Vol 6, No 1 (2010) Habermas’ Formal Pragmatics and the Speech Act of Stephen


E. Alfred Knight


The concept of formal pragmatics exhibits the potential for rationality that is supposed to be implicit in the everyday language practices of societies. It is located in certain idealisations that guide communicative action to the extent that communication is linked to validity. While this reconstructive theory seeks to identify universal presuppositions of everyday communication in modernsocieties, this paper will show that it can be transposed onto an ancient communication (Stephen’s speech) as an example of communicative action. Interpreting Stephen’s speech according to Habermas’ formal pragmatics in the communicative framework, infers a conception of purpose and potential to build on this example for other speech acts and communicative processes in the Bible. The problem with communicative rationality is that it cannot be reduced to any local context without the risk of it becoming useless for universal application and falling into moral relativism. However, the Bible is full of idealised normative suppositions that can provide standards for justifiable purposive and illocutionary activity. Even though Habermas hopes to provide a post-metaphysical alternative to pre-modern ideals of normativity, it will be shown that the pre-modern biblical text can still be an inspiration for the communicative rationality he sought after. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to analyse the speech act of Stephen in Acts 6:8–7:60 in relation to his formal pragmatics within the context of communicative action, as an example of critical biblical interpretation.


Acts of the Apostles; Stephen; Habermas


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