Intelligibility and conflict resolution in the lifeworld

Continental Philosophy Review 34 (4):419-436 (2001)
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Abstract

This paper examines the role of Habermas's concept of the lifeworld in processes of reaching mutual understanding. This concept is shown to be ultimately too amorphous to bear the theoretical weight Habermas places on it. He conceives the lifeworld both as diffuse and holistic, yet also as structured; as a set of taken-for-granted and counterfactual presuppositions, yet also as a kind of knowledge. In the end, he presupposes what the lifeworld is supposed to explain: mutual intelligibility of subjects in interaction. These conceptual tensions affect the explanatory power of the lifeworld and the usefulness of the theory of communicative action for conflict resolution. Where conflict resolution is aimed at mediating radical disagreements with minimal concord between parties, presuming consensus may not be possible or optimal. The present analysis argues for the need to develop other means of establishing a sufficient level of background consensus against which communicative action can take place.

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Barbara Fultner
Denison University

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