The Role of Ethics in Social Theory

Essays From a Habermasian Perspective

By Tony Smith

Subjects: Ethics
Series: SUNY series in Ethical Theory
Paperback : 9780791406533, 260 pages, July 1991
Hardcover : 9780791406526, 260 pages, July 1991

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Table of contents


Part One: The Framework

Chapter I. The Role of Philosophical Discourse in Social Theory


Social Science

Social Ethics

Social Policy


Part Two: Some Ethical Issues in the Social Sciences

Chapter II. The Scope of the Social Sciences in Weber and Habermas



Critical Social Science

Chapter III. Agricultural Science and Ideology

Ideological Mechanisms in Agricultural Science

Ideology in the Family Farm Debate

Chapter IV. Two Models of Historical Materialism



Part Three: Some Ethical Evaluations of Capitalism

Chapter V. On Liberty and Equality

Chapter VI. Are Entrepreneurial Profits Prima Facie Deserved?

The Goal of Market Exchange

Entrepreneurial Profits: Genus and Species


Part Four: Three Normative Models

Chapter VII. Kant's Political Philosophy: Rechtsstaat or Council Democracy?

Kant's A Priori Argument for a Pure Republic (Rechtsstaat) and Federation of Republics

The Empirical Premises in Kant's Argument

Sketch of an Alternative Model of Institutions Embodying Kantian Principles

Chapter VIII. Rawls and the Structural Limits of the Capitalist State

Rawls's Normative Model

Structural Analysis of Rawl's Model


Chapter IX. Habermas and History: The Institutionalization of Discourse as Historical Project

The Analysis of Modernity

Habermas's Normative Model

Evaluation of Habermas's Model

The Institutionalization of Discourse: An Alternative Model

Part Five: Some Issues of Strategy and Tactics

Chapter X. Ethics and Power in the Work of Jürgen Habermas

Habermas's Communicative Ethic

Habermas on Power

Habermas on the Priority of Communicative Action


Chapter XI. Habermas on the University: Bildung in the Age of Technology

The Changing Function of the University

Two Alternative Strategies Regarding the Contemporary University

Habermas's Strategic Orientation


Selected Bibliography



This book defends the derivation of the ethical principle of universalizability presented by Jürgen Habermas, and illustrates the importance of this principle for both social science and social policy. Beginning with a comprehensive analysis of social theory, Smith divides the theory into nine distinct branches, each devoted to a fundamental question; three branches fall under social science, three under social ethics, and the last three make up social policy. He shows in detail how each branch has its own methodologies and basic categories, while being systematically connected to the others as well. Next, he makes a compelling defense of Habermas's main contribution to social ethics and contrasts Habermas's rational foundation for ethics with the decisionism defended by Max Weber. Smith then examines the implications of the principle of universalizability for a number of important issues in social theory.

Tony Smith is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Iowa State University of Science and Technology. He is the author of The Logic of Marx's Capital, also published by SUNY Press.