialization--has been put forth to rationalize this state of affairs.
The evolution of the closed community towards totalitarianism is often portrayed by its chief apologists in terms of an evolution towards greater openness and sincerity. One is thanked by its incumbents for being open-minded, for example, when one agrees to a particular--sometimes already prevailing--view of the world. To those who raise the specter of the closed community it is patiently explained that the (postulated) right to freedom of speech is a guarantor of the evolution of society towards greater freedom and diversity. There is no reason to suppose that the enunciation of a right to free speech does not guarantee freedom of expression, unless one does not take that right seriously to begin with, and treats it as a purely formal and empty characteristic of a certain kind of community. Therefore, critics of the closed community are often labeled as closet elitists, and closet enemies of the open society who wish, in the name of openness of dialogue, to shut open dialogue down. This argument-form, by wh ich a critic is criticized in the name of his own goals and principles and the accused takes on the tone of the accuser, is one of the fundamental rhetorical devices that the apologists of the closed community have used, successfully, for the past three thousand years. Thus, the critic of the closed community is perpetually forced, in the course of the argument, to justify his own position and moral standing in the community. His argument is drowned in justificatory language and thereby muted.
6.1. Phenomenology of the closed community
Closed communities everywhere have a common characteristic: dialogues between their members are carried out on the background of a system of assumptions which are never themselves subject to possible discussion, and are therefore sheltered from refutation, modification or renewal. Conversations, wherever they are instantiated, exemplify passive negations of the fallibility of the assumptions upon which they are carried out. Challenges of these assumptions, whenever they are attempted, are met with impatient maxims such as, "People must act in a timely fashion and therefore we cannot discuss our actions all day long," with the retort that the assumptions are 'self-evident' or 'self-evidently true,' with a challenge to the challenger to justify his position ("from what social or moral position do you criticize our position?"), with a psychoanalytic explanation of the challenger's motives which essentially reduces him or her to a self-deceived person or a deviant; or with the stated suspicion that the fallibili st is attempting to use fallibilism as a strategy for undermining the premises of dialogue for the purpose of introducing his own agenda.
The incumbents of the closed community have always-already abdicated the individual integrity or scientific and moral authority to engage in a discussion of the premises of their own conversations. These premises are--and seem to have always been--beyond our power to question and examine. Expert testimony is required in the closed community to validate truth-claims about both natural and social phenomena, and it is commonly assumed that 'the right thing to do' will be entailed by the establishment of the validity of these truth claims. Economic activities, for example, are influenced by predictions generated by theories of economics and finance whose complexity makes them inaccessible to laymen. Even if one 'thinks one understands' the concepts and claims of a theory, one is deeply mistrustful of an understanding which does not bear the stamp of an officially accepted 'theory' or 'body of knowledge'. The regret which a person might face if 'things turn out badly' after an independent action looms large at th e time of decision. The price of self-reliance seems prohibitive, and is on the rise.
The foundations of ethical decisions in the closed community are also left to professionals. Sometimes they are left to moral philosophers and they are counted upon to provide solutions to pressing daily problems, in the form of prescriptive measures. When these end up raising more questions than giving answers, the citizen turns to the more tranquilizing dogmas of scientists, and attempts to synthesize moral judgments from accepted scientific facts. The transition from 'what is' to 'what one ought to do' is accomplished--covertly--by first synthesizing a concept of the self from scientific theories--such as evolutionary biology--and then identifying the functional characteristics of that self-model with normative principles of behavior. The body of knowledge that is referred to as evolutionary biology, for example, is used to provide answers to questions of ethics (whither truth-telling?) and morality (whither cooperative behavior when competitive gains are at stake?), in virtue of a model of a person as a vehicle for the propagation of his or her genetic material forward in time.
The underlying assumptions of the theories which are marshaled in support of a viewpoint are never openly discussed. Questions and critical dialogue about these assumptions are deemed unproductive, or nihilistic. The philosophy of a science--the reflexive consideration of the body of beliefs that goes by that particular name--is never part of that science proper. People in the closed community refer to the 'philosophy of physics', the 'philosophy of biology' and 'the philosophy of economics' as separate subjects from those of physics, biology and economics. Universities and other academic institutions of the closed community have accordingly isolated those concerned with reflexive arguments in philosophy departments, where the echoes of these arguments are refracted inwards at their originators, who are sometimes deluded, by the profuseness of these echoes, that they have engaged the 'men-on-the-street' in their dialogue.
6.2. Types of closed communities
In what follows I would like to provide a typology of closed communities, according to the phenomenology of the dialogues that take place between their incumbents. I do not wish to be comprehensive, neither do I wish to imply that the forms of social organization we have experienced or heard about fall 'neatly' into these categories. I am rather interested in capturing some salient aspects of the types of dialogues that a time traveler through the twentieth century could have experienced, had he lived in different places.
I will show that, for each closed community, the practiced forms of dialogue lead to an internal, unresolved tension among the people who engage in it, which can be interpreted -- and is experienced by some--as a continuous state of conflict. The conflict in question can be best described by imagining the tension that exists between two people of which one has insulted the other. The insult often causes the insulted to feel resentment, which can be relieved by the person who has originated the insult by producing excuses or explanations of the insulting behavior. These are expressions of remorse, or reframings of the situation which was found insulting which portray acts that seemed to have been freely undertaken as the results of their context. These expressions--when they are effective--are directly responsive to the concerns of the person who was insulted. Implicit denials or mitigations of the insult, on the other hand, serve to heighten the feeling of resentment felt by the person who has been insulted.
In a social situation in which one person openly contradicts another, mutual resentment between the two protagonists may ensue, and is quite similar to the resentment that follows an insult. The resolution of this mutual resentment can be accomplished by further explanations of each person's position, in terms that are intelligible and possibly agreeable to the other person. When such an explanation does not exist, is not undertaken, or is undertaken but does not establish an authentic communicative link between the two people, their resentment festers, and their relationship becomes one of muted conflict--the situation that pervades the closed community. The problem of creating the conditions that will lead to the open community can be thought of as that of resolving or dissolving the generalized conflict that is engendered in the closed community.
6.2.1. The Community of silent voters
The community of silent voters is made up of people who do not take dialogue seriously as a means of persuasion. They have lost--or have never harbored--trust in the causal powers of words and arguments. Instead of argumentation, people in the community of silent voters place their trust in a machine that counts votes--the system of representative democracy. They have invented ways in which the vote-counting mechanism can be improved or perfected in order to provide a predictable mapping between the preferences of individual incumbents and the choices that the community as a whole is making. In order for the analysis to go through, one normally requires that individuals be represented by preference relations which are complete, acyclic and time-invariant (Sen. 1995). The analysis seeks to redress results such as Arrow's impossibility theorem (Arrow, 1967) (which states that a transitive, Pareto-efficient, nondictatorial social choice function applying to an unrestricted domain of individual preferences does not exist), by loosening the requirements on the social choice function, or tightening the requirements that individual choices must satisfy.
There is, of course, no need for dialogue in order to arrive at a social choice function, upon starting with a set of individual preferences. 'Dialogue', however, may help to avoid Arrow-type results in certain situations, by producing distributions of individual preferences which do not lead to the necessity for dictatorship. A talented orator can embarrass the two other candidates in a televised debate and produce a single-peaked distribution of preferences in the voter population, which rules out a social choice function that is either incoherent or incomplete. However, the 'dialogue' that takes place between the candidates and the voters offers the latter no opportunity for engagement. The candidates are isolated from their audience, both physically in virtue of the remoteness of the studio from the premises of the viewers, and also in virtue of the mechanism of silencing insistent questioners on procedural grounds--so that other would-be questioners can have some air time, for example. 'Moving on to the next question' becomes an efficient--and efficiently justifiable--mechanism for truncating the dialogue that takes place between candidates and voters.
The community of silent voters engenders a muted, or at best a truncated conflict between voters of different ilk. Since the burden of resolving disputed social preferences has been relegated to the voting mechanism that is used, the conflict between people with different preferences is never aired. Voters whose choices have been negated by the majority rule for aggregating votes can neither voice their resentment of the outcome, nor opt out of the voting system altogether. They are compelled to abide by the voting mechanism in future rounds of this silent "debate," even though they may feel resentful because of the outcome of the voting process, and may be inclined to direct that resentment against their fellow voters or against the voting mechanism itself. Therefore the tension between themselves and other voters with different expressed preferences remains muted and unresolved.
The community of silent voters is one in which conflict between people is muted. The muted ness of the conflict is itself a source of tension between voters, and once again the voting mechanism remains unable to help them voice their views. For the voters can never subject the mechanism of voting itself to criticism, since doing so would involve another voting mechanism of some kind. Furthermore, there is no rule-based mechanism for resolving disputes that is self-certifying, in the sense that it can justify the justification of the justification of ... of its application in a particular situation. Therefore the ability of the citizen to criticize the foundations of the system of building consensus of which he is part is limited by the means of expression that the voting mechanism places at his disposal.
6.2.2. The community of argumentative voters
Jon Elster (1995) has pointed out that the delegates to the Assemblee Constituante in Paris in 1789-1791 did not see their role as that of representing, by the exercise of their votes, the wishes of their constituents. "In the best-known statement of this view, Sieyes argued that the voeu national, the desire of the nation, could not be determined by consulting the cahiers of complaints and wishes that the delegates had brought with them to Versailles. Bound mandates, similarly, could not be viewed as expressions of the national will. In a democracy (a term that was used pejoratively at the time), he said, people form their opinions at home and then bring them to the voting booth. If no majority emerges, they go back and reconsider their views, once again isolated from each other. This procedure for forming a common will, he claimed, is absurd because it lacks the elements of deliberation and discussion. "It is not a question of a democratic election, but of proposing, listening, concerting, changing one's o pinion, in order to form a common will." (Elster, 1995, ibid.)
It is commonly presumed that the aims of the representative system of government over and above those of majority rule are furthered by the institution and active protection of a right to freedom of expression, which safeguards individuals' attempts to express their concerns about their lives and about the relationship between their own wishes and reflections with the activities and plans of others. The right to freedom of expression, together with the fact of individual access to the means of expression which are accessible to others--print and electronic media--is expected therefore to provide the means of engagement between voters whose outcome--in conjunction with a majority voting rule for aggregating preferences--is a closer approximation to a voeu national than is that produced by a voting system by itself. I am not concerned here with directly with the examination of this claim--indeed, such an analysis would presuppose a particular view of a common will, which I am not willing to advance. I am inter ested, however, in showing that the kinds of arguments that are marshaled in support of particular views or preferences in the communities that I have lived in or am familiar with are often not open to refutation, and do not lead to an open dialogue. I will conclude therefore that these communities are closed, in the sense I have defined above.
Claims about the 'best way' to proceed as a community that are advanced by politicians, managers or lay persons are entangled with claims about 'how things are' with that community to a degree that is overshadowed by the complexity of the arguments advanced. 'Ought' claims are subject to a double revision and testing process. They are first aired publicly, by circulation in media such as books and newspapers, and some public debates may ensue about the merits and drawbacks of these claims vis-a-vis the problems that they are meant to resolve. Television talk show hosts, for example, may raise these claims vis-a-vis real individuals whose actions and freedoms these claims would affect. Newspaper editorials might address these claims from historical, ideological or consequentialist standpoints. I will call this the advertising phase. Next, claims are subjected to a vote which is governed by mechanisms of aggregating individual preferences relative to a particular 'ought' claim that are peculiar to the time and place of the community involved. I will call this the ratification phase. I will show that neither phase provides a medium for an open dialogue--by which a mode of interaction between people by which not only assumptions are open to criticism and revision, but also a reflective discourse that reconsiders, reframes and reconstructs the thoughts and feelings of those who advance claims, is encouraged.
The irreversible conflation of individual 'projects' or ideological commitments with statements about 'how things are' in the world is committed early during the advertisement phase. Models of individuals as agents exclusively motivated by the maximization of self-interest, and reductive approaches to self-interest as consisting solely of material wealth, earning power, the safeguarding of property rights and the freedom to earn an income and to exchange on the market are silently built into normative claims about 'what ought to be done'. Models of work organizations which rely on a view of employees as the externally motivated work-averse and self-net-worth-maximizing agents of self-net-worth-maximizing principals prescribe the implementation of pay-for-objectively-measurable-performance contracts for all workers in virtue of the (relatively unobjectionable) principle that it is efficient to collocate decision rights, incentives and expertise in a work organization. The behavioral assumptions are 'smuggled' into the analysis in a way that shelters them from challenges either through reflection or empirical testing. The self-evidence of these assumptions (which, as one agency theorist compressed for me, are that 'people want stuff, money buys stuff and therefore people want money') has the same status in the agency-theoretic perspective that the assumptions of socio-economic determination of people's actions and ideas have in Marx's theory of the evolution of society.
In similarly closed-ended fashion, proponents of game-theoretic 'explanations' of human behavior are not willing to engage in conversations about the conditions which must be satisfied in order for phenomena such as strategic equilibria to emerge. Game-theoretical approaches implicitly advocate the existence of a bottom line, or a 'fact of the matter' of human behavior, which is in most cases narrowly defined self-interest; and of a 'matter of fact' of social situations, which is the space of possible strategies and payoffs of the 'players'. It is never made clear how such assumptions are justified: on normative grounds, grounds of empirical justification, or 'mixed' grounds, in which a person should act as if to maximize narrowly defined self-interest contingent upon everyone else acting the same way; nor are questions about the justifiability of these assumptions willingly entertained.
"Reason," wrote Max Horkheimer, "for a long period meant the activity of understanding and assimilating the eternal ideas which were to function as goals for men. Today, on the contrary, it is not only the business but the essential work of reason to find means for the goals one adopts at any given time." (Horkheimer, 1967, 1974) The presumed existence of a 'bottom line' or 'matter of fact' of human behavior--such as the maximization of self-interest--makes argument merely a strategic device to be used in the pursuit of an interest. Expression has value only insofar as it furthers the already-determined interests of the speaker. Openness to another's views should be simulated in order to attract her support, insofar as her actions matter to one's interests. The role of dialogue as a sophisticated means of reflecting upon one's own ends, and helping others reflect similarly is denied by the self-interested model of social interaction. If people already know their interests, these cannot be the objects of furt her learning or reflection. It should not be surprising, therefore, that economists believe that 'talk is cheap'--in the sense that it is not rational to allow the words of another person to influence one's own actions. It should, however, come as quite a surprise that economists derive the proposition that 'talk is cheap' as a consequence of the strategic way of thinking about behavior. The causal impotence of dialogue is in fact a logically necessary assumption underlying the strategic way of thinking.
Self-interested models of behavior are often piggy-backed onto neo-Darwinist maxims about-the nature of man and the meaning of his or her life. The simple-minded interpretation of the body of knowledge known as evolutionary biology--that a 'goal' of evolutionary history is the survival of the fittest--is used to justify the various preferences that enter into the utility function of the human agent, and thus to further narrow down the possibly justifiable self-concepts that people could have. Because of the dependence of 'fittest-ness' on context or 'evolutionary landscape', the search is now on for justifiable objects of human wants which are 'robust', either in the sense that they attract many adherents and create cultures, subcultures or societies, or in the sense that they confer some relative survival--or augmented survival--advantage to the people who hold them, no matter what 'Nature' does.
Neither the possibility of telling multiple 'strategic' or 'evolutionary' stories to explain a single set of experiences, nor the documented susceptibility of individual behavior and its rationalization to indoctrination with a specific 'theory of human-hood' (Gilovich and Regan, 1993) are counted as grounds for expanding the scope of the conversation concerning the underlying models of man used by the chief proponents of 'ought' claims. Indeed, these theories are never properly under discussion, even at earliest stages of the advertising phase. Considerations of the 'meaning' or 'interpretation' of the assumptions upon which these theories are built have been delegated to the philosophers of science, and to practitioners of hermeneutics. This division of labor effectively uncouples the act of reflection from the act of implementation, by tasking the minds associated with different brains--whose bodies are usually separated by substantial social, economic and linguistic barriers--with carrying out these task s separately. Thus, the reflective consideration and open discussion of the assumptions on which people in the community of argumentative voters base their actions has been exiled behind the walls of universities and think tanks. The community of argumentative voters is a community which is closed to reflective, critical or introspective dialogue. It is a closed community.
There are no means, during the ratification phase, to repair the damage to open dialogue that has been done during the advertisement phase. At best, the ratification phase is carried out by a slightly more sophisticated form of aggregating social preferences than the straight majority rule, which can be represented by a collective bargaining process. In this process, coalitions are formed and broken on the basis of the mutual compatibility of the incentives of the people involved in the negotiations. Indeed, the fact that dialogue is exiled from any role of causal import in the process of social choice leads to questions like, 'Why argue at all?' (Elster, 1995)
Elster is of the opinion that there at least two strategic benefits to be gained from argumentation and these benefits materialize at the ratification stage of the social choice process. The first is the multiplier effect of impartiality, and refers to the increased likelihood of recruiting adepts for a self-interested position, when this position is presented in terms of universal principles or impartial judgments. The strategist of a large manufacturer of modems wishing to impose a particular standard on the rest of the marketplace might argue for the principle of universal deployment of a single standard as a way of increasing the social benefit of the new technology, which may appeal to the strategists a large manufacturer of telephone equipment who wish to collect monopoly profits from their products. The representative of a small country wishing to participate in negotiations of territorial gains with larger powers may wrap his claims in an appeal to fairness and justice, which may draw the support of several other small countries.
The second strategically coherent use of argument is the civilizing force of hypocrisy, by which Elster means to classify the benefits of appealing to people's (possibly false) self-concepts as fair-minded or high-minded individuals, and who might be persuaded to act as if these self-concepts were accurate descriptors of the nature of their possessors. One might appeal, therefore, to someone else's sense of fairness before asking for greater benefits for oneself as part of a negotiation process, and hope to receive these benefits in exchange for nothing more than the preservation of his interlocutor's self-image as a fair-minded person. One might hope to get a large corporation to expend considerable resources in order to clean up a lake which its industrial waste has polluted by appealing to the sense of community which its chief executive officer feels with the deep waters and vibrant life that inhabits the lake.
To Elster' s list, I would add the strategic role that argument can play in actively recruiting people to causes and interests, which is similar to the multiplier effect of impartiality, but differs from the latter in that it generates self-concepts in virtue of which people can commit to particular courses of action, rather than recruiting people to interests on the basis of already-generated self-concepts. An eloquent articulation of the aims and goals of a minority group, a subculture, a socio-economic class or a social institution provides many people--some already associated with these groups, some 'shopping' for new associations--with a set of 'interests' which allows them to participate in the grand game of socioeconomic distribution of goods and recognition. I will call this effect the hermeneutic role of universality, because it allows people who are already engaged in a particular way of life to interpret their past actions and states in a way that lets them formulate wants and interests that will govern their future actions. Whereas the strategic uses of argument that Elster is concerned with have to do with changing people's minds about the courses of action that will most readily further their interests, the hermeneutic use of argument has to do with changing people's minds about those interests themselves. Therefore, whereas the former two uses of argument appeal to people's calculative faculties, the latter appeals to their will to reflect and their capacity to reframe or to reinterpret. I will return to this topic in my discussion of the features of open dialogue below.
6.2.3. The community of silent transactors
The community of silent transactors rests only on a set of rules which recognize and protect the existing allocation of decision rights, and sanction as 'legal' the consequences of exchanges of these decision rights. Each transactor can trade his or her current decision rights for someone else's decision rights, assuming that buyer and seller are both willing to trade. There is, in other words, a market for rights. 'New rights' emerge through the operation of the market mechanism by a process which is similar to the emergence of new combinations of raw materials in the form of consumer goods, in response to demand characteristics for these goods. The market mechanism is supposed to enact a forum by which communication among remote transactors can take place. Within this exchange forum, the price system acts as a communication network that implements a 'dialogue' free of dialogue.
Why does the price system seem to some to be the instantiation of an open form of communication? Because people can, by means of the price system, disagree about various future states of the world. Thus, valid predictive theories will drive out invalid predictive theories, because the minds possessed by the valid theories will belong to individuals who will enrich themselves at the expense of those whose minds are possessed by invalid theories. Thus, the price system is supposed to instantiate a consequential adjudication among various claims to truth likeness. More truth-like theories will, in the long run, drive out less truth-like theories. Thus, a market represents a mechanism by which people can 'criticize' each other's ideas--to the extent that betting on one idea represent a criticism of another, contradictory idea--without making any vocal noises in each other's direction.
The fallacy of the argument presented above for the communicative openness of the price system can be seen by considering the system of rights and provisions which must always already be in place for the implementation of a market system to proceed. The rights in question are precisely the rights to property on which any valid exchange must rest. The provisions in question are the legal measures which must be called upon for relief against breaches of contracts. The 'richer' the market for individual rights is--the greater the number of qualitatively different rights one can buy on the market--the more textured and elaborate will the codes for the enforcement of contracts and the accurate description of property rights have to be. Some rights--such as the right to be understood--must a priori be ruled out in contemplating possible 'rights-bundles' which can be traded on the market, on the grounds that they are 'meddlesome,' in virtue of interfering with other people's rights to the use of their time as they see fit. Thus, the instantiation of the price system in the context of a 'free market' must rest on an already determined system of rights and provisions, which are themselves undiscussable--either by verbal dialogue, or by the dialogue which is supposed to be instantiated by the transactions availing themselves of the price system. Thus, the 'dialogue' instantiated by the price system is closed to the examination of its 'premises'--the rights and provisions which safeguard transactions and contracts. Furthermore, carrying out a 'dialogue' by means of a set of offers to buy and sell commodities or commodity-bundles (such as financial instruments) has the paradoxical consequence that the greater the 'freedom' that a transactor has in virtue of being able to choose among more elaborate rights-bundles, the greater the number of provisions and stipulations that the market institution rests on--and are therefore beyond questioning--will be. The community of silent transactors can only buy freedom for its members b y curtailing their access to defining how freedom should be defined in the first place.
6.2.4. The community of scientists
The phenomenology of argument and dialogue in the community of media-laden debate and majority voting rules is considerably richer than can be inferred from my sketch of the advertising phase above. To explore this phenomenology further I would like to examine the modes of discourse carried out in communities of people who are commonly interested either in a particular set of phenomena or in a particular way of looking at a set of phenomena-- communities of scientists, or communities of knowledge.
The process by which theories are driven towards higher levels of verisimilitude is a normative model of discourse among scientists. Given the aims of the scientific method, the aim of scientific discourse is predominantly a critical one. If by scientists we mean people who are committed to the use of the scientific method as a means of forming beliefs about the world, then the dialogues that take place among scientists should be aimed at putting forth theories in a way which makes their assumptions and predictions most accessible to criticism, and at devising the strongest possible criticism of these theories -either in the form of logical arguments or in the form of proposals for severe empirical tests. At first glance, then, the Popperian model of discourse seems to satisfy the requirements for open dialogue that I have set forth above. I shall have more to say later about why the Popperian model does not lead to a sufficiently 'open' discourse in one form, and to the denial of the possibility for the 'gr owth of knowledge' in the alternative.
Now, however, I would like to contrast the normative maxims of Popper's model of discourse with the phenomenology of dialogue among scientists that is usually experienced. Taking Popper's model of scientific methodology to be a descriptive enterprise, Thomas Kuhn has provided a critique of the evolution of science which focuses the impact of socio-psychological factors in the scientific processes of discovery and invention. He argues that the evolution of scientific argument is punctuated by the emergence and persistence of paradigms, which are no more than theories supported by a striking examples of their applications--to paraphrase Hillary Putnam. Paradigms are not overthrown by empirical observations that refute their predictions or premises--according to Kuhn--but are rather dislocated or supplanted by other paradigms. Kuhn's analysis implies that the method of criticism based on severe testing with the aim of refutation that Popper advocates as a normative principle of scientific discourse is not adher ed to by the "practitioners" of the scientific method.
A closer examination of the events that make up the work of the scientist may be further illuminating to my quest to show that the community of scientists as we currently know it is a closed community. The discursive activities of the scientist are carried out in the context of a forum of discussion, to which other scientists of the same ilk participate. It is by no means obvious what 'sameness of ilk' entails, but quite often one has in mind particle physicists talking to particle physicists and labor 'economists talking to labor economists. However, I think that a closer consideration of this point is crucially important to my goal. Scientists that are engaged in discourse--as they are when they submit their papers to academic journals or when they present their arguments at conferences--rely on a mutually accessible preunderstanding of their subject matter. This preunderstanding comes in the form of a body of known definitions, propositions and 'plain facts' that characterize 'the field.' Highlights from the experimental record of social psychology, for example, are common knowledge among social psychologists gathered at a conference, or engaged in the discussion of a paper: each participant knows that he knows what he knows, what others know, that they know that they know it (and that he knows it) and so forth.
Not all of the elements of common knowledge are equally important. 'Plain facts,' 'propositions' and 'frameworks' are built from words which 'refer' to objects, events, phenomena or persons 'out there,' in the field of study of the scientist. The way in which words refer is itself an implicit assumption of the dialogue between scientists. One may call, for example, a modification of a facial expression 'a smile' and then proceed to count smiles and to use the number of smiles in the same way that one uses the number of clicks of a photon counter as the dependent variable in an experimental design (White, 1997). Doing so often forecloses the possibility of discussing the criteria by which certain observations are to be referred to as 'smiles'--of talking about the definitions themselves in a critical way. The scientists are participating in a conversation which does not include, reflexively, the uses of words and the mechanisms by which theoretical terms 'refer' to observations are precluded a priori from con sidering the effect which they, as concrete people subject to cognitive biases and motivational dispositions, bring to their interaction, and the results of this interaction for the resulting 'body of knowledge.'
There is a more basic level, however, on which the dialogue carried out within the community of scientists is closed. Any theory relies on a body of assumptions, a logic -- usually the logic of necessary entailment--by which various assumptions are combined, and a set of propositions which emerge as the necessary consequences of the theory. Popper's view of the discourse of science is--as I read it--encouraging of providing severe tests for both the assumptions and the predictions of a theory. A theory that relies on the postulation of a mechanism of supply and demand for the calculation of a set of equilibrium prices for a good, for example, should be tested both by questions about the fit between its predictions and observed prices, and by questions about how the market mechanism in question comes about. If the latter questions can only be answered by appealing to a model of human behavior, then the assumptions of that model should also be subjected to criticism and reflection.
The discourse of science as practiced falls short of the requirements of this program of testing. Scientific analyses aimed at a particular readership must be grounded in the particular assumptions about the nature of the underlying phenomena that are commonly assumed in the scientist's discipline. 'Schisms' in science take place whenever someone overtly challenges the assumptions of a theory, and is seconded in that challenge by a few of his colleagues. Such schisms do not advance the state of the dialogue in a discipline. Rather, the breakaway group is bid 'good riddance' by the 'normal scientists' left behind and they proceed to build their own infrastructure--academic journals, meetings, etcetera--whose role is to carry its constituents to the tangible ends of an academic profession--tenure at a university of reputation-- by providing a vehicle for a predictable stream of publications and contributions.
Subsequent interactions between the now-separate groups of scientists are of the strategic variety--they are argumentative and public representations of the particular 'research programs' of these groups, aimed at securing research funds from corporations and government institutions in virtue of the potential benefits that these research programs are expected to have. Once again, there is no dialogue involved, in the sense that the arguments presented are not usually responsive to one another's claims.
The process of public argumentation aimed at the polarization of political support of a research program is either one of pure advertising or pageantry, or the enactment of parallel monologues which individually list the merits of the approaches that they advocate without addressing the competing claims of alternative approaches, but in which neither side responds to the claims of the other. The layman's question, "Why should my tax money support this program rather than another?" is never satisfactorily answered by this process, because the means for adjudicating among competing claims about the merits of different research programs are not placed at the disposal of the layman by the public debate that is taking place.
The process of scientific discourse therefore becomes increasingly fragmented and esoteric. Each pseudodiscipline that is produced by a fresh schism produces claims and propositions which require the mastery of a new dialect by someone who wishes to understand them. Experts are required in order to understand the arguments of experts. Other experts are required in order to implement the recommendations of the latter. A third group of experts is required to evaluate and document the consequences of these policies. The bases of public policy choices become increasingly inaccessible to the layman who wishes to vote on the basis of informed opinion. The vote itself therefore loses its adjudicative weight. The results of majority voting processes come to be perceived as random, capricious and opaque to attempts at understanding. The transformation of dialogue into a cacophony of parallel monologues leads to a general cynicism and apathy about democratic processes of social choice, and also about the dialect of ra tionalization which is perceived as endlessly manipulable by the able orator for the justification of any claim. The layman voter is helpless in the face of an abstruse dialect of rationalization and an overwhelming body of evidence which can be simultaneously marshaled to many ends, the expert supplier of ideologies is chained to a particular model of the world by his need for recognition from a narrow subsub-field of a discipline, and the politician is derided as the spineless chaser of votes from people he does not know, on the grounds of policies he cannot justify.
Whereas conflict in the community of silent voters is muted, conflict between people in the closed community of scientists is indefinitely postponed. One never 'gets around' to discussing the assumptions that are embedded in a theory, because arguments are usually aimed at furthering the scope and debating the validity and reliability of the predictions of the theory. Deep differences of interpretation of the terms of a theory, or differences in views about the 'meaning' of the theory--the realism of its assumptions, for example--are relegated to the 'philosophy of science.' Challenges to existing assumptions lead to schisms, and to the establishment of new communities of knowledge, wherein new language games are played out, new codes of communication evolve, and from which new schisms may emerge. The complexity of the dialects that subspecialties evolve in order to analyze the phenomena that are their charge create seemingly insurmountable barriers to entry by nonspecialists. These barriers effectively clos e off scientific discourse from questioning or challenges by laymen or nonspecialist scientists. Under the guise of uniqueness and exceptionalism, the arch-specialist has established a monopoly over 'the truth' or 'the fact of the matter' about the phenomena that she is studying. An engagement of a labor economist in a discussion about the effects of a new technology on the employment of young engineering graduates, for example, may be perceived to require the mastery of several models of labor markets and technological value chains. If the debate is carried out in a public setting, the layman's questions may be made to seem 'out of depth' vis-a-vis the specialist's polished dialect. Eager to avoid the label of superficiality, the layman relinquishes the territory to the specialist, who now has defacto accomplished what the rationalists initially hoped that the rule of reason would prevent: the establishment of a monopoly on truth. It will not have escaped the reader, I expect, that the objectivity of the cri terion of truth which is proposed by Tarski and used by Popper is instrumental to the scientific dogmatist's claim to precedence of a theory which has been produced by the scientific method, over theories produced by other processes.
6.2.5. Dictatorships and the community of Ibanskian orators
The false tyranny of reason which is encountered in the closed community of scientists is to be compared with the tyranny of the absurd which is prevalent in dictatorial systems, such as that described by Alexander Zinoviev as a parody of the Soviet Union during the time of Josif Stalin, or the monstrous bureaucracies that emerge from the stories and novels of Franz Kafka, and which are, I think, intensifications of the conditions that prevail in organizations large enough that the purpose of a rule is lost on either the one enforcing it or the one on whom it is enforced.
Zinoviev (1979, 1980) describes an imaginary society in which discourse has been rendered absurd by the use of logical devices meant to render negation impossible (Elster, 1984). Because it is not possible to explicitly deny a statement, or to challenge it on evidential grounds which logically imply its negation, it is not possible to mount any opposition to the existing status quo. Whereas the active negation of a statement ('A believes that it is not the case that p is true') explicitly acknowledges the existence and possible verisimilitude of the statement 'p', the passive negation of the statement ('It is not the case that A believes p to be true') calls up a picture of A's mind in a state of oblivion to the very existence or value of p. There is no opposition in the imaginary land of Ibansk, because the concept of being opposed to something else has been canceled.
The aim to passively negate the would-be negativists leads to situations that we judge to be absurd. A literary prize, for instance, "is awarded to a writer of no talent, who has furthermore not performed any service for the party" (Elster, ibid.). The possibility of opposition to the award on the basis of aversion to careerism is implicitly denied. Because the absurd strikes us as insignificant, it hardly seems worth negating. When the absurd is prevalent, however, it is the absurd that provides a denial of its would be critics, all the more effective because it is passive: now it is the critics that hardly seem worth negating. Thus, one seems to be "up against an extraordinarily insignificant force which, by virtue of this very fact, is invincible." (Zinoviev, 1979).
There is much to be gained by those who wish to control others from making events and phenomena seem inaccessible to the common sense of language, and it may be that passive negation is one of the most effective devices for this project. Passive negation is at the root of the mode of expression known to some citizens of Romania as a langue du bois, or wooden language. Its woodenness lies in the fact that words are not used for the purpose of stating claims which can thereafter be refuted or challenged, and for this reason they do not effective 'encode' any meaningful information. If there is nothing to oppose, then there can be no opposition. Conflict between the claims and ideas that people may have is thereby canceled, since the possibility of conflict is excluded.
A less elegant form of discourse which owes considerably to a careful consideration of the possibilities for negation is that of imputing claims by appearing to ask questions. As Elster points out, the question, "Is the King of France bald?" poses a problem for us, since neither 'yes' nor 'no' seem to be satisfactory answers, just as they are not adequate answers to the question, 'Have you stopped beating your spouse?' Now consider an actual exchange which by one account (Volkogonov, 1991) appears to have occurred between Procurator General Vyshinsky and N. Krestinsky during a trial of the latter on charges of treachery brought by the government of Iosif Dzugashvili (a.k.a. Stalin):
Vyshinsky:... what is the meaning of your statement yesterday, which can only be seen as a Trotskyite provocation to the trial ? (my italics)
To which the defendant, who had by this account been physically beaten and threatened with further beatings in case he did not cooperate, replied,
"Krestinsky: 'Yesterday, under the influence of a momentary sharp sense of false shame, caused by being in the dock and the depressing effect of hearing the charges read out, and aggravated by my ill health, I was not in a condition to tell the truth, not in a condition to say that I was guilty.'
Vyshinsky: 'Is this an automatic response?'
Krestinsky 'I request that the court minute my statement that I completely and entirely acknowledge that I am guilty of all serious charges leveled against me personally, and I hold myself completely responsible for the treason and treachery committed by me."' (Volkogonov, 1991).
What is remarkable in this 'dialogue' is not only the fact that all questions are 'leading' the witness in some way, but also that there is no escape from the objective they are leading towards. A leading question represents an implicit or passive negation of the possibility of any other answer than that required by the questioner for his purposes. There is no opportunity for the defendant to negate the negation in question, because there is no way of actively negating a passive negation without abruptly and explicitly refusing to take part in the conversation as it is being served up.
I do not wish to leave the reader with the impression that the art of passive negation has been exclusively applied to public discourse in the countries formerly known as the Soviet Block. Once we see that presumption is the passive negation of the possibility of disagreeing with an assumption, we recognize many of the expressions that are common to political and corporate speeches and corporate advertising campaigns in the West as the descendants of the Ibanskian dialect described by Zinoviev. The chief characteristic of these expressions is the presumption of some shared system of values between the speaker and the member of her audience, in virtue of which the action desired of the voter or consumer is seen as logically necessary. Their benign appearance in the Western democracy owes much to the power of the media of communication--a large convention, a sparkling advertisement--to convey a message while at the same time inhibiting a query about its origins or challenge to its foundations. Acceptance, in t his case, completes the passive negation of the fallibility of the dogma embedded in the message. The time of interactive broadband communications has come not a moment too soon, in my view.
6.3. Some conjectures about the individual correlates of the closed community
The phenomenology of the closed community is linked to some characteristics of individual thought and behavior that--by either introspection or observation-we--I and my reader -are probably familiar with. These characteristics can be broken up into two classes of behaviors. The first class contains behaviors that instantiate a compulsive rejection of criticism. The second class contains behaviors that instantiate the search for answers, reasons or solutions.
The compulsive rejection of criticism is a common phenomenon, which is often easily accessible to introspection. When some negative evaluation or imputation is made concerning our persons, we react by denying it outright, explaining it as the outcome of a set of circumstances with which we had little to do, devaluing the person who is making the negative attribution, or producing a pychoanalytic account of the conditions that led her to make that attribution. The denial of criticism is compulsive in the sense that we feel a pressing need for it, even when we are ourselves aware of a shortcoming on our part. This can be abated by reflection. In the absence of reflection, however, we unthinkingly 'reach' for a 'therapeutic' explanation, attribution or retort.
To call the denial of criticism 'compulsive' is not to call its implementation unintelligent. The anxiety that a person feels about her own value and her fear of the possibility that she has no value lead her to carefully design and edit her words and actions so as to make them as impregnable or inaccessible to criticism as possible. The assumptions that one makes in arriving at a judgment, for example, are usually left unstated in the expression of that judgment. This makes the judgment itself appear to be based on a set of assumptions that have always-already been agreed upon by both of the discussants.
Challenges to assertions on the basis of the assumptions embedded in them are infrequent during informal dialogue among members of the closed community. Such challenges are usually interpreted as faux pas or offenses against the implicit agreement that people have to help each other 'save face.' Challenges therefore appear to be acts of aggression, or statements of a particular strategic position, which can be either 'for' or 'against' an interlocutor. Would-be critics seek to avoid--lest they should appear nasty--questions that their partners would prefer not to hear--lest they should appear incompetent when they cannot answer them coherently.
Public discourse in the closed community has many of the features of private conversations. When politicians, managers, administrators and other public figures state their positions and make claims to validity, they do so in contexts which preclude overt challenges and criticisms. Political events are "produced" according to a particular purpose--as Daniel Boorstin has pointed Out (1963)--in order for them to be reported and consumed. Subtle manipulations of the context--such as the timing and duration of speeches, interviews and debates, the regulation of the protocol for engaging in dialogue on the part of the discussants, the geographical positioning of the speaker in the room--whose 'subtlety' is accentuated by the lack of sensitivity of the spectators to the effects of the 'props' on the spectacle--are used to restrain and constrain the actual opportunities for criticism that an open public forum in theory provides. The subversion of dialogue is therefore carried out in the name of equal opportunity of expression. 'Stubborn' questioners appear nasty and aggressive. Challengers of a particular mode of discourse appear as the enemies of the open society, because their challenges also appear to be directed at the context of democratic discussion.
The defensive individual is deeply attached to the ideas that he expresses: the ideas come to express him. Submitting these ideas to criticism is akin to submitting the self that they express to that same criticism. It is not possible, however, to explain people's desperate attachment to their ideas on the basis of their anxiety about their own value alone. To accomplish this explanation, I will need to introduce a second feature of individual behavior-the instinctive search for answers. The fact of possessing an idea or a concept-- whatever these may be--is valuable in its own right. Ideas are mirrors of the self. To value the self by fitting her in a hierarchy of visible values, one must see or picture the self. Reaching for an answer or a reason is akin to mirroring the self in words.
The search for answers drives the individual person into the web of scientific bureaucracy, but only because the individual person has already accepted the logico-empirical answer to the question, "What would an answer look like?" 'Answers' must be of a particular logical form ("a & b --> c") and, where necessary, must be backed by a measure of inductive support that is usually a statistic ("an increase in a is associated with an increase in b in 80% of the examples studied"). The form of the answer is already embedded in the question, and questions are phrased so as to preclude discussions of their premises. 'Coercive' questions of this sort have spread in the realm of practical reason ('Should we go left or right?' implying that we must go somewhere, and in one of the two directions; 'Should we increase or decrease production this quarter?' assuming that the same thing is understood all around by 'production' all around and that modifications of output of some kind are necessary). Such questions have typif ied scientific discourse at least since the middle of this century, because the institutional structure of science 'pushed' applications of the hypothetico-deductive method towards progressively narrower formulations of working hypotheses, and towards a focus on confirmation and justification rather than interpretation and criticism. Answers to the questions, "What does an answer look like?" and "Why does this sense datum qualify as evidence that corroborates this theory?" are not usually pursued, and the existence and validity of the questions are passively denied.
The layman's commitment to the logico-empirical method is largely a formal one. The need for answers overpowers most people's will to discipline their inference process with the laws of logic and the calculus of probabilities. As the studies of psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and those that followed them have shown, most individuals use rules of inference that are only justified when applied to large numbers of observations, and conforming to certain assumptions (such as independence and time-invariance of the underlying probability distributions) to reasoning about their own narrow--and narrowly interpreted--set of experiences. These experiences, having been modulated by the right logical form, carry the weight of scientific evidence in the minds of their beholders.
The search for answers leads to the search for reasons, by way of the search for justifiable replies to the questions, "Why should I undertake this particular action?", or, "Why should I believe this particular fact?" Unfortunately, the search for reasons for action or belief is usually not reflexive among members of the closed community. Just as the search for answers is carried out 'mechanically'--under the constraints of a naive application of the scientific method--so the search for reasons is carried out under the constraints of self-justification. 'Reasons'--like answers--must advance the self-serving view of the self as a just, good and valuable being, and must fit--lest contradiction and the unknown rear their menacing heads--in the dominant social theories and dogmas of the time.
The interplay between the acquisition of ideas by people and the acquisition of people by ideas is predictable: we often choose in virtue of a self-concept (by which we have been 'acquired') that is not subject to discussion or reflection, and then marshal 'theories' in order to rationalize a choice on the background of some experience, and sometimes to the end of demonstrating that we are 'rational' in making that choice. Often the fact of the possession of a reason carries far greater weight than does the reason itself. The studies of psychologists Shafir and Tversky (1992) have shown that many people will accept mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive justifications (such as 'If you should do well on the exam tomorrow, ...' and 'If you should fail the exam tomorrow ...') for taking an action (such as 'You will buy a dog'), but will not accept an offer to undertake that action without justification ('Since you will buy the dog no matter how you perform on your exam tomorrow, why not buy her today?')
Together, the temptation to negate criticism and the anxiety for answers can explain the phenomenology of dialogue in the closed community. In particular, these tendencies explain the interaction of individuals though roles or stances, the fragmentation of public dialogue into debates about technical details no longer accessible to the layman, and the transformation of public dialogue into a chain of bargaining sessions over economic and social interests. Let me address these in order.
To an increasing measure, interactions between people seem to be scripted. The scripts are determined by the context of the interaction: where it takes place, what uniforms the protagonists are wearing, what their positions are in the context of organizations and institutions, what their respective net worths are. Exchanges with would-be customers in a competitive market are characterized by a subtly subdued servility, which can be denied if it is pointed out or alluded to. In a well-run monopoly, quite a different situation obtains, as the customer feels dependent upon the whim of the functionary with whom he is dealing. The phenomenon is not linked to the economico-bureaucratic realm. Parents and children may see each other as the instantiations of predetermined roles (authority-figures and rebels, say), while the statistical approach to human behavior (I am alluding to a recent study in the United States, in which women were found much more likely to 'nag' or request changes in behavior, than were their m ale partners) provides increasing grounds for the formation of stereotypes in the interaction between men and women. Would-be lovers, would-be neighbors and would-be litigants 'interpret' each others' words and gestures through the lenses provided by preconceived models. What is remarkable is not that the social or economic positions of the discussants influence their behaviors, but rather that they come to see their interaction exclusively through the lens of their roles. The stereotyping of the self by the self is a natural outcome of this process. Rather than seeing oneself as a person who is doing a particular thing x at a particular time, for a particular set of reasons which could change, one sees oneself as an x-doer who in turn is a member of the set of x-doers, who have a well-defined set of properties.
Both the self-definitive and self-justificatory urges play roles in the mummification of interactions. A person comes to see each interaction as the source of reaffirmation of answers to the question "Who am I?" This frame creates a motive for each participant to find a role, which is not negated or in some way usurped by the other. Each communicative act therefore is seen to require justification from a framework of norms or beliefs that must be beyond dispute. This need creates a motive for finding a role that has already become a cultural norm or a social archetype. "Normality" justifies.
Self-definitive and self-justificatory urges are also at the root of the fragmentation of public discourse into separate and disjoint language games which produce increasingly inaccessible expert dialects. Specialization is a kind of narrow self-definition, signaling a specific competence to oneself and to others. The recognition of this competence, however, itself requires a level of familiarity with a particular background knowledge that is no longer at the disposal of the layman. Yet, it is this recognition--which the layman can no longer credibly give--that motivates his reliance on the experts' advice. To acquire this recognition, the expert must take part in the dialogues carried out in expert forums, which have evolved specialized code-names and discourse patterns for referring to phenomena to which the layman has a direct, uneducated access. These gatherings of experts produce dialects and thought patterns which are self-referential. To the layman, they seem inscrutable. Thus, the layman's reliance o n the experts' advice can only be justified by the opinions of other experts. Neither can the layman question this advice in view of his 'naive' understanding of the world, nor does the expert have an incentive to make the assumptions underlying his prescriptions transparent. Experts' authority is always-already established in the view of the layman. The expert is deemed to be authoritative because of his authoritativeness--to transpose Boorstin's definition of a celebrity in terms of his well-knownness to a different arena.
The layman's own need for justifiable answers entraps her in the experts' web of words. For, not only is her thirst for self-definition periodically sated and renewed by scientific explanations of the nature of man and mankind from which answers to 'ought' questions seem to follow, but such answers are justified by the experts' own reputation in their circle of colleagues, and by the recognition of this reputation--in the form of awe--by other laymen.
Under the centrifugal forces exerted on public discourse by individual anxieties about self-definition and self-justification, public discussion about social choice, social norms and social welfare becomes a complex bargaining process, during which people increasingly identify with the interests and ideas which they represent at the outset of the discussion. Although more data than ever are available to support any one of a multitude of positions and interests, the grip that single, narrowly defined interests and ideas have on individuals has never been tighter. The psychologist Lee Ross and his collaborators (Lord et al., 1979) has supplied empirical support for the idea that the commitment of individuals to a particular statement of principle is strengthened by the learning of information which people advocating an opposite set of beliefs also find supportive. The individual's instinctive flight from criticism provides an obstinate defense against information that challenges her views. Only evidence that c onfirms these views is normally allowed to filter through this defense.
Quite often, assertions made by adversaries in a bargaining session are Reconstructed by their intended recipients to the narrowly perceived self-interests of their contributors. Most statements can be 'explained away' on the basis of a self-interest-based or strategy-based analysis of the person making them. The process of interpretation gets truncated by means of a (nonfalsifiable) imputation of interests by each discussant to the other. Ironically, the Marxian view that people's ideas, interests and self-concepts are determined by their socioeconomic situations has never been more applicable than it is today: "It is not the consciousness of man that determines his existence--rather, it is his social existence that determines his consciousness." (Marx, translated 1904). With Marx, as with neoclassical economic interpretations of behavior, talk is cheap: it cannot awaken consciousness from the stupefaction of its context.
I have reviewed here what I believe to be the three features of public discourse which stem from the individual's search for answers and his defensive stance a propos of the answers he already possesses. The reader will have recognized--I think--the phenomenology of dialogue in the closed community in these three characteristics. Perhaps the most dangerous consequence of these individual urges is the ritualized justification of the current mode of public discourse on the moral basis of a commitment to freedom of expression, in combination with a self-defensive belief that the current form of discourse is 'the best that we could have done'.
Current forms of public dialogue--at least in North America--pose great threats to individual freedom, defined here as the potential to understand, criticize, and explain one's own position, thoughts and feelings through dialogue with another like-minded person. The a prioristic postulation of one libertarian right or another--such as the right to transact on the market--may, when realized, work against the realization of freedom as I have defined it: first because its admission constrains any further dialogue about what it means to be a person, second because it creates a mechanism for escaping criticism--leaving the organization or the family--which is too often used to shield one's own understanding from refutation or challenge; and third because it leads to the creation of a system for assigning value--the market--which defensive, anxious individuals are only too happy to base their self-concepts and moral norms on, claiming, irrefutably, that what is right is what there is a market for. At the same time , the a priori rejection of such a libertarian right can lead down the path of central planning and totalitarian governance, by the mechanisms of bureaucratic gangsterism witnessed earlier in this century.
7. Epilogue: the nature and function of dialogue
The lack of censorship and the formal recognition of the freedom of individual expression are usually considered to be the defining characteristics of the open community. To be sure, each is a necessary condition, without which the open community would not be conceivable. However, if one accepts a characterization of the open community according to the nature of the dialogue that is carried out among its members, then it becomes apparent that freedom of expression is necessary but not sufficient for the existence of open dialogue, for the reason that open dialogue requires engagement and mutual responsiveness, whereas the right to freedom of expression only guarantees a person's capability to represent his or her views in a public forum, and not necessarily the capability to engage others and to be understood by them. Without some justifiable norm that encourages or mandates an active engagement between members of a community concerning the foundations of their beliefs and the consequences of holding such be liefs, a community based on the right to free speech is not necessarily an open community.
To understand the role of dialogue in the making of the open community, consider once more Strawson's example of the discursive resolution of the tension produced between two people by an insult. Resentment is a 'raw' affective state with deep moral meaning. Unlike the anxiety provoked by a sudden downward acceleration or the fear associated with the attack of a fierce creature, resentment can be resolved through explanation or merely recognition of the insult by the injuring party, and it can be re-enacted by the recollection--intentional or not--of the insult. Resentment--but not raw fear or panic--is therefore available to argument and communication, on condition that the argument directly acknowledges the insult, and provides a plausible and truthful explanation of the conditions leading to it. The more the explanation or apology appears to be truthful and truth-like -sincere and plausible--the greater will be its effect in healing the resentment that the injured feels. The least effective apologies or e xplanations are those that in some way distort, mitigate or exaggerate the nature of the insult, those that are unresponsive to those concerns of the injured that have aroused his indignation.
As it is with apologies, so it is with dialogue in general. The expression of an idea does not constitute, in itself, a guarantee of its consideration of that idea, of its potential or actual causal import to the path of a conversation, and of its capability to change the mindsets of the individuals taking part in the conversation. Just as a formal and empty apology falls short of relieving the resentment produced by an insult, so a stated but unconsidered opinion falls short of transforming a set of parallel monologues which produce discussants who have 'dug into' their original positions into a dialogue which produces participants whose views have evolved.
The right to assert does not subsume the right to be understood or even considered, just as the will to assert is very different from the will to convey or to communicate. It is a characteristic of parallel monologues that each discussant considers his own position unalterable--except by strategically-minded compromise--and often undiscussable. At the same time, the potential of words to affect the self-understanding of participants to a discussion is one distinguishing feature of open dialogue. The right to freedom of expression therefore does not necessarily promote an open community.
I want to argue that the reliance on a formal right to freedom of expression as the fundamental right governing speech acts is dangerous, because its actual effects often amount to an isolation of individuals qua individuals or as members of groups into assertoric or 'sloganist' expressive stances or poses, and opinions whose expression is meant to signal that a certain person belongs to a certain group. The unreflective voter, for example, may vote for a particular party because that party at one time favored a measure which would have benefited him personally. Presently, however, he votes--in referenda -for measures proposed by members of that party because he is 'that person who votes for this party'. By thus voting, he signals his allegiance to a party.
Now I will analyze the danger which a 'simple-minded' right to freedom of expression entails. When we express certain opinions or preferences, we make implicit claims about their truthfulness and truth-likeness. These claims are evaluated by others and found to be justifiable or not justifiable, depending on the resolution of ambiguity about these claims. This resolution--if undertaken--is undertaken on the basis of a body of background knowledge--such as a scientific theory, a body of scientific knowledge, a moral position, an ethical belief, and so forth. It may, in some cases, be undertaken on the basis of a 'hunch', or a particularly strong empathetic understanding of the position of the speaker, but I will not consider this case here, because I am mainly concerned with the 'rational' discourse of the public forum.
If the foundations that allow us to adjudicate claims to validity of an expression are not actually at our disposal--if they have been expropriated by a community of scientists, theologians or administrators through a process of specialization, encoding and institutionalization leading to a justificatory dialect far too complex for any one person to understand--then individual people cannot adjudicate validity claims except by subscribing in toto to a body of background knowledge, whose validity they cannot independently judge. They can only therefore signal their adherence to a particular theory or body of moral beliefs by the expression of their beliefs and judgments about the beliefs expressed by others. This signal represents either a wholesale acceptance or a wholesale rejection of the background knowledge. The ability to question particular components of this background knowledge, and with it the capability or de facto freedom to accept some of the experts' ideas and reject others--has been irretrievab ly lost. As applied, the right to freedom of expression is no more than a right to signal--to oneself or to others--a particular identity as a person. It is not a right to question--intelligibly and legitimately--the underlying assumptions of a theory or doctrine. Neither is it a right to criticize--in a way that gets consideration and elicits response--the underlying assumptions of those theories. The law of the excluded middle fails--in this case--to be the engine of the progress of knowledge, because the arch-expert's arch-expertness essentially insulates him from foundational challenges to the basis of his competence.
What is dangerous about the reliance on the formal right to freedom of expression as a sole regulator of all expressive acts is the resulting conflation of the ideas of 'freedom' and 'free community' with that of mere freedom of expression. If freedom also includes the right to be considered or understood, or--perhaps more persuasively--the right to understand one's own ideas and dogmas, by understanding the words of those who espouse them--then the right to freedom of expression does not--in its concrete application--lead to a 'free' society, just as it does not lead to an open community. To be sure, there is more 'freedom' in expressing a belief that has been chosen from a menu of possibly justifiable beliefs, than in having to profess adherence to a dogma against one's wishes; but this freedom is yet limited when compared to that embodied in the realization of an open dialogue which leaves the option set itself open to revision, renewal or organic evolution.
Socio-economic analysis in the postmodernist age cannot rely on a single set of values or axioms to guide or ground the normative part of the inquiry. Indeed, the conclusory postulation of a set of values as 'self-evident' or 'desirable' will--by the force of logic--exclude many alternative and viable moral systems. Relativism looms on the horizon: while one group holds some truths to be self-evident, another group may hold other truths to be self-evident. Self-evidence, however, is a matter of frame of reference. No group can claim ultimate authority for its moral position, in the face of a counterargument by another group. Discourse ethics is the last 'stand' that transcendental morality can make in the face of the relentless attack of postmodernist criticism. It can survive this criticism only by relaxing the commitment to any one set of moral arguments or transcendental principles and substituting, in its stead, a commitment to a set of norms for the interpersonal criticism and validation of any alternat ive moral system. Discourse ethics substitutes transforms the 'we' from an axiological system--rooted in tradition and supported by sometimes oppressive social measures--into a process of open argumentation and inquiry whose safeguard against hijackings by dogmatists is the fact that the dogmatist places himself--by his refusal to take place in the community of discourse--outside of that very community, which is bound together by principles one cannot reject on pain of rejecting logic itself, thereby becoming incoherent.
(*.) Tel.: + 1-416-978-3423; fax: +1-416-978-5433. E-mail Address: email@example.com (M.C. Moldoveanu).
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|Author:||Moldoveanu, Mihnea C.|
|Publication:||The Journal of Socio-Economics|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2000|
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