From Simon Chambers "Discourse and Democratic Practices"
The Cambridge Companion to Habermas

Communicative actors are primarily interested in mutual understanding as opposed to external behavior. Therefore, they attempt to convince each other that there are inherently good reasons to pursue one course of action over another. Only the "force of the better argument" should have the po wer to sway participants. Discourse, as an idealization of this kind of activity, must set conditions such that only rational, that is, "argumentative convincing," is allowed to take place. It must be a structure that is immunized in a special way against repression and inequality.

The immunization is gained through a set of rules designed to guarantee discursive equality, freedom, and fair play: No one with the competency to speak and act may be excluded from discourse; everyone is allowed to question and/or introduce any assertion whatever as well as express her attitudes, desires, and needs; no one may be prevented, by internal or external coercion, from exercising these rights.

Whereas in his earlier writings these rules were associated with practical or moral discourse, Habermas now adds two more types of discourse: pragmatic and ethical. Pragmatic discourse concentrates on means/ends issues, ethical discourse on the self-understanding of individuals and groups, and moral discourse on generally valid moral principles. All are governed by the rules of equality, freedom, and fair play. All are directed at mutual understanding through the power of reasoned argument. However, only moral discourse sets itself the high standard of rational consensus.

Democratic deliberation entails all three types of discourse. The more the issue under public discussion involves deep foundational issues of justice the more important consensus becomes. However, the rationality of public opinion and will formation in general does not depend on citizens reaching a rational consensus on all issues. A discursively formed public opinion can represent a process of Bildung or education in which citizens build better foundations to their opinions through discursive interaction. Through discursive interaction on various issues from who are we? to the best means of securing deficit reduction, citizens become more informed about the issues; they become aware of what others think and feel; they reevaluate their positions in light of criticism and argument; in short, by defending their opinions with reason their opinions become more reasoned. The result of such interaction that public opinion and the exercise of democratic responsibility are embedded in reasoned convictions, although reasoned convictions do not always need to reflect a consensus on an issue. Questions of legitimacy, on the other hand, are also questions of justice and on these issues consensus is still to be aimed at.

Even if we understand discourse as not always aimed at rational consensus, a discursively formed public opinion requires more than guaranteeing that no one is excluded from discourse, that everyone may speak his or her piece, and that no one may be coerced. Discourse under the aforementioned conditions will be successful only if participants adopt attitudes of equal respect and impartiality. The rules of discourse stipulate that we must treat one another as equal partners in the process of deliberating about principles that will govern our collective interaction, who we are, and what we want, and the means to achieve a collective good. This means that each individual must be given the opportunity to speak her piece and stand up and say yes or no to a proposal. But, in addition to the negative requirement that individuals be given the space and opportunity to speak, productive discourses contain the positive requirement that individuals listen to one another, respond to one another, and justify their positions to one another. To treat one another as equal dialogue partners means that we must start from the assumption that each participant has something potentially worthwhile to contribute to the discourse; that each participant deserves to have his or her claims considered. This embodies the Kantian idea that respect involves treating people as ends in themselves and not merely as means. Strategic actors view their dialogue partners as means: as either limiting or enabling them in the pursuit of their ends. Communicative actors view their dialogue partners as ends in themselves as autonomous agents whose capacity for rational judgment must be respected. Most day-to-day interaction is a combination of these two orientations. Discourse, as an idealization of communicative action, asks participants to exclude all strategic and instrumental attitudes toward interlocutors from the conversation.

Impartiality is achieved by putting oneself in the position of the other and trying to see the situation from her perspective. Only in trying to understand how the world looks to other people will participants be flexible and open enough to undertake a genuine evaluation of their opinions. Discourse is directed at mutual understanding. At a minimum, this means understanding the real issues that divide you from your interlocutor. At a maximum, this means coming to a shared understanding. Even the minimum case calls for impartiality. Deep disagreement is not always or even primarily a case of misunderstanding. Deep disagreement is often a case of understanding too well the gulf that separates you from others. But disagreement, like agreement, can be more or less rational depending on the reasons one has. Rational disagreement requires that you understand the claim that you are rejecting, and this calls for putting yourself in the other's place. If participants are unwilling to make a sincere effort to assess their motives, ends, and needs in light of the motives, ends, and needs of their interlocutors the discursive process, no matter how structurally equal, will go nowhere.

Equal respect and impartiality are implied by the structure of rational argumentation. If (and this is, of course, a big if) we are interested in convincing with reason then we should deal with our interlocutor as someone who could be convinced with reason, that is, as a rational autonomous agent. If we hold out any hope of success in this endeavor, then we must also be willing to make our arguments appeal to the other's point of view. Although these requirements contain substantive moral assumptions about how we should be talking to each other, they are still formal in that they do not determine how the conversation will turn out, or even what we should be talking about.

The theory of democratic legitimacy that emerges from this analysis is one in which citizens are called upon to collectively and critically evaluate the institutions and norms of their society through the procedures of discourse. These procedures ensure that the process of evaluation is fair and that deliberation is rational. But what would it mean to undertake such a conversation? How do we translate this into real-world practices? When we try to envision discourse as something concrete that citizens undertake, two points emerge. The first is that the internal attitudes of equal respect and impartiality become central. Rules of inclusion, equality, and non-coercion do not guarantee that discursive opinion and will formation take place. Only when citizens approach disputes as discursive rather than strategic actors do we have a discursive practice. Second, the more public debate conforms to the ideal of discourse the less useful it is as a tool of democratic decision making. Discourse involves a trade-off between efficiency and the goal of mutual understanding. The more our conversations are directed at mutual understanding, the less efficient they are in producing a determinate outcome that can be acted upon. This does not, however, marginalize discourse as an essential component of democratic legitimacy.

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Robert Cavalier, Carnegie Mellon and Charles Ess, Drury College