(Forthcoming in Cambridge History of Moral Philosophy ed. by Jens Timmermann & Sacha Golob (Cambridge University Press).
From the introduction:
Discourse ethics in both its generic and specific sense is perhaps best understood by focusing on its most influential formulation, that of Jürgen Habermas, in its revised version in and after Between Facts and Norms. In this work, Habermas continues and transforms the early modern program of “moral philosophy”, leading up to Kant's Metaphysics of Morals and comprising politics, natural law, morality and personal virtue. Habermas's discourse theory attempts to formulate a general account of various complementary normative orders, based on a single discourse principle (D). Practical normativity then is specified along two dimensions, along the lines of the types of reasoning employed (pragmatic, ethical, moral) and along the lines of the practical and institutional contexts in which these processes of reasoning take place (informal, legal, political). Discourse ethics in its core sense is then assigned the study of the moral use of reason in informal, non-coercive contexts of interaction. In what follows, I first delineate how the idea of a discourse theory is introduced in Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action (1). Then turn to the distinction between moral and ethical discourses (2) before commenting on the discourse principle (D) as neutral between various types of normativity (3). I finally turn to its instantiation in a theory of morality, i.e. as a discourse “ethics” in the narrow sense (4).