Navigation: This page 'ag.breakdown.html' ---> Comparison with Habermas ---> External Thinking ---> Main Page. HELP. Admin. Contact.

Agreement: A Comparison of Habermasian and Dooyeweerdian Approaches

In communication, how is agreement possible? From a study of Habermas, we might expect that breakdown in communication is the norm and agreement is hard to obtain [Klein, 2002]. A number of mechanisms have been proposed to obtain agreement: sincerity, social appropriateness, instrumental effectiveness, and propositional truth. The most frequent breakdown is about what is true [ibid].

But Dooyeweerd has a different slant, different in two ways that might at least help and enrich the Habermasian view and that seems to be more in line with everyday experience. Philosophy that accounts more naturally for everyday intuitive experience is always to be preferred to philosophy that either dismisses everyday experience or distorts it to fit into its own theoretical mould.

Types of Breakdown in Communication

First, Dooyeweerd suggests that there are two dimensions of breakdown in communication, that are entirely distinct.

The Aspectual Dimension

Each of the aspects provides a different type of breakdown, or rather, a different positive functioning that enables agreement. Communication is centrally of the lingual aspect, but the four mentioned above seem to relate almost exactly to four of Dooyeweerd's aspects. Three are anticipated or retrocipated by the lingual, while one is the lingual itself:

To Dooyeweerd each aspect provides laws that enable meaningful and healthy functioning - that is, in terms of our discussion here, mechanisms that enable agreement. But no aspect is absolute. So no aspect can ever yield complete or perfect agreement (and so, the Habermasian ideal speech can never be realised in practice). Just as the non-absoluteness of aspects is a blessing rather than a curse, so this type of breakdown is not an unfortunate departure from the ideal, but can bring about great blessing. for example, poetry would be impossible if we were to achieve the Habermasian ideal.

In this way, we can begin to understand that there is a variety of types of mechanism and of breakdown, each with different meaning and different importance. Further, given that Dooyeweerd proposed fifteen aspects, it is likely that there are yet other types of breakdown that are significant, such as those that anticipate the economic, the aesthetic, the juridical, the ethical aspects. These possibilities need exploration. For example, giving way to the other in debate is a lingual anticipation of the ethical aspect of self-giving.

With and Against Norms

Each non-determinative aspect provides norms for healthy (human) living and functioning. In the normative aspects, we have freedom, both within the norms and to go against the norms. But, however we respond to the norms, there will be repercussions as defined by the aspects.

This gives us two types of breakdown in each (normative) aspect: with and against the norms of the aspect. These can easily be found in the everyday lifeworld. Consider the four types of mechanism above:

Mechanism Normative breakdown Anti-normative breakdown
Sincerity irony, humour Deceit
Social appropriateness Social ineptness,
deliberately attracting attention for good reasons
Rudeness, enmity, etc.
Instrumental effectiveness ? Undermining someone's valid effectiveness
Propositional truth Mistakes Lies

The normative breakdowns are all valid, and in line with the norms of the aspects, and need have no harmful effects. But the anti-normative breakdowns usually do some harm. We can extend this, via other aspects, to consider other types of breakdown, both normative and anti-normative, such as hogging the conversation (ethical aspect), sneering (another pistic mis-function), volubility (economic aspect), and so on.

Optimism or Pessimism about Agreement and Breakdown

Dooyeweerd is less pessimistic than our Habermasian thinker above seems to be. We can see three sources of breakdown above:

While the Habermasian thinker might wish that all types are to avoided, and would thus be pessimistic about human communication, to the Dooyeweerdian thinker only the third type is to be avoided. Only the third type does actual harm. The first type, it seems, allows positive experiences of life such as poetry. The second type enhances the diversity of living.

Now, of course, since each person's response to aspects is private to them, the actual responses cannot be known for certain by others. It is likely that most of our communication is a mix of all three of the above, rather than being purely one or the other. For example, we might use irony (normative), but do so sharply because we want to put the other person down (anti-normative), but the latter might be heavily disguised by a smile. So, though Dooyeweerd might provide understanding of the nature of agreements and breakdowns, and that understanding is useful in real situations, it itself is not absolute, and can only take us so far. However, it is a useful distance that it can take us.


Heinz K Klein (2002) "An Introductory Habermas Workshop" given at University of Salford, 15th January 2002.
This page is part of a collection of pages that compares Dooyeweerd with Habermas, which is within a subsite that links to various thinkers, in The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2010 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Number of visitors to these pages: Counter. Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Created: 12 February 2002 Last updated: 17 June 2010 .nav, new .end, rid unet.