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1. Towards a Political-Philosophical Framework
In his book, ‘Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy’ (1996), Habermas provides a political-philosophical framework for the problem of law-making and law enforcement in modern democracies. I suggest that some of his ideas and arguments are pertinent to the establishment and implementation of a national quality assurance system for higher education; and in particular to the perceived tension in the HE quality discourse between improvement and accountability.
Before discussing Habermas’ discourse theory of law and democracy and its application to QA, we need to briefly re-cap on his earlier work and in particular on his ‘Theory of Communicative Action’, on which this later work builds.
This theory suggests that social coordination is effected through language (i.e. discourse). It asserts that any competent speaker should, under suitable conditions, be able to make truth claims and moral claims (validity claims) that hearers can accept, solely on the basis of good reasons (rational argument). This ‘ideal speech’ situation is based on three assumptions: That members of a discourse community share a common understanding of the meaning of words, phrases, etc.,
- That they consider themselves rationally accountable,
- That they assume that when they reach a mutually agreed resolution, that this is based on defensible arguments that will not subsequently be proven to be false or mistaken,
- That if any of these conditions are shown not to have been met, this is sufficient grounds for re-opening the discussion.