Darwall, Habermas, and the Fluidity of Respect


  • Andrew Koppelman

    1. Northwestern University School of Law, Chicago, Illinois, USA
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    • Thanks to Samuel Fleischacker, Bonnie Honig, Robin Kar, Richard Kraut, Martha Nussbaum, Keith Topper, and the Northwestern University School of Law Faculty Workshop for comments on earlier drafts, and to Marcia Lehr for research assistance. Special thanks to Thomas McCarthy, who read multiple drafts, and to Jürgen Habermas for his generous assistance. This research was supported by the Northwestern University School of Law Summer Faculty Research Program and the Kathleen M. Haight Fund.

  • These are the focus of a symposium on Darwall's book The Second Person Standpoint (Darwall 2006) in Ethics 118 (Oct. 2007). To avoid misunderstanding: I am not here attempting a comprehensive comparison of Darwall and Habermas, but only juxtaposing their views on a single important issue.


What moral commitments do we manifest when we make claims upon one another? The practice of claiming is inescapable, and so any normative presuppositions of that practice are similarly inescapable (at least on pain of self-contradiction). This inquiry thus promises an Archimedian point from which to address intractable moral disagreements in modern society. Whatever we happen to differ about, we can be shown to agree about these premises, and therefore to share commitment to whatever can be derived from these premises. The most prominent developer of this approach is Jürgen Habermas, who has sought to ground, inter alia, religious and cultural rights on this basis. I will argue that the strategy cannot resolve disagreement in the way Habermas hopes, and that this has been shown, perhaps inadvertently, by Stephen Darwall, who for very different reasons seeks to work out the premises of the practice of claiming (and who never discusses Habermas). Darwall has no apparent interest in finding a universally convincing basis for resolving moral controversies. He seeks to address, not the practical problems of a pluralistic society, but some specialized, albeit important, questions of metaethics, having to do with what kind of entity a moral claim is . Both Habermas and Darwall think that discourse presupposes a kind of respect among persons. Darwall, however, shows that respect is too fluid, and takes too many possible forms, to ground any but the most trivial specific moral claims.