Application of the Critical Theory

All these terms are presented by Richard Burns, creator of the Critical Theory Forum, to help those who are just beginning their study of Habermas's Communicative Action, Vol I & II.

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Action -- as used herein, is the praxis of emancipation. It is a sub-species of Communicative Action (Habermas, 1979, p. 209).

Ad Hominem -- (Latin, argument against the man) arguments divert attention from the validity claim. This involves arguing against the person, or rejecting a person's views by attacking or abusing their personality, character, motives, intentions, qualifications, et cetera instead of providing evidence why the views are invalid.

  1. M responds to a position N has taken by attacking N rather than N's position.
  2. N's position can be judged without any reference to N's person.

(Angeles, 1992, p. 105; Hughes, 1996, pp. 148-150; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 42-49)

Amphiboly -- (syntactical ambiguity) arises from ambiguity of grammatical construction (as distinguished from semantic ambiguity of individual words), a premise being accepted, or proved, on the basis of one interpretation of the grammatical construction, and then used in a way which is correct only on the basis of another interpretation of the grammatical structure (syntactics). Arguing to conclusions based on amphibolous statements results from misplaced modifiers, loosely applied adverbs, elliptical constructions, and omitted punctuation.
(Angeles, 1992, pp. 8, 106; Hughes, 1996, pp. 64-65; Runes, 1979, p. 10).

Improper Appeal to Authority -- (from Latin, argumentum ad verecundiam) goes together with knowledge. Appeals to authority should be restricted to domains which can be characterized as pursuing and arriving at knowledge and truth. Some disciplines restrict notions of knowledge, truth, and fact so no clear application exits. Fundamental here, is a consensus on ontology, epistemology, and methodology.

  • Rule   I: The field must be one in which there is genuine knowledge. If an authority is appealed to in support of a statement, Q, then Q must belong to some specifiable set of statements, S, which constitutes a domain of knowledge.
  • Rule  II: The particular matter in support of which an authority is cited must lie within their field of expertise. The authority must be generally recognized by the experts in the field. If M is appealed to as an authority on Q, then Q must belong to a class of statements, S, on which M is an authority.
  • Rule III: There should be a consensus among the experts in the field regarding the particular matter in support of which the authority is cited. If there is no consensus among authorities on S, to which Q belongs, then we must note this lack of a consensus in any appeal to authority about Q, and qualify the conclusion accordingly.
  • Rule  IV: The authority, M, whose judgement is appealed to, must not be in a situation of bias, or conflict of interest about Q.
  • Rule   V: The authority must be identified. If M is appealed to as an authority on S, then M must be identified.

(Hughes, 1996, pp. 146-8, 160-161; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 145-158)

Avowal -- Representative speech acts.

Black and White -- arguments arise from
(a) the use of sharp (black-and-white) distinctions despite the lack of factual or theoretical support, or
(b) classifying any mid-point between the extremes as one of the extremes.
(Angles, 1992, 105).

Communicative Action -- is consent-oriented aimed at reaching a rational agreement and meaning. It presupposes mutually recognized validity claims making possible direct understanding about the validity claims. It is a sub-species of Social Action. Two elements of communicative action are action oriented to reaching understanding and consensual action.
(Habermas, 1979, p. 209).

Comprehensible -- used herein refers to one of Habermas' validity claims. Operating at the deep-structure level of reality and language, comprehensibility herein refers to linguistic intelligibility.
(Berstein, 1995, p. 48; Habermas, 1979b, p. 68; Held, 1980, p. 338)

Consensual Action -- involves two aspects of action and discourse. It presupposes agreement about implicitly raised validity claims as background consensus because of common definitions of a situation. Allows the use of strategic elements to guide discourse to the truth, and is a sub-species of Communication Action.
(Habermas, 1979, p. 209)

Constantive -- speech acts (e.g., asserting, reporting, explaining, contesting) mark the distinction between being and illusion. Here there is an inherent obligation to return to the source of experience in which the speaker grounds the claim. If this grounding does not dispel doubt, then the problematic truth claim becomes the subject of theoretical and 'methodological' discourse.
(McCarthy, 1978, 285)

Critique -- has both a negative and positive interpretation (Connerton, 1976). Reflection on a system of constraints that are humanly produced (negative) and the rational reconstruction of the conditions that make language, cognition, and action possible (positive).

Dialectics -- is the systematic analysis of the tension or interconnections between opposites (Bhasker, 1983). Systematically understanding the inconsistencies, tensions, or contradictions between subject and object.

Dialogue -- is a sharing of experience that results in a more and more refined and clarified interpretation. According to Leifer (1986), dialogue can be understood in terms of three phases:

  1. preliminary dialogue - a sharing of individual opinions about the phenomena;
  2. transitional dialogue - further discussion and examination of the experience that leads to newer, more immediate understanding of the issue in question, and may be tied to group or individual interests;
  3. fundamental dialogue - further discussion that leads to a building on previous themes and an interweaving of these themes as they are further illuminated by the data. It is out of this dialogue that a collective understanding emerges.

Discourse -- is understood as purposive action pertaining to a validity claim. Participating in discourse means seeking to succeed in doing something to convince, refute, arrive at a conclusion, and so on (Braaten, 1991, p. 44). It examines as hypothetic and thematic, validity claims raised for statements and norms. Participants in discourse retain a cooperative attitude. It is a sub-species of Communicative Action and of Consensual Action.
(Habermas, 1979, p. 209)

Distorted Communication -- is communication that reproduces those belief systems that "could not be validated if subjected to rational discourse" (Schroyer, 1973, 163). These would include lies and coerced consensus.

Diversion -- groups fallacies which divert attention from the proposition at issue. The effect is the tendency to distract or shift the focus of the argument. Typically occurring within adversarial contexts, they include: straw man, ad hominem, guilt by association, and red herring.
(Johnson & Blair, 1977, p. 34)

Dubious Assumption -- occurs where a sentence or position, Q, depends upon an assumption, R, if the truth of R is a necessary condition of the truth, or intelligibility, or appropriateness, of Q.

  1. M employs an assumption, Q, in an argument - either a proposition underlying a state premise, or a missing premise.
  2. Q is debatable or false (Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 135-136).

Emancipation -- is the elimination of impediments to human freedom. Marx ties emancipation directly to the idea of self-determination (Lukes, 1983).

Faulty Analogy -- involves two situations which are similar in some respects, but a particular feature fails to support the conclusion. An analogy may be explicit or implicit, and draws its plausibility from similarities.

  1. An analogy is offered in support of the conclusion of an argument.
  2. The two things being compared are not similar in the respect required to support the conclusion (Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 65-68).

Force Field -- refers to the moment constructed of past and present moments, in anticipation of the future (Jay, 1993, p. 8).

Free Trade -- is an economic concept used for analytical purposes to denote trade unfettered by government-imposed trade restrictions. It is also used as a general term to denote the end result of a process of trade liberalization. Freer trade is the comparative term used to denote circumstances between current practice and the achievement of free trade (Hart, 1994, p. 426).

General Symmetry -- refers to a situation in which all stakeholders have and equal and unrestrained opportunity to engage in discourse (McCarthy, 1978).

Good life -- is an "aesthetic undertaking" posed as the question concerning the interpretation of the existential situation of humanity and, resulting from this, as "the search for an integral mode of existence" (Günther, 1993, pp. 158-159). The Socratic-Platonic thesis presents the good as universal and teachable knowledge to guide appropriate action in every situation possible. Aristotle (344BC, pp. 84-100) conception of the good goes beyond this to appropriate action under unforeseeable and changeable conditions. Phronsis guides the social actor in realizing the good life.

Guilt by Association -- involves a faulty analogy by suggesting a similarity with another person or position, but is similar to ad hominem in form, though the attack against the person is indirect through a group or doctrine. The bridge between the individual and the group is how the guilt is transferred.

  1. M attacks N (or N's position), based on some alleged association between N (or N's position) and another person, group, or belief(s).
  2. Either
    (a) the alleged association does not exist at all, or
    (b) it does not provide adequate support for M's criticism of N (or N's position) (Hughes, 1996, pp. 252-253; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 49-53).

Hasty Conclusion -- (or jumping to conclusions) occurs when premises of an argument fail to provide sufficient support for the conclusion, even though the premises may pass be relevant. Premises must be adequate to support its conclusion.

  1. M adduces Q, R, S, . . . as sufficient support for T.
  2. Q, R, S, . . ., taken together, are not sufficient support for T (Angeles, 1992, p. 108; Hughes, 1996, p. 157; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 17-22).

Hermeneutics -- or interpretive philosophy, is essentially a philosophy of understanding, which elucidates how it is that one person comes to understand the actions or words, or any other meaningful product, of another (Lavoie, 1990, p. xiii).

Ideal Speech Situation -- is neither an empirical phenomenon nor simply a construct, but a reciprocal supposition unavoidable in discourse. It is a 'fiction' which is operatively effective in communication. As such, there is an anticipation of an ideal speech situation. As a validity claim, it is a critical standard against which every actually realized consensus can be called into question and tested (Habermas, 1975, p. 258). This is a situation of symmetrical free speech in which all participants have an equal chance to employ constantive, regulative, and representative speech acts (McCarthy, 1978). This means discourse free from distorted communication in which all the participants have an effective equality of chances to take part in the dialogue. The conditions for an ideal speech situation are not linguistic in character, but rather social and material conditions (Bernstein, 1995, pp. 50-51). Habermas' ideal speech situation is designed to be a directly practical alternative to class struggle, a way of achieving rational consensus (Agger, 1992, p. 186) through the non-violent force of the better argument.

Illocutionary Act -- is defined by the meaning expressed by the speaker, which has rational force. That is, the speech act of the speaker motivates the hearer "to accede to a rationally . . . binding force" (Habermas, 1981, p. 278). An illocutionary act is included in the prelocutionary act (Skjei, 1985, p. 88). According to Habermas, the illocutionary components bring about an explicit "claim of propositional truth, normative rightness or subjective truthfulness" (1989, p. 112) in an explicit mode (1981, p. 289).

Impersonation -- is a category of inductive fallacies which impersonate good arguments. While most fallacies counterfeit sound patters of argument, several types exhibit this strongly. These include: a) arguments from analogy; b) appeals to fairness and precedent; and c) arguments about causal claims (Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 65-94).

Intimidation -- is a category of inductive fallacies whose arguments attempt to pressure or coerce acceptance of a conclusion. This category typically includes appeals to authority, popularity, and dire predictions on failure to acquiesce (Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 145-169).

Latently Strategic Action -- is composed of two elements of manipulation and systemically distorted communication (Habermas, 1979, p. 209).

Lifeworld -- is "the horizon within which communicative actions are 'always already' moving . . . we can think of the lifeworld as represented by a culturally transmitted and linguistically organized stock of interpretative patterns . . . . [It] is given to the experiencing subject as unquestionable" (Habermas, 1987, pp. 119, 124, 130), and constitutes the intersubjective horizon of the socio-cultural world (Crossley, 1996, 73). This enclosing horizon affords existential security (care) necessary for communicative action to be tolerable (Myerson, 1994, 79). "[T]he risk of disagreement" within the morphogenetic horizon of the lifeworld is "counterbalanced" by a conservative reservoir of "interpretive work [by] preceding generations" (Habermas, 1981, 70).

Manipulation -- is conscious deception, where at least one other participant is intentionally deceived about the strategic attitude cloaked in a pseudo-consensual manner. It is a sub-species of strategic communication (Habermas, 1976, p. 209).

Misleading Context -- argues by misrepresenting, distorting, omitting, or quoting something out of context (Angeles, 1992, p. 108).

Perlocutionary Act -- is defined by the speaker's non-expressed intention, and are one type of covert strategic action. An illocutionary act is included in the prelocutionary act (Skjei, 1985, p. 88). Habermas defines perlocutions narrowly as special cases of latent strategic action (1985, p. 108). They are a subclass of teleological actions expressed in speech acts where the speaker's aims are not declare or admitted (Habermas, 1981, p. 292).

Petitio Principii -- (also known as, begging the question, circular reasoning or vicious circularity) occurs when its premises presuppose, directly or indirectly, the truth of its conclusion. The function of the premises of an argument is to support its conclusion, and if we have to accept the truth of the conclusion in order to accept the premises then the premises have failed to do their job. Proving the fallacy involves identifying the culpable premise, which is best done by standardizing the argument.

  1. One of the premises of an argument is identical to the conclusion or logically equivalent to it; or
  2. One of the premises of an argument is such that we could not accept it unless we had already accepted the conclusion (Angeles, 1992, pp. 106-107; Hughes, 1996, pp. 130-131; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 179-183; and Runes, 1962, p. 108).

Phronsis -- entails knowledge of the goods (ends, goals) of rational human conduct, and knowledge of means and their proper application in achieving those desirable rational goods. Distinguished by praxis from theoretical knowledge and practical skill (Angeles, 1994, p. 228; Runes, 1962, p. 235). Used here to mean step-by-step goodness, not just teleological goodness. Habermas interprets phronsis as a negative in constrast to the positive claims of epistéme, the faculty of knowledge (1993b, 21).

Praxis -- is the free, universal, and creative activity through which humans create and shape their historical human world and themselves (Petrovic, 1983a). The term is often used to describe practical knowledge (bringing theory and action together) that is constructive and life enhancing.

Prejudgement -- is a category of inductive fallacies which involve reaching a conclusion without benefit of sufficient evidence (Angeles, 1992, p. 108; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 125-141).

Problematic Premise -- occurs in violation of the following two principles:

Principle I: Each premise of an argument should be defended, unless exempted by the context of argumentation.
An exemption by context of argumentation occurs when:

  1. The premise is self-evidently true.
  2. The premise asserts a proposition that is a matter of common knowledge in the audience to which it is addressed.
  3. The arguer has some special warrant, status, or qualification for making the particular claim.
  4. The premise has already been defended elsewhere and the defense is referred to.
  5. Principle II: The less crucial and less controversial a premise is, the less serious the failure to defend it (Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 7-8, 22-29).

    Provincialism -- involves a narrowness of view, thought, or interests. This inductive fallacy tends to stereotypic thought stemming from attitudes of racism, chauvinism, sexism, nationalism, colonialism, and ethnocentrism. Such viewpoints would use unduly selective evidence favourable to the interests.

    1. In the defense of some conclusion, M employs Q as a premise, and;
      a) M's belief that Q is true is unreasonable because the belief has been formulated prior to and without the benefit of the total body of evidence; or,

    2. b) M's belief that Q is true is unreasonable because the evidence presented by M for Q is selective.
    3. The most plausible explanation for M's holding Q is M's identification with some socio-cultural group to which M belongs (e.g., country, culture, race, sex) (Angeles, 1992, pp. 108-109; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 125-131).

    Public Sphere -- means the realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed Habermas (1989c, p. 136). The public sphere is constituted by means of debate and discussion of issues of common concern. But not all views have equal access to the public sphere.

    Questionable Cause -- are causal relationships involving arguments to causes and arguments from causes. The causal claims may be particular or general. Particular causal claims are generally based on post hoc ergo propter hoc inferences. General causal claims look to spotty correlation only, without checking non-supportive features. Causal claims must be both necessary and sufficient to produce the effect. General causal claims may confuse necessary with sufficient causal conditions.

    1. (a) M argues to a particular causal claim without providing adequate support; or
      (b) M argues to a general causal claim without providing adequate support.
    2. M argues from a causal claim (particular or general) to a recommendation for action or policy, and
      (a) the causal claim is not warranted, or
      (b) the causal claim does not adequately support the conclusion (Angeles, 1992, p. 108; Hughes, 1996, pp. 72-76, 169-172; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 82-94).

    Red Herring -- is the result of ignoring a criticism of an argument by shifting attention to another subject. Introducing an irrelevant issue into the debate invites digression away from the original topic.

    1. N has made a claim, or posed a question, that is implicitly or explicitly critical of a position M holds or identifies with.
    2. M's response to N introduces an issue that is not strictly relevant, and thereby instigates a shift of focus in the exchange (Angeles, 1977, p. 109; Hughes, 1996, pp. 251-252; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 53-59).

    Reflection -- is the thoughtful and deliberate examination of underlying assumptions, motives, values, or intentions of groups and individuals (Fuhrman, 1984). Or it can be an examination of the underlying assumptions and the social context that ground a theory or method.

    Regulative Speech Acts -- (e.g., requests, warnings, recommendations, advice) mark the distinction between what is and what ought to be. Here there is an inherent obligation to return to the normative context from which the speaker justifies the claim. If this justification does not dispel doubt then the validity of the underlying norm is called into question (McCarthy, 1978, 285).

    Reification -- is the objectification of abstractions. For example, reification occurs when researchers develop the concept "attitudes," then treat this concept as though it behaves according to the laws of the physical world (Petrovic, 1983b).

    Representative Speech Acts -- also known as Avowal (e.g., reveal, expose, admit, express) in conjunction with intentional verbs (e.g., acts of belief, hope, fear, desire) mark the distinction between the real self and appearances. Here there is an inherent obligation to be truthful when revealing inner nature (McCarthy, 1978, 285-286).

    Rightness -- used herein refers to one of Habermas' validity claims. Operating within the domain of the shared social world of reality, rightness herein refers to a basic conformative attitude from an interactive mode of communication. The speaker establishes legitimate interpersonal relations (as commands, advice, recommendations, requests, warnings) in a regulative manner, and is expected to present justification to support the validity claim (Habermas, 1979b, p. 68; Held, 1980, p. 338).

    Slanting -- involves stacking the debate by:

    1. M deliberately omits, de-emphasises, or overemphasizes certain point's T in N's position.
    2. The sense of T in M's argument is different from the sense of T in N's position, relevant to defending N's conclusion or refuting M's argument.
    3. All relevant and important evidence Q of N's position must be faithfully represented in M's argument which cited N's position (Angeles, 1992, 109; Hughes, 1996, pp. 253-254).

    Sleight of Hand -- is a category of inductive fallacies which hinge on deceit of word and phrase usage. Included in this category would be questionable classification, ambiguity, vagueness (Johnson & Blair, 1977, p. 99).

    Slippery Slope -- arguments are generally chain-arguments leading to dire-consequences. The causal chain is dubious and unsupported. Slippery slope arguments are based on empirical causal forces which dissolve when the causal chain is unfounded.

    1. M claims that if W is permitted, it will lead to X, X will lead to Y, and so on to Z.
    2. M holds that Z is undesirable and therefore W should not be permitted.
    3. At least one of the steps in the causal chain is unsupported and open to challenge.

    Poorly constructed causal chain arguments commit slippery slope, but poorly constructed arguments from precedent commit faulty analogy (Hughes, 1996, pp. 165-169; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 163-169).

    Social Action -- involves two lines of communication, communicative action and strategic action (Habermas, 1979, 209).

    Special Pleading -- occurs when (a) accepting an idea or criticism when applied to an opponent's argument but rejecting it when applied to one's own argument, or (b) rejecting an idea or criticism when applied to an opponent's argument but accepting it when applied to one's own (Angeles, 1992, p. 109).

    Strategic Communication -- is purposive-rational and oriented to success. Unlike communicative action, it recognizes no mutual validity claims, and understanding can only be indirectly inferred from indicators to determination. It is a sub-species of Social Action. Strategic action involves two elements of openly strategic action and latently strategic action (Habermas, 1979, 209).

    Straw Man -- occurs when presenting an opponent's position in a weak or misrepresented version so that it can easily be refuted. This implies an intent to misrepresent the opponent's position, but straw man may also occur from misinterpreting the opponents position.

    1. M attributes to N the view or position, Q.
    2. N's position is not Q, but a different one, R.
    3. M criticizes Q as though it were the view or position actually held by N (Angeles, 1992, p. 109; Hughes, 1996, p. 152-153; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 34-41).

    Subsidy -- An economic benefit granted by a government to producers of goods, often to strengthen their competitive position. The subsidy may be direct (a cash grant) or indirect (e.g., low-interest export credits guaranteed by a government agency). (Hart, 1994, p. 431).

    Substruction -- is the process of extending the dimensions of a single type in order to form the full typology of which it is a part (Lazarsfeld in Bailey, 1994, p. 24). The classification process of underlying or supportive structures of taxon. The opposite process is to begin with a full typology and eliminate some of its cells through various strategies.

    Systemically Distorted Communication -- is ideological, unconscious deception, where at least one participant deceives themselves about the pseudo-consensus. It is a sub-species of strategic communication (Habermas, 1979, p. 209).

    Taxa, Taxon, and Taxonomy -- see Typology.

    Totality -- encompasses everything that has come before; thus, the totality is the complete set of dynamic interrelationships that make up a concrete historical period, including imagined ends. According to Meszaros (1983, 480), the totality is the "structured and historically determined overall complex." From a critical perspective, individual and group actions need to be understood in the context of the totality.

    Trivium -- (from Latin, trivium, a place where three ways [roads] meet). The three philosophic or linguistic studies of grammar, rhetoric, and logic (including dialectic). Together with the quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music), these studies made up the seven liberal arts of education in medieval times (Angeles, 1992, 316).

    Truth -- used herein refers to one of Habermas' validity claims. Operating within the domain of the "external" world of reality, truth herein refers to a basic objectifying attitude of communication from a cognitive level. The speaker represents facts (as assertions, contesting, descriptions, explanations) in a constantive manner, and is expected to present grounds to support the validity claim (Habermas, 1979b, p. 68; Held, 1980, p. 338).

    Truth Claims -- see Validity Claims.

    Truthfulness -- used herein refers to one of Habermas' validity claims. Operating within the domain of the "internal" world of reality, truthfulness herein refers to a basic expressive attitude of communication from an expressive level. The speaker discloses their subjectivity (as admissions, revelations, or deceptions) in an avowal manner, and is expected to present confirmations to support the validity claim (Habermas, 1979b, p. 68; Held, 1980, p. 338).

    Two Wrongs -- (two wrongs make a right, also known as, you also from the Latin tu quoque) is a special case of ad hominem, which seeks to elevate the instinct to retaliate into an argument, by claiming that a wrong act is not wrong. The tu quoque fallacy occurs when the conclusion of an argument claims that an accusation is unwarranted and supports it by claiming that the accuser is also open to a similar accusation.

    1. M's action, X, has come under criticism.
    2. N (or M) tries to defend either X or M by citing Y, Z, or W - allegedly similar actions (the wrongness of which is granted or at least not challenged).
    3. Y, Z or W have no relevance to the defense of X or M for having done X (Angeles, 1992, p. 109; Hughes, 1996, p. 151-152; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 73-81).

    Typology -- is another term for classification which is usually multi-dimensional and conceptual. One cell of a typological table is a taxon, from the taxonomy. Taxonomy generally refers to classification of empirical entities. Multiple cells within a classification table are taxa. These types of types are also called sub-types or sub-taxa (Bailey, 1994).

    Universal Pragmatics and Universal Validity Claims -- see Validity Claims.

    Vagueness -- is a linguistic sleight of hand. In contrast with ambiguity which has two or more different but usually quite precise meanings, vagueness lacks a precise meaning. This may occur when no agreement can be reached whether the word or its contradictory applies to a given situation, when the word has borderline applications, and when the denotation of the word is not precisely known or ascertainable from common usage and no way to delimit or determine its application.

    1. An argument contains a premise, or a conclusion, Q, the meaning of which is indeterminate.
    2. The indeterminateness of Q makes it impossible to assess Q's acceptability as a premise or its significance as a conclusion (Angeles, 1992, p. 328; Hughes, 1996, pp. 61-63, 243-244; Johnson & Blair, 1977, pp. 115-122).

    Validity Claims -- are used in the communicative speech act where language is the medium of three interrelating worlds of the objective, the social, or the subjective. They form three relations to reality: representing facts, establishing legitimate (or valid) interpersonal relations, and expressing one's subjectivity. Language possesses two axes: an orientation to communication (which is the dimension of validity [diachronic, strategic communication]) and an orientation to truth disclosure (the dimension of meaning [synchronic, communicative action]) (Bernstein, 1995, p. 7).

    Habermas conceives of four types of validity claims:

    1. comprehensible - linguistically intelligible
    2. truth - of propositional content or existential presuppositions;
    3. truthfulness - honest or sincere; and
    4. rightness - appropriate in light of existing norms and values (1979, p. 3).

    See also, Ideal Speech Situation.


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