Sources and Boundaries of Institutional and Linguistic Normativity. Towards a Critical Social Ontology.

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Since Hegel and until speech acts theory and contemporary social ontology it came to full development the idea that most of reasons, duties, rights, entitlements, have to do, against Kant, with our participation to social, linguistic and institutional practices of the lifeform to which we belong rather than or more than with our dealing with “substantive moral principles”.But if we accept, with Hegel, that every individual rational determination of the will is justified as such only as a part of our collective Sittlichkheit (Hegel, 1967, cf. Di Lorenzo Ajello, 2009); if we accept from speech acts theory that there are commitments, rights and entitlements specific to every type of speech acts (Searle, 1969; 2001; 2010; cf. Di Lorenzo Ajello, 2000, and Di Lorenzo Ajello, 2003); and if we accept from social ontology that joint commitment (Gilbert, 1989; 1996; 2006) and the collective imposition of status functions give rise to rationally binding, desire-independent reasons for action (Searle, 1995; 2001; 2010; cf. Di Lorenzo Ajello, 2009), then the following question arises: How is it possible that we can rationally judge that one should not have done what one has in fact done, even though that action was based on desire-independent reasons grounded on the commitments and constraints inherent to our linguistic, institutional practices?That is: if human reason is necessarily embedded in the context of particular lifeforms and is justified only in the light of the background of mutual recognition, how can we be rationally entitled to not accepting what appears to us as unacceptable despite its institutional justifiability? (cf. Arendt, 1964). In facing this question I begin with considering that mutual recognition or collective intentionality make by themselves room for the view that every kind of institutional act, as well as every particular command or promise or assertion, is legitimized only insofar as it is collectively recognized, and is therefore criticizable whereas this legitimacy condition is not satisfied. I further elaborate this view through a deflationary reinterpretation of Kant’s categorical imperative, following Hare (1952) and Searle (2001), whereas every speech act and every reason for action would be constrained by a logical requirement of generalization, which would lead us to be rationally bound to act in the interest of others. But if we are rationally bound to take into account the interest of others among the conditions that rationally justify our acts, then it is possible to articulate a “discourse ethics” (Habermas, 1984) which includes a normative criterion of “fairness” among the conditions for the normative validity of every action, linguistic or not, as an act that can be right or wrong not only for procedural reasons. Following Rawls (1971) and Hare (1952) I argue for the overriding character of this criterion with respect to other normative criteria (such as success, coherence, conformity to status functions and constitutive rules): an idea some trace of which can be found in Austin’s intuition that one has not only to have reasons to perform a speech act, but also in performing it (Austin, 1962). I conclude with the hypothesis that this criterion, together with the criterion of collective recognition, can be extended so as to allow us to criticize the power connected to institutional facts whereas this power is not legitimized with respect to a fairness criterion (cf. Di Lorenzo Ajello, 2000; 2001).
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteThe nature of social reality
Numero di pagine15
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2013


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