Discourse on rationality : rational choice and critical theory
The thesis contrasts two hostile and divergent intellectual paradigms in social sciences: rational choice and critical theory. Both rational choice and critical theory offer contrasting perspectives on the structures of social interaction. However, both critical theory and rational choice theory share overlapping concerns ie., both are preoccupied with determining what rational can mean in the realm of social and political interaction. In the case of rational choice paradigm, instrumental reason forms the cornerstone of the theoretical edifice. Ever since the publication of Jurgen Habermas' The lhemy qf Communicative Action Vol. / (1984) and Vol. II (1986) instrumental reason has come under severe attack. His critique anchors on a theory of communicative reason. What makes Habermas' work distinctive is that he does not regard instrumental reason as the single inevitable concomitant of modernity. Habermas sees in modernity an alternative way of conceptualising social interaction in terms of communication rather than strategy. So in a way, his work is a challenge to the defenders of modernity aiming to build a unified social science Jurgen Habermas advances the notion of communicative reason as the centerpiece of a social theory as opposed to instrumental reason. By providing a systematic grounding of the concept of reason in human language, he hopes to establish normative basis of critical theory. This model of reaching agreement or consent constitutes a process of dialogue in which reasons are exchanged between participants. This process is perceived to be a joint search for consensus. Such a dialogic concept of collective choice would necessarily work not with fixed preferences to be amalgamated (as rational choice theories do) but with preferences that are altered or modified as competing reasons are advanced in the course of discussion. In rational discussion, the only thing supposed to count is the power of better argument. Both rational choice and critical theory conceptualise politics in different ways. Rational choice theories critique democratic mechanisms failing to generate general will. Consequently, the political prescriptions offered are limited government or market. On the contrary, the political implications of Habermas' theory of deliberative democracy is anchored in the notion of liberal public sphere envisaging a cognitivist, rationalist vision in which discourse forms a critical normative basis for evaluating the political and moral principles.