Validity Claims and Consensus Theory of Truth

In communicative language use, if I am challenged I am expected to produce a satisfactory answer to that challenge, which will then be either accepted or rejected by my communicative partner.

There are four types of validity claims, which are also mapped onto four domains of reality:

Claim What? Domain
Truth Challenge to the cognitive content of the utterance ‘The’ world of external nature
Rightness Challenge to the speaker’s right to initiate a conversation. Roles are normatively prescribed, so the validity claim demands that speakers consider the legitimacy of those roles or relevant norms, and their relationship to them ‘Our’ world of society
Intelligibility The basic sense of an utterance may be glossed or interpreted by the hearer in the event of a challenge Language itself
Sincerity The degree to which an utterance accurately reflects the speaker’s intentions ‘My’ world of internal nature


Empirical evidence or experience disrupts our taken for granted assumptions on which we usually base our actions. Far from supporting the current language game, evidence is actually a disrupting force that runs counter to our normal routine. Thus, an appeal to further experience will only redeem the claim in the most humdrum of cases.

A proposition is said to be true if and only if it could be accepted by everyone else who could enter into discourse with me. However, this is not to say that truth is relative to a specific community. Rather, truth is determined by the agreement not just of those directly present, but also of all those who could be present. As such, a proposition that is held to be true now is done so only in the most provisional sense, continually waiting for further disruptive evidence or argumentation. Here Habermas is close to Peirce, in the sense that truth is arrived at within a community of participants, but is never finally arrived at as it is subject to continual revision.

Truth is therefore redeemed in discourse, which is contrasted with the more mundane communication. Discourse is defined by certain normative requirements, for instance, that no competent speaker can be excluded from conversation. Habermas acknowledges the circularity of this claim: insofar as participants cannot be excluded, their competence cannot be established independently of discourse itself. This is not necessarily problematic, however, since it coheres with the view that truth is only provisional.


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