Between Facts and Norms

book by Jürgen Habermas

Between Facts and Norms is a 1992 book on deliberative politics by the German political philosopher Jürgen Habermas. The culmination of the project that Habermas began with The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere in 1962, it represents a lifetime of political thought on the nature of democracy and law.


Translated by W. Rehg

Chap. 1 : Law as a Category of Social Mediation between Facts and NormsEdit

  • Modern societies have since become so complex that these two conceptual motifs—that of a society concentrated in the state and that of a society made up of individuals—can no longer be applied unproblematically.
  • The philosophy of history can only glean from historical processes the reason it has already put into them with the help of teleological concepts. By the same token, norms for a reasonable conduct of life cannot be drawn from the natural constitution of the human species any more than they can from history.
  • In the classical modern tradition of thought, the link between practical reason and social practice was too direct. This meant that the sphere of social practice was approached entirely from the angle of normative or—once filtered through a philosophy of history—cryptonormative issues.
  • What makes communicative reason possible is the linguistic medium through which interactions are woven together and forms of life are structured.
  • Communicative rationality is expressed in a decentered complex of pervasive, transcendentally enabling structural conditions, but it is not a subjective capacity that would tell actors what they ought to do.

Chap. 2 : The Sociology of Law versus the Philosophy of JusticeEdit

  • In contrast to sociological skepticism about law, philosophical theories of justice resolutely work out the moral content of modern legal orders. These rational constructions of law serve to justify principles according to which a well-ordered society should be set up. In the process, however, they lose touch with the reality of contemporary societies and thus have difficulties in identifying the conditions necessary for the realization of these principles.

Chap. 3 : A Reconstructive Approach to Law I: The System of RightsEdit

  • Norms appearing in the form of law entitle actors to exercise their rights or liberties. However, one cannot determine which of these laws are legitimate simply by looking at the form of individual rights. Only by bringing in the discourse principle can one show that each person is owed a right to the greatest possible measure of equal liberties that are mutually compatible.

Quotes about Between Facts and NormsEdit

  • In such declarations lies the core strategy of Between Facts and Norms. What they trace is the continual movement of a theoretical shuttlecock, from the optative to the indicative and back again, that never comes to ground at either end. If Habermas’s account of law and democracy is taxed with a fundamental abstraction from the empirical realities of a political order in which the formation of a popular will is at best fitful or vestigial, it can refer to its counterfactual vocation. If it is taxed with a complete lack of any specification of a desirable alternative, it can refer to the value of what already exists, in a bedrock of communication that only needs to be fulfilled. The result is a theory that answers to the responsibility neither of an accurate description of the real world, nor of critical proposals for a better one. It operates instead in a no man’s land between the two, in unwitting mimicry of the title of the book – not law as a mediation, but philosophy as a passe-passe between facts and norms. What actual criticisms of the social order issue from the ‘critical standard’ it offers? Where precisely are we to find the ‘efficacity’ of the idealizations it discerns in existing practices, and why are these ‘unavoidable’? Just how ‘partial’ is the inscription of norms in observable conducts, and how ‘distorted’? What proportion of reality do the ‘particles and fragments’ of reason add up to? Such questions are beyond the remit of the theory, which is designed to elude them. Its effect is apologetic. Our societies are better than we know.
    • Perry Anderson, Spectrum (2005), Ch. 5 : Norming Facts: Jürgen Habermas
  • The centred image of deliberative democracy implicitly thinks of the democratic process as one big meeting at the conclusion of which decisions are made, we hope justly. In contrast to this image, with Habermas I advocate a ‘decentred’ conception of politics and society. According to this concept, we cannot conceive of the subject-matter of democracy as the organization of society as a whole. Society is bigger than politics and outruns political institutions, and thus democratic politics must be thought of as taking place within the context of large and complex social processes the whole of which cannot come into view, let alone under decision-making control.

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