Is rational argument the key to democracy? Can reason win over propaganda? Habermas thinks that democracy is grounded in communicative rationality; however, Ray wants to interrogate the nature of communication. For example, what are the norms that govern rational discourse?
Ray and Ken are joined by Matthew Specter, author of Habermas: An Intellectual Biography and Associate Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University. Against the arguments that Habermas’s framework is too optimistic in our current political climate, Matthew offers one clarification: Habermas’s theory is actually modest. According to Matthew, Habermas is not positing a static, utopian ideal for us to measure against the present. Rather, he is explicating the extant, normative core of our democracy, which is to elucidate already existing logics and practices of our discourse. Habermas does not have much hope about a better argument winning a debate or of people broadening their points of view. Instead, what is more important for Habermas is that we write the laws that govern us. The downside, however, is that there are no guarantees that democratic discourse will produce the most just or best laws.
What reforms do we need to enact in our public sphere? For starters, Habermas advises for material equality that would form the basis of social solidarity. Without this, there is no equal participation in the public sphere. But is this ideal too idealistic to be pragmatic? Habermas sees some progress in the Internet as a return to egalitarian communication. One wonders, however, how one could be optimistic on Habermas’ behalf in the age of Brexit and Donald Trump's isolationist policies. Matthew responds that, for Habermas, these cases do not falsify his theory but are instances that support his theory, for they result from the conditions that he argues have yet to be realized today.
- Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 5:34): Fake news has undermined our hope in democracy and reason. James Fishkin, a professor at Stanford University, says that the public is easy to manipulate because citizens have their own lives to lead and therefore do not have nuanced positions on public policy. But how do people’s opinions change if they consult experts and think about important issues more often?
- Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 45:00) Ian Shoales looks at how innovation is making us dumber and how the Internet has turned into a forum for echo chambers.