Book Symposium/Tribune de Livre

Two Sets of Concerns about Heath's “Pragmatic Theory of Convergence”

Pablo Gilaberta1

a1 Concordia University

A central concern of Joseph Heath's Communicative Action and Rational Choice is to find a plausible response to “the problem of convergence … to explain why we should ever expect to secure agreement on moral questions” (pp. 8–9). In Chapter 7 of his book, Heath proposes what he calls “a pragmatic theory of convergence.” This account is presented as contrasting with the one proposed by Jürgen Habermas, which emphasizes the existence of an internal relation between convergence and moral truth. According to Habermas, there is a “connection … between moral cognitivism and the expectation of convergence” (p. 220). One cannot take moral judgements to be amenable to rational justification (i.e., be a cognitivist) unless one also assumes that an agreement among those participating in the discursive evaluation of that moral judgement is possible in principle. (Habermas adds that this a priori possibility lies in the use of a procedural criterion of moral validity, which in his moral theory is provided by a discursive principle of universalization.) Heath considers this claim about a supposed internal connection as a remnant of foundationalism in Habermas's otherwise promissory contextualist account of moral justification. To reject non-cognitivism, according to Heath, we need not demonstrate that convergence on moral judgement is always forthcoming. It is enough to show that ordinary moral thinking takes moral claims as amenable to discursive justification. As to whether actual practices of discursive justification of moral claims will indeed end in agreement or convergence, a “wait and see” attitude seems all we can legitimately hope for.