Taking as its point of departure a systematic presentation of the various types of misunderstandings, ranging from the most banal and benign to the most perverse and pernicious, this text principally examines the ways in which they can pave the way for disagreement. While it is possible that a rational examination of motives and sources pertaining to a misunderstanding may help to minimize its undesirable effects upon communication, a misunderstanding may also signal the incontrovertible and irresolvable nature of a disagreement. This paper, therefore—while basically Habermasian in its orientation—also questions the validity of Jürgen Habermas's premises regarding the ethics of communication: the scope given to speculative reason and the effectiveness of an explicative metadiscourse for clarifying misunderstanding or resolving conflicts; the possibility of authentic discourse in certain conflict situations; consensus as the ultimate goal of dialogue. Although Habermas stipulates that the expectation of validity is incumbent upon any authentic exchange, this paper underscores instead the expectation of satisfaction, which compels all individuals seeking to communicate. Through this comparison, the paper attempts to show that even the most tenacious disagreement originates in this affective nexus, and to show as well how we may construct ethical practices that are contingent upon disagreement.

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