Habermas’s Response to Independent Moral Point of View


Currently, people hold different views about morality because the society has become more liberal. Consequently, there are still many debates about fundamental questions that touch on morality such as abortion, capital punishments such as the death penalty, and the issue of social justice just to mention but a few. Many moral philosophers have tried to provide an explanation for this confusion and provide some solutions to the problem as well. In my opinion, a person’s moral point of view reflects the individual’s independent, neutral, and objective observation about a certain moral issue. That is because people tend to develop different opinions depending on the circumstances of each case. That implies that context is an important factor that can influence a person’s moral point of view. The term context, in this case, includes aspects such as culture, personality, the political environment, and religious beliefs among others. However, for this claim is only justified in instances where other people would adopt a similar moral point of view after making reasoning logically from the facts presented. Nevertheless, Jurgen Habermas and Alasdair MacIntyre provide interesting philosophical views concerning the issue as the subsequent discussion will show. Therefore, this paper will start by discussing MacIntyre’s claims that there is no context-independent moral point of view. The discussion will subsequently provide Habermas’s response to MacIntyre’s claim and provide some criticisms to this response.

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MacIntyre’s claim that there is no context-independent moral point of view is similar to the philosophical view of Aristotle in the past. According to Aristotle, the concept of moral philosophy is closely related to the idea of thinking logically and in a practical way. The moral theory also provides an understanding of the fact that an individual can think independently and practically when they possess the virtues of intellectual and ethical excellences. MacIntyre is a critique of the ideas of contemporary liberal individualism, as well as, the reasoning of people who believe in scientific determinism on the moral point of view. That is because the proponents of both ideologies believe that it is necessary to separate morality from practical reasoning.

MacIntyre’s views on morality attempt to nullify the formal approach towards explaining moral theories. Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of the historical contexts, language, and cultural beliefs as factors that affect the development of certain perceptions that eventually influences the ultimate and reliable moral judgments that people make. Consequently, this scholar believed in the fact that various societal factors and practical situation of an individual’s daily life have a significant impact on moral discourse. According to his view, there are three categories of essential concepts that explain his philosophical views on the moral point of view and moral discourse. 

The first aspect of the scholar’s model of moral discourse is ‘practices’. The term ‘practices’, in this context, denotes the type of actions that a person ordinarily do. This aspect is similar to the idea of morality as explained by Aristotle. MacIntyre also further provides an explanation for the term ‘practices’ by stating that it includes those activities that a person does by virtue of the obligations that arise under certain rules, because of their goals, and social surrounding. It is possible to identify a particular action as a practice for the purpose of applying this model by establishing whether there are any internal good intentions and not rewards from outside. He further states that people endeavor to do what is moral because they acknowledge and accept the regulations put in place to characterize and govern a particular action. Through that acknowledgment, it is possible for people belonging to a particular social group to accept a moral point of view. For example, the practice of various field games or establishment of rules that govern a particular genre of music came up as a result of customary practices. In the same way, communities in different places of the world have come up with various rules of morality as a result of their historical practices. That analogy is true because many people develop opinions about morality depending on the communities in which they grow during childhood. Because of that reason, what is moral in one community may be immoral another and vice versa. 

The second aspect that shapes a moral point of view is the traditions of a group of people. Traditions are very important especially in instances where there is a disagreement about practice. In MacIntyre’s opinion, both traditions and practices are inseparable. In that respect, he states that “engaging in a particular practice is like making a covenant with the modern people who adopt the practice and the previous people who engaged in the same practices in the past”. He further views traditions as a method through which people can dialogue concerning norms. It is during such dialogues that people can establish whether various practices are good or bad in nature. MacIntyre also affirms that tradition can be a complex subject. Thus, it is equivalent to an argument that exists in the society and is a characteristic of every community. Hence, tradition is a possible cause of internal disagreements about people’s view concerning various traditional concepts such as early marriages, or even education. Accordingly, it is necessary to reduce the number of conflicts to enhance the continuity of the traditions of the community. In some cases, however, practices do not require the existence of historical traditions for them to survive and eventually shape the moral point of view.

The final argument that MacIntyre tries to explain is the fact the view of morality that a person adopts from birth may be as a result of a choice that they make unconsciously. This view is convincing because the values that a person believes in is largely as a result of the traditions and practices of their communities. Just like history passes down from one generation to another, so do values trickle down from one generation to the subsequent generation of people. This final concept is called narrative self. This theory notes that it is possible to find an explanation for the moral points of view of people by examining their primary and less vital settings as well. That also provides an explanation for the diverging views on moral issues such as abortion in a Western, Asian or an African setting.

Habermas responds to MacIntyre’s claims using the ideas of Kurt Baier on the concept of “the moral point of view”. His theory of morality is popularly referred to as “discourse ethics”. According to this model, morality is a concept that gives rise to certain moral duties that are unconditional. He classifies these obligations into prohibitions, positive obligations, and permissions. The purpose of coming up with moral obligations is that they control the relationship between people. Therefore, people come up with moral theories that seek to restructure the unreserved impact that the obligations have on a person’s ability to reason practically. His theory is different from that of MacIntyre with respect to his belief in the fact that a person’s moral point of view is independent of the individual’s social context including their traditions, history or practices. 

Just like Kant, Habermas believes that there is a relationship between morality and a person’s independence. As a result, people are free to make conscious choices about various moral issues while after considering the unconditional moral duties that they have towards others. This concept leads to an interesting observation with respect to human rights. Human rights dictate the entitlements that a person has by virtue of the fact that they are human. However, they not only spell out these rights but impliedly impose an obligation on every person to respect the rights of other people as well. People call this concept the golden rule. It shows that even if people have the freedom to choose what they feel is right or wrong, they must also make sure that they fulfill their obligation not to interfere with other autonomous beings. 

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Habermas also disagrees with MacIntyre’s argument that it is impossible to have a situation where two communities hold similar views on morality. He introduces an interesting concept that supports the possibility of having universally accepted moral norms. A universal norm arises where all people agree willingly on the probable consequences and adverse effects that the norm has on all persons. Thus, the social context of an individual is not the sole determinant of their views about morality.

In my opinion, Habermas’s thinking is correct concerning some views. For example, it is true people’s points of view on morality is a result of the decisions they make consciously. That is because the current society is liberal and what people choose to believe about morality is dependent on the choice of an individual. Nonetheless, some social factors can lead to conflicts between people’s moral points of views. Additionally, although it is possible to establish universally acceptable norms, people still differ in certain respects because of their customary traditions and practices.


The discussion above has shown the different views between MacIntyre’s and Habermas’s views on the moral point of view.  The most obvious different between the two philosophers is the approach that they take to explain this concept. While MacIntyre relies more on Aristotle's views about morality, Habermas’s adopts most of Kant’s views with a few modifications. According to MacIntyre, a person’s perception of morality is dependent on their social context. The aspects that affect their views include the practices, traditions and settings of their communities. Consequently, people will have different moral points of views that will vary depending on the factors identified. Habermas, responds by stating that people’s develop different views because of the decisions they make consciously and due to the presence of unconditional moral obligations. Thus, society has a very minimal influence on a person’s opinion so long as what they choose to do does not interfere with other autonomous beings. He also envisions a situation where it is possible to come up with universal norms.