Blogging and Jürgen Habermas


I am the point of finishing an MSc dissertation on measuring the quality of political debate on the Web. As I result I got to know about the philosopher Jürgen Habermas and in particular his concept of communicative rationality.  It is a big concept but an important part of it is identifying what is required for rational constructive debate.  Political theorists such as Dahlberg, Steenberg and Fishkin have built on these principles as part of the Deliberative Democracy movement and come up with more concrete criteria for “good” political debate (unfortunately all slightly different).  As I studied them I thought it would be interesting to see how they worked as criteria for blogging and on-line debate in general.

Here are Steenberg’s criteria which are as good as any:

I. Justification

Assertions are backed up with justifications i.e. give evidence or at least an argument for what you assert – seems obvious but often omitted

II. Common Good

Arguments are for the common good and not for the benefit of particular citizens.  I guess most people at least pretend they are doing this.

III. Respect

Discussion is on the basis of respect for participants and their arguments.  This one is the one that is most commonly breached on the internet.  In fact I would say it is more often breached than not.

IV. Constructive politics

Discussion is constructive and attempts to find a mutually acceptable solution.  Not sure about this – much internet debate is about examining ideas – there is no requirement to come up with a solution at all.

V. Participation

All citizens affected by the deliberation are involved (presence) and have equal ability to express their views (voice).  This is more to do with the initial set up of the debate but certainly things like moderation practice can effectively limit participation.  But also subtler things like the sheer quantity or size of comments from one or two participants can drown out contrary opinions.

VI. Authenticity

Participants do not attempt to deceive each other. Clearly important – deception takes place all the time in internet debate – from a simple sock puppet to false credentials or straightforward lies.

Personally I am going to make a bigger effort to stick to these principles.  I really think they capture the foundation of rational debate and make blogging worthwhile.  Which is why I have put them up here for public viewing Smile


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