Friday, December 24, 2004

Heidegger and Critical theory

I came across a very interesting book on the subject by Prof. Dr. Hauke Brunkhorst It is called Adorno and Critical Theory

I will try to post a good review (if I can find one) and some comments on the book in the coming days. I have discovered Prof. Dr. Hauke Brunkhorst only recently but he seems to be someone with an insight.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Lifeworld/System distinction (1)

"On the basis of this theory of argumentation, Habermas develops the two-level approach of lifeworld and system.


The lifeworld, then, has a twofold meaning: on the one hand, the horizon-forming contexts of culture, society and personality within which communicative action takes place, and, on the other hand, the resources of possibilities from which participants in communicative action can transmit and renew cultural knowledge, establish solidarity and build social identity.


Habermas’s theory of social evolution takes an important turn when he argues that the action-oriented approach of the lifeworld cannot account for all the complexities of modern societies. The process of rationalization should be understood not only as a differentiation of the lifeworld as a symbolically reproduced communicative order, but also in terms of the ‘material substratum’ of society (Habermas, 1987a: 23S-82). This twofold perspective indicates that societies have to secure the transmission of cultural values, legitimate norms and socialization processes, and, in addition, they also have to efficiently manipulate and control their environment in terms of successful interventions. Habermas therefore supplements the perspective of the lifeworld with a systems theory, specifically paying attention to the economic and the political system (Habermas, 1987a: 338-43).

These systems have in the course of history split off, or ‘uncoupled’, from the lifeworld to function independently, no longer on the basis of communicative action aimed at understanding, but in terms of the functionality of the steering of media, money and power. Actions coordinated through these steering media relieve communicative action from difficulties in reaching consensus in complex societies characterized by a range of action alternatives and, therefore, a constant threat of dissent. Actions coordinated by the steering media of money and power differ from communicative action in that they aim at the successful (cognitive-instrumental) organization of the production and exchange of goods on the basis of monetary profit (economy) and the formation of government to reach binding decisions in terms of bureaucratic efficiency (politics).

Habermas does not conceive the ‘uncoupling’ of system and lifeworld as problematic in itself. The coordination of action in systems can best be secured by steering media because they manage to relieve communicative actions from the possibility of dissent, and they can do so with a high level of productivity and efficiency. However, systems also have the capacity to penetrate back into the lifeworld. Coordination mechanisms oriented to success thereby enter into the domains of the lifeworld (culture, society and personality) that should be secured through communicative action oriented to mutual understanding if they are to remain free from disturbances and crisis manifestations (Habermas, 1987a: 318-31). This process Habermas refers to as the colonization of the lifeworld: the communicative potentials aimed at understanding in the lifeworld are eroded in terms of the systemic imperatives of monetary and bureaucratic systems interventions."

Introduction: Law in Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action

continued from here

Lifeworld/System distinction in Habermas

"Habermas's system/lifeworld distinction ... has to be viewed as making possible a more complex interpretation of what Marx and Engels supposedly understood as the basic components of social labor. As Habermas remarks, system and lifeworld appear in Marx as "realm of necessity" and "realm of freedom"(Theory of Communicative Action 2:340).

Habermas's aim in further dividing system and lifeworld, the one into economy and state administration and the other into private and public spheres, is to provide for an understanding of advanced capitalism that takes into account the increasing complexities of welfare state democracies. Specifically, he wants to allow for examination of the crucial interchange between lifeworld (public and private) and system (economy and state administration). According to Habermas, the system/lifeworld interchange takes place in the media of money and power and is institutionalized in the social roles of employee, consumer, client of state bureaucracies, and citizen of the state. In reference to the consumer role, he describes private households as having been "converted over" to mass consumption, "redefined" as system environments, and made subject to the economic and administrative imperatives of the "monetary-bureaucratic complex."


"While Habermas is less explicit in his theory of communication action about the gendered identities and obligations attached to socialization processes, he continues to understand social evolution in terms of learning processes connected to interactive competences and moral-practical insight, and he still holds that socialization processes are centered in family institutions. In some respects, he views the nurturer/socialization role as even more important for modernity than it was for the earliest "human" societies. For example, he argues that in "premodern" lifeworlds, where there are underdeveloped personality systems, socialization is relatively unimportant. By contrast, in modern lifeworlds, strong personality systems are the key to the successful reproduction of the lifeworld, and the dominant reproduction process is socialization (140-41). Because Habermas understands socialization processes as crucial for sustaining and renewing the individual competences associated with strong personality systems, the "female" work of socialization not only does not lose its importance in modernity, but comes to dominate the overall process of reproducing the lifeworld."


". . .Habermas advocates a theory of socialization that can connect Freud with Mead, put more weight on structures of intersubjectivity, and replace "hypotheses about instinctual vicissitudes with assumptions about identity formation." He argues that the transformation of the bourgeois family should not be understood simply in functionalist terms, that is, as serving the interests of capital; it can also be understood in structural terms, that is, as providing for the development of egalitarian relations within the family, individuation in discursive practices, and liberalized childrearing (386 ff.). These developments do not, however, translate into questions of gender equality, as one might have thought. Rather the point of Habermas's discussion is to determine what the transformation of the bourgeois family means for understanding the new conditions of socialization."

"Habermas argues that there is a "growing autonomy" of the nuclear family because it is now cut off from the figure of the father that once represented societal repression and so brought system imperatives into the family context. He also regards the structural changes in the bourgeois family as representing the "inherent rationalization of the lifeworld" because, in the transformation from a family unit based on paternal authority to one providing for egalitarian relations, "some of the potential for rationality ingrained in communicative action is also released." It is apparently because the communicative infrastructure of familial lifeworlds gains a new independence that familial lifeworlds are able to understand economic and administrative imperatives as "coming at them from outside." In Habermas's view, this development means that socialization processes now take place in a "largely deinstitutionalized communicative action," that is, in communication structures "that have freed themselves from latent entanglements in systemic dependencies." He suggests that the increasing polarization between a communicatively structured lifeworld and the formally organized contexts of the system brings with it a "different type of danger" for socialization because, while the Oedipal problematic is no longer so significant, the adolescent's adjustment to adult social roles now becomes more complex and risky. The reason for this, he explains, is that the competences, motives and attitudes learned in the socialization processes of the familial lifeworld, that is, in a relatively independent communication infrastructure, are to some extent incompatible with the functional requirements of adult social roles (located in the system/lifeworld interchange). As a result, adolescent crises grow in significance (387-88)."

"... Habermas places a more explicit weight on the family as a site of freedom. Socialization processes are tied up with claims not only about the family's internal structures of communication, but also what those structures represent in and of themselves."

"In his discussion of the rationalization of the familial lifeworld, Habermas uses identical terms to those he uses in his more general characterization of the rationalization of the lifeworld. In each case, there is "growing autonomy" from the processes of material reproduction and a release of the "potential for communicative rationality ingrained in communicative action." The rationalization of the lifeworld would appear to involve not just one process, but rather two parallel processes, the one in the familial lifeworld sphere and the other in the lifeworld's public sphere. He remarks, for example, that "the inner logic of communicative action 'becomes practically true' in the deinstitutionalized forms of intercourse of the familial private sphere as well as in a public sphere stamped by the mass media" (403). There seems to be no retreat from the immediacy he assigns to family relations. Thus, even though he aims at a theory based on equality, and even though he admits that power and money still pervade the relations of the private household, his theory does not, and apparently cannot, provide for criticism of the power and economic relations of a gender-structured lifeworld."

Habermas on Social Labor and Communicative Action

Weak naturalism in Habermas' early writings

"Habermas's aim, in reconfiguring the concept of social labor as a nexus of rules of instrumental/strategic and communicative action, is to bring out what Marx and Engels meant by social labor, but the point of this exercise, in 1976, is to provide a framework for testing their claim that social labor distinguishes human and animal life. Referring to recent anthropological work on primates and hominids, he states that if social labor (understood as socially organized instrumental action) indicates the specifically human reproduction of life, we should not be able to find within hominization any evidence of the rules of instrumental and strategic action, nor of the rules of communicative action. But, once we examine hominization, he maintains, we find that those rules apply to both hominid and human life. He argues that the cooperative hunt introduced by the hominids was driven by instrumental action and sustained by social interaction, that hominid society fulfilled the conditions for an economic reproduction of life, and that their cooperative hunt was the first mode of production. He concludes that the concept of social labor, even when reformulated to represent Marx's and Engel's meaning, cannot help us understand the difference between human and animal life. How, then, he asks, are we to understand that difference? Habermas provides a clue as to how he will answer that question in his discussion of hominid society. His argument that the hominids fulfilled the conditions for an economic reproduction of life refers to the economic activities of the adult male hominids and is based on a prior exclusion, from the concept of social labor, of the economic activities of adult females (and children). According to Habermas, the "division of labor in the hominid groups presumably led to a development of two subsystems." The "adult males [came] together in egalitarian hunting bands and occupied, on the whole, a dominant position," whereas the "females...gathered fruit and lived together with their young, for whom they cared" (133-35)."


The social role system that eventually comes to integrate social labor in a human society is linguistically and culturally organized, requires highly competent individuals, and is crucially dependent on the transmission of competences from one generation to the next. From an evolutionary point of view, the males in the hunting band, on the threshold of becoming "human," needed controlled access to the female and child system to ensure not simply biological reproduction, but, more significantly, the symbolic reproduction associated with the linguistic and cultural bases of the social role system needed for the integration of the social labor in the (male) hunting band. This symbolic reproduction is the basis of the moral-practical insight that, according to Habermas, is just as important for social evolution and historical progress as the technical knowledge needed for production. He maintains that the specifically human mode of reproducing life cannot be adequately described without recognizing the familial principle of organization, alongside the system of social labor. He concludes that, production and socialization are "equally" important for a human species that reproduces itself through social labor and that depends for its social integration on the interactive competences of a social role system (136-38)."

Habermas on Social Labor and Communicative Action

Monday, December 13, 2004

Öffentlicher Raum und politische Öffentlichkeit

Habermas' Nov. 11th acceptance speech for the Kyoto Prize can be read in original German here

courtesy Jeremy J. Shapiro

naturalism in philosophy

Alex Rosenberg writes:

...we may characterize naturalism in philosophy as follows:

1. The repudiation of 'first philosophy'. Epistemology is not to be treated as a propaedeutic to the acquisition of further knowledge.

2. Scientism. The sciences-from physics to psychology and even occasionally sociology, their methods and findings - are to be the guide to epistemology and metaphysics. But the more well established the finding and method the greater the reliance philosophy may place on it. And physics embodies the most well established methods and findings.

3. Darwinism. To a large extent Darwinism theory is to be both the model of scientific theorizing and the guide to philosophical theory because it maximally combines relevance to human affairs and well foundedness.

Naturalism in the philosophy of science adds another element to this credo:

4. Progressivity. Arguments from the history of sociology of science to the non-rationality, or nor cumlativity, or non-progressive character of science, are all either unsound and/or invalid.

A Field Guide to Recent Species of Naturalism

Just a quick note with reference to Habermas:

Speaking very roughly I would say Habermas would accept the first proposition wholeheartedly as far as Epistemology is conceived as a project of first philosophy. He would probably also accept the 4th proposition with may be some rephrasing. However he would reject 2 & 3. He would say about (2) that it is not naturalism it is reductionism. Scientific method and Sciences are tiny part of "nature and knowledge about nature". As for (3) he would say what we need is to combine Kant and Darwin (see
Truth and Justification, introduction)

Professor Rosenberg's above paper can be downloaded from here

Also few other papers by Rosenberg are available for download from his site Alex Rosenberg

Also an interesting course on naturalism with links to some very interesting papers Naturalism Course Schedule

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Habermas on Quine

"Strong naturalism, whose paradigmatic representative has been W. V. Quine, allies itself with a scientific understanding of our cognitive abilities. All cognition is ultimately reducible to empirical processes. The transcendental architectonic drops out, as does the difference between the conditions of how world is constituted (or of world disclosure), which calls for conceptual analysis, on the one hand, and states of affairs and events in the world, which can be explained causally, on the other. If we repudiate the transcendental difference between the world and what is innerworldly, then we also get rid of the assumption that it is necessary for governing scepticism about a "world of appearances," which might represent a partial segment or a prospectively distorted view of a "world in itself." And as the methodological dualism of an interpretive reconstruction of our lifeworld, on the one hand, and the explanation of processes in the objective world, on the other, dissipates, so does the paradoxical task of somehow reconciling the "internal perspective" of transcendentally conceived practice of lifeworld with the "external perspective" of their causal genesis."

Truth and Justification p. 23

continued from here

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Quine and Habermas

I am planning to write a section on Quine and Habermas in my thesis. I have been thinking about it for some time now and have been reading a lot of Quine (a lot relative to my own standards!). Habermas has not written much on Quine however in his book Truth and Justification he has some discussion of Quine. He brings in Quine as a paradigm case of 'strong' naturalism in order to differentiate his own ‘weak naturalism’ from it [on the other hand he brings in Heidegger as a paradigm case of what I would call 'strong' idealism and again in order to differentiate his own version of anti-naturalism (i.e. why his naturalism is ‘weak’)from it].

Today I am going to put couple of quotes from Quine with brief comments just in order to show the direction of my thinking at this moment:

Qunie describes naturalism in these words:

...naturalism: abandonment of the goal of a first philosophy . . .
The naturalistic philosopher begins his reasoning within the inherited world theory as a going concern. He tentatively believes all of it, but believes also that some unidentified portions are wrong. He tries to improve, clarify, and understand the system from within. He is the busy sailor adrift on Neurath's boat.

Theories and Things p. 72

I will try to note as much similarities between Habermas and Quine as I can think of (or make up) as their differences are already very well known and somewhat overstated.

1) Habermas agrees with Quine on the need for the abandonment of first philosophy and as in Quine, in Habermas as well, it is the logical conclusion of a thoroughgoing naturalism.

2) Habermas would also agree with Quine that we must start with the given (although they would certainly disagree on the nature of this given). Furthermore Habermas shares Quine's 'tentative' (hypothetical) and fallibilistic attitude towards truth claims or theory construction.

3) Habermas would also agree with Quine that we do not have any Archimedean point available to us and we develop our theory or raise validity claims from "within" - the example of sailor and boat is also appropriate to describe Habermas' stance in this regard.

Having noted above points let us quote Quine a bit more:

[Naturalism] sees natural science as an inquiry into reality, fallible and corrigible but not answerable to any suprascientific tribunal, and not in need of any justification beyond observation and the hypothetico-deductive method.

Theories and Things p. 72

This clearly shows what separates Habermas from Quine is the latter's scientism. Importantly Quine contrasts his naturalism to 'suprascientific tribunal' while Habermas would contrast it with 'supernatural tribunal' which implies that for Habermas suprascientific is not supranatural.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Habermas’ weak naturalism

Habermas’ weak naturalism:

. . . “our” learning processes, that are possible within the framework of sociocultural forms of life, are in a sense simply the continuation of prior “evolutionary learning process” that in turn gave rise to our forms of life. For then the structures that form the transcendental conditions of possibility of our kinds of learning process themselves turn out to be the result of less complex, natural learning processes – and thereby themselves acquire a cognitive content. The “continuation” of learning process at a higher level, however must be understood in the sense of a “weak” naturalism that makes no reductionistic claims. A “strongly” naturalistic explanatory strategy aims to replace the conceptual analysis of practices of the lifeworld with a scientific neurological or biogenetic explanation of the achievements of the human brain. In contrast, weak naturalism contents itself with the basic background assumption with the basic background assumption that the biological endowment and the cultural way of life of Homo sapiens have a “natural” origin and can in principle be explained in terms of evolutionary theory.

Truth and Justification pp. 27-28

Few off the cuff remarks (need to edit and revise them later)

1)Habermas introduces his meta-theoretical assumption of ‘weak naturalism’ in the context of his attempt to preserve the distinction between “world” and “innerworldly” even after “detranscendentalisation” (i.e. thoroughgoing naturalism in the sense of soft naturalism).

2)The distinction between world and innerworldly requires some sort of distinction corresponding to Kant’s distinction between “transcendental” and “empirical”. However Habermas wants to do this without reverting back to Kant’s distinction between “pure intelligible” world and “empirical world”. Kant’s realm of pure intelligence has been detranscendentalised that is brought back to “this world”.

3)So Habermas aims at a thoroughgoing detranscendentalisation without however surrendering the Kantian distinction between “transcendental” and “empirical” which now takes the form of distinction between worldly and innerworldly.

4)At this point Habermas suggest that in order to preserve the Kantian distinction we do not need to abandon naturalism, what we need to get rid of is rather a representational model of knowledge.

5)It is here that Habermas introduces his “weak naturalism” as a meta-theoretical assumption.

6)The meta-theoretical assumption is not about the purported “conformity between mind-independent world and the structure of mind.” The problem of the conformity of the structure of mind with reality belongs to the representational model of knowledge and becomes irrelevant after a thoroughgoing detranscendentalisation.

7)What Habermas needs to assume is rather a general notion that both “world” and “mind” are natural (in the sense of soft naturalism).

8)However after above assumption he needs to show that mind’s spontaneity can be explained in naturalistic terms, that is without referring back to the Kantian distinction between intelligible and phenomenal world.

9)If he can show the above it will strengthen his initial assumption in turn.

10)Thus on the one hand (nature and culture) are continuous in the sense that both are to be ultimately explained in natural terms (in the sense of soft naturalism), however we also need to explain discontinuity between them, however without going back to the Kantian dichotomy. Habermas believes that in order to do that he only needs to make one assumption and that is his assumption of weak naturalism.

continued from here

Morality, Law and Deliberative Democracy

Morality, Law and Deliberative Democracy - An Enquiry Concerning Jürgen Habermas’ and Karl-Otto Apel’s Discursive Programs of Justification

It is my overall critical thesis that neither Habermas ́s programs, nor Apel ́s program succeed in fully overcoming the major immanent problems of the discourse ethics. The first major immanent problem consists of the fact that the discourse ethics on the one hand reduces practical validity to be the outcome of a purely formal procedure, but on the other hand strives to give substance (moral relevance) to this formal procedure. The second problem concerns how these few transcendental fundamental norms can play a significant role in regard to all the substantial norms that are not transcendentally justified.

A thesis on Habermas and Apel by Sigurd Lauridsen can be downloaded from here

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Heidegger and Habermas

An interesting article on Habermas Heidegger relation is available online Heidegger's Challenge and the Future of Critical Theory

The article seems to be a previous version of what finally appeared in Habermas: A Critical Reader Edited By: PETER DEWS as "Heidegger's Challenge and the Future of Critical Theory / Nikolas Kompridis." I have not checked it though.

There is an interesting discussion of this paper here and here

Earlier I had come across another interesting article on Heidegger's conception of freedom called Primordial freedom: The Authentic Truth of Dasein in Heidegger's 'Being and Time' from here. I have not thoroughly studied it yet but it might be very relevant to Habermas Heidegger debate.

Also see this article which has been very fruitful for my pursuit of Habermas Heidegger connections

Christopher McNicholls (1991) “Ontological Freedom as the essence of Dasein: Heidegger’s overcoming of Objectivism and Subjectivism” Gnosis; 3(4): 1-33.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Reason, Society and Religion

Reason, Society and Religion: Reflections on 11 September from a Habermasian Perspective

Andy Wallace
Department of Philosophy, California State University, Sonoma, CA, USA

I have two main objectives in this essay: (1) to situate the events of 11 September within the context of the impact of modernization on religious consciousness and institutions; and (2) to suggest, albeit without adequate empirical support, that militant Islamic opposition to the West in general and the United States in particular is itself an effect of the peculiar path of modernization that has unfolded in the Gulf region of the Middle East over the last 200 years. To develop my argument, I draw upon Habermas's theory of social evolution. Since this strategy requires explaining the key components of that theory, I devote a good part of the article to this task.

The paper has five parts. In parts one and two, I criticize competing explanations of the events of 11 September from left, right and center. All these positions fail in one way or another to take seriously the religious significance of those events. In part three, I explain the six central dimensions of Habermas's theory of social evolution: (1) communicative rationality; (2) communicative action; (3) life-world; (4) system; (5) social typology; and (6) the systemic colonization of the life-world. In part four, I examine the relation between religion and modernity. In part five, I examine the modernization processes in the Gulf region of the Middle East. Empirical evidence tentatively suggests that such a process has been one-dimensional, focusing on systemic complexity to the detriment of the communicative rationalization of the life-world. Such evidence also indicates the existence of widespread systemic colonization of the life-world. If the empirical data are correct, then we can explain the emergence of extreme militant Islamic fundamentalism as an effect of a retarded development of those socio-political structures necessary for the realization of communicative rationality.

Apparently it can be downloaded for free from here. At least I did.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Henrich's critique of Habermas

I need to consider Henrich's critique of Habermas in detail later but I want to make couple of brief points about Henrich's critique as presented by Peter Dews. Dews writes:

"Recently, however, Dieter Henrich has claimed that the naturalistic strain in Habermas's thought cannot be easily reconciled with his borrowings from the traditions of phenomenology and transcendental philosophy. Habermas claims that one of the tasks of contemporary philosophy is a hermeneutical exploration - from 'within', as it were - of the structures of meaning which constitute the lifeworld. But such a conception of shared meanings as constituting the 'condition of possibility' of experience, is hardly compatible with the efforts to achieve a naturalistic reduction of phenomena of meaning and consciousness which characterise analytical philosophy. On Henrich's view, analytical naturalism has at least the merit of presenting a coherent 'anti-metaphysics', whereas Habermas seems to be pulled in two directions at once."

Naturalism and Anti-naturalism in Habermas's Philosophy

Elsewhere Peter Dews writes:

"Henrich argued that Habermas' philosophy finds itself torn between the contradictory tendencies of naturalism and transcendentalism. Habermas' position, he claimed, is philosophically inconsistent, because - on the one hand - it presupposes a pragmatic and socio-scientific conception of language and communication, and - on the other hand - also draws on the tradition of transcendental phenomenology in its elaboration of the concept of lifeworld."

The Limits of Disenchantment Essays on Contemporary European Philosophy p. 160

I want to make two brief comments on the above passages:

1) Henrich considers Habermas' attempt to combine naturalism with transcendentalism a contradiction while I consider it an innovation and investigate logic of any such enquiry in my thesis.

2) It should be noted that when Henrich talks of "naturalism" or "analytical naturalism" what he means is "hard naturalism" and does not seem to have considered the difference between "hard naturalism" and "soft naturalism" we have mentioned earlier here. If this is true then it takes lot of sting out of Henrich's criticism at the outset.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Ein letzter Gruß

Ein letzter Gruß
Derridas klärende Wirkung

Jacques Derrida hat, wie nur noch Michel Foucault, den Geist einer ganzen Generation in Bewegung gesetzt. Er hält diese Generation bis heute in Atem. Aber anders als Foucault, obwohl ein politischer Denker wie dieser, hat Derrida die Impulse seiner Schüler in die Bahnen eines Exerzitiums gelenkt. Primär geht es ihm nicht um den Inhalt einer Lehre, nicht einmal um die Einübung in ein Vokabular, das einen neuen Blick auf die Welt erschließt. Darum geht es auch. Aber die Einübung in das mikrologische Lesen und das Auffinden von Spuren in Texten, die der Zeit stand gehalten haben, ist Selbstzweck. Wie Adornos Negative Dialektik, so ist auch Derridas Dekonstruktion wesentlich eine Praxis. Viele wussten von der schweren Krankheit, mit der Derrida souverän umging. Der Tod kam nicht unerwartet. Aber nun trifft er uns doch als ein plötzliches, ein voreiliges Ereignis - es reißt uns aus der Gewohnheit und dem Gleichmut des Alltags heraus. Gewiss wird der Denker, der seine ganze intellektuelle Energie an die inständige Lektüre großer Texte verausgabt und der den Vorrang der überlieferungsfähigen Schrift vor der Präsenz des gesprochenen Wortes gefeiert hat, in seinen eigenen Texten weiterleben. Aber jetzt wissen wir, dass uns Derridas Stimme und Derridas Gegenwart fehlen werden.

Seinen Lesern begegnet Derrida als ein Autor, der jeden Text solange gegen den Strich liest, bis er einen subversiven Sinn preisgibt. Unter seinem unnachgiebigem Blick zerfällt jeder Zusammenhang in Fragmente. Jeder vermeintlich feste Boden gerät ins Schwanken, verrät einen doppelten Boden. Die gewohnten Hierarchien, Ordnungen und Oppositionen eröffnen uns einen gegenläufigen Sinn. Die Welt, in der wir zuhause zu sein scheinen, ist unbewohnbar. Nicht von dieser Welt, bleiben wir Fremde unter Fremden. Zuletzt war die religiöse Botschaft kaum noch chiffriert.

Selten gibt es Texte, die den anonymen Lesern auch das Gesicht ihres Autors so deutlich zu enthüllen scheinen. Tatsächlich gehört Derrida aber zu den Autoren, die ihre Leser bei der ersten persönlichen Begegnung überraschen. Er war anders, als man erwartete - eine ungemein liebenswürdige, fast elegante, gewiss verletzbare und sensible, aber gewandte und, sobald er Vertrauen gefasst hatte, sympathisch offene, eine freundliche und zur Freundschaft bereite Person. Ich bin froh, dass Derrida wieder Vertrauen gefasst hat, als wir uns hier in der Nähe Chicagos, in Evanston, von wo aus ich ihm diesen letzten Gruß zuschicke, vor sechs Jahren wiedersahen.

Derrida ist Adorno nie begegnet. Aber bei der Verleihung des Adorno-Preises hat er in der Paulskirche eine Rede gehalten, die im Gestus des Denkens, bis in die geheimen Falten der romantischen Traummotive, Adornos eigenem Geist nicht hätte verwandter sein können. Die jüdischen Wurzeln sind das verbindende Element ihres Denkens. Gershom Scholem blieb für Adorno eine Herausforderung, Emmanuel Levinas ist für Derrida zu einem Lehrer geworden. Derridas Werk kann in Deutschland auch deshalb eine klärende Wirkung entfalten, weil es sich den späten Heidegger aneignet, ohne an den mosaischen Anfängen neuheidnisch Verrat zu üben.

Jürgen Habermas ist em. Professor für Philosophie an der Universität Frankfurt/M. und lehrt Philosophie an der Northwestern University in Evanston bei Chicago.

Ein letzter Gruß Derridas klärende Wirkung VON JÜRGEN HABERMAS

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Habermas and Schelling

"For the Kant of the Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787) nature is largely seen in the ‘formal’ sense: nature is that which is subject to necessary laws. These laws are accessible to us, Kant argues, because cognition depends on the subject bringing necessary forms of thought, the categories, to bear on what it perceives. The problem this leads to is how the subject could fit into a nature conceived of in deterministic terms, given that the subject's ability to know is dependent upon its ‘spontaneous’ self-caused ability to judge in terms of the categories. Kant's response to this dilemma is to split the ‘sensuous’ realm of nature as law-bound appearance from the ‘intelligible’ realm of the subject's cognitive and ethical self-determination. However, if the subject is part of nature there would seem to be no way of explaining how a nature which we can only know as deterministic can give rise to a subject which seems to transcend determinism in its knowing and in its ethical doings. Kant himself sought to bridge the realms of necessity and spontaneity in the Critique of Judgement (1790), by suggesting that nature itself could be seen in more than formal terms: it also produces self-determining organisms and can give rise to disinterested aesthetic pleasure in the subject that contemplates its forms. The essential problems remained, however, that 1) Kant gave no account of the genesis of the subject that transcends its status as a piece of determined nature, and 2) such an account would have to be able to bridge the divide between nature and freedom."

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling

Compare with Habermas' Ontological conception of Freedom: Some preliminary Reflections

"In the fullest statement of his identity philosophy, the unpublished 'Würzburg System'of 1804, Schelling equates natura naturans with the infinite self-affirmation of a pantheistically interpreted God, while natura naturata is understood as the world of dependent - and thus transient - things. The characterisation of natura naturans as the spontaneous creative principle of the natural world has the consequences that even the most elementary forms of the material world conceal a core of self-relatedness, without which the emergence of organic life, and ultimately the conscious life of humanity, would remain inexplicable . . . Habermas would presumably reject such assertions as extravagant speculation, yet . . . even he must admit that, in the final analysis, we cannot rest content with understanding nature in terms of physicalistic world-view inspired by the natural sciences. If this is indeed the case, then the question is raised of whether it might not be legitimate at least to speculate about an alternative image of nature to that which predominates in our technological society, and about what its ethical consequences might be"

The Limits of Disenchantment Essays on Contemporary European Philosophy p. 161

Having Dews' above comments in mind let us consider Maeve Cooke's consideration of Habermas' thesis about "Weak naturalism". Cooke says that there are three possible ways in which to consider Habermas' "hypothesis":

"One possibility is that it should be understood as an empirically based, essentially fallible hypothesis about the natural history of human spices, and the socio-cultural forms that have emerged in connection with this; on such an interpretation, Habermas' meta-theoretical assumption would amount to a weak transcendental argument about a conformity between a mind-independent world and the structures of the human mind. A second possibility is that it is strong transcendental argument: the assumption in question would be seen as a metaphysically based, apriori assumption about the structure or shape of the world that reflects an apriori truth about the structures of the human mind-one that could not be disproved by empirical findings of any kind. A third possibility - not one mentioned explicitly by Habermas - is that it is a 'moderate' transcendental argument: the assumption about the structure of shape of the world that reflects a similar kind of assumption about the structures of human mind, whose claim to truth has to be subjected to critical scrutiny in essentially open-ended intersubjective process of rational evaluation; whereas empirical findings are always relevant in such argumentative processes, they lack the power to refute conclusively the metaphysically based claims under discussion"

Socio-Cultural Learning as a 'Transcendental Fact': Habermas's Postmetaphysical Perspective

[my comments to follow]

Monday, November 29, 2004

Naturalism and Anti-naturalism in Habermas's Philosophy

Naturalism and Anti-naturalism in Habermas's Philosophy
Peter Dews
Habermas's philosophical work has been shaped, all the way through, by the motif of the "desublimation of reason", a motif which derives from the Young Hegelians and from Marx. The suggestion is that the metaphysical tradition of Western thought has hypostatised an unchanging, ideal realm to which thought and action must conform, thereby inhibiting the possibility of human beings taking their destiny into their own hands. Since it is suspicious of the ideal, the project of the desublimation of reason involves an emphasis on our status as natural beings, and an attempt to provide a naturalistic genetic account of phenomena such as meaning, truth, and moral normativity.
Clearly, there are parallels between this notion of desublimation and a dominant strain within analytical philosophy in the twentieth century. Analytical philosophers, too, have been suspicious of the ambitions of traditional metaphysics and have - for the most part - sought to provide local explanations within the framework of a naturalistic world-view. It might be argued that these parallels are deceptive, since the pressure towards naturalism in analytical philosophy largely stems from the successes of the natural sciences. By contrast, in the case of continental philosophy naturalism has never been without powerful opposition, and is usually part of a specific political or moral project, one which is often suspicious of the epistemological hegemony of the natural sciences. It is arguable, nevertheless, that the predominant naturalism of the analytical tradition has helped to make some aspects of analytical philosophy congenial and useful for Habermas's enterprise.
Recently, however, Dieter Henrich has claimed that the naturalistic strain in Habermas's thought cannot be easily reconciled with his borrowings from the traditions of phenomenology and transcendental philosophy. Habermas claims that one of the tasks of contemporary philosophy is a hermeneutical exploration - from 'within', as it were - of the structures of meaning which constitute the lifeworld. But such a conception of shared meanings as constituting the 'condition of possibility' of experience, is hardly compatible with the efforts to achieve a naturalistic reduction of phenomena of meaning and consciousness which characterise analytical philosophy. On Henrich's view, analytical naturalism has at least the merit of presenting a coherent 'anti-metaphysics', whereas Habermas seems to be pulled in two directions at once.
Habermas has replied to this criticism, of course. He contends that we are not in fact faced with such a stark choice. Many of the most influential twentieth century philosophers have operated in an intermediate domain, developing concepts of language, or of the body, which bridge the gap between the naturalistic and the transcendental standpoints. It is Henrich who is trapped in an antiquated dualism. My paper will evaluate the arguments on each side of this debate. My suggestion will be that the conflict between naturalism and anti-naturalism cannot be overcome as easily as Habermas supposes. If this is the case, then there will also be consequences for our understanding of the relation between analytical and continental philosophy.

Naturalism and Anti-naturalism in Habermas's Philosophy

"[Even after the detranscendentalisation of the knowing and acting subject] the problem of naturalism does not simply vanish into thin air. It merely arises in another way for those theories that do indeed being with questions posed transcendentally, yet do not get stuck cutting the intelligible off from the phenomenal once for all. These theories must find answer to the question of how Kant can be reconciled with Darwin. It seems to me that it has been clear since Marx that the normative content of modernity can be taken up and preserved even and especially under materialistic premises. "Nature in itself" does not coincide with objectivated nature. What Marx has in mind is the emergence in natural history of the sociocultural form of life Homo sapiens, which goes beyond physcially objectified natura naturata
to conceptually include, as it were, a piece of natura naturans
. A naturalism of this sort need not be accompanied by an objectivistic self description of culture, society, and the individual."

Postmetaphysical Thinking Philosophical Essays p. 20


Related post 1: Habermas' naturalism/anti-naturalism

Related post 2: Habermas and Idealism

Related post 3: Habermas and Naturalism

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Habermas' naturalism/anti-naturalism

The issue of naturalism/anti-naturalism of Habermas can be dealt with from three different angles. In what follows I shall briefly explain these three different approaches and their interrelation:

a)Initially the issue of naturalism/anti-naturalism was raised by environmentalists within Critical theory tradition (mainly by followers of Marcuse such as Hans Joans and minor figures such as Joel Whitebook. In English speaking world Peter Dews has consistently followed this line of argument). Here the debate focused on the concept of “nature” in Habermas. The critique/questioning concentrated on Habermas’ presumed privileging of human beings over nature. Thus the object of questioning in this line of critique has been Habermas’ alleged “anthropocentricism” and his “humanism”. This kind of thinking focuses on Habermas’ early take on Schelling and urges him to expand his conception of “nature” in such a way that it can be rendered sensitive to new environmental ethos.

b)While the first line of critique questions Habermas’ alleged anti-naturalism the second kind of critique questions his alleged naturalism. The second line of critique focuses on the ‘mind’ ‘body’ problem. Habermas’ so-called weak naturalism has been the object of speculations in this context. Habermas’ critique of ‘subject’ and his proposal for the detranscendnetalisation of the subject have been interpreted as drift towards ‘naturalism’. Dieter Henrich is a key figure in this debate. His allies in English speaking world in this context are Peter Dews (somewhat surprisingly given his position in a) and Dieter Freundlieb among others.

c)There is a third consideration which has been absent from the discussion to this day. The position can be best understood as classifying naturalism into ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ naturalism.Soft naturalism can be understood in contrast with supernaturalism, while hard naturalism should be understood as a position within ‘soft naturalism’ which tries to explain all natural phenomena including human mind and subjectivity in physicalistic terms. Thus there can be a a naturalist position in the first sense (soft naturalism) which is not necessarily naturalist in the second sense (hard naturalism) [I have taken the distinction between 'soft' and 'hard' naturalism from Frederick A. Olafson's excellent short study Naturalism and the Human Condition: Against Scientism

As a thinker of the stature of master thinkers Habermas focuses mainly on the question of ‘soft naturalism’ and its compatibility with certain idealist/anti naturalist assumptions about subject and reason.

If we approach the issue from third angle, the first two approaches can be reformulated in a way in which they do not necessarily remain exclusive approaches. It may be the case that Habermas is anti-naturalist and naturalist at the same time and this would require a total reconfiguration of debates in a and b.

"P.Dews correctly characterizes my account of the consistency of an uncommon combination as follows: "It is the combination of the anti-idealism with anti-scientism and a propensity toward naturalism which makes for the distinctiveness of Habermas' work. It marks him out as belonging to a sub-tradition which ultimately derives from the world of Hegel's left-wing followers during the 1830s and 40s""

Truth and Justification p. 296 n. 37

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Henrich after Habermas

On the Incompleteness of George Herbert Mead's Theory of the Social Self as an Account of Intersubjectivity: Re-reading Henrich after Habermas

New Habermas related titles

Two of the following are from Australian authors and are good:

Critical Theory After Habermas Encounters and Departures Edited by Dieter Freundlieb, Wayne Hudson and John Rundell

Mostly consists of already published papers in Critical Horizon but some have been revised for this edition with a noteworthy introduction.

Dieter Henrich and Contemporary Philosophy
The Return to Subjectivity Dieter Freundlieb

First book legnth lucid introduction to Henrich in English but half of it is really about Habermas Henrich debate. Shows the importance of Habermas for the contemporary philosophy.

Habermas, Nietzsche, and Critical Theory

Contains important article by Max Pensky and Habermas' "Nietzsche and Habermas's discourse of modernity -- Postscript from 1968 : on Nietzsche's theory of knowledge"

New Schelling

Contains an article by Habermas.

Friday, November 19, 2004

New search resource: Google Scholar

I just had a go at it, and it is amazing, much powerful than Philosopher index for example!

Google scholar

As Gary says it is destined to become a major academic resource.

Good thing for the final stages of my Ph.D:)

And now this as well, thanks to Thivai Abhor for the link.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Habermas and Blogs

Some thoughts on Habermas' theory of communicative action and its application to the phenomenon of blogging Blogs and Habermas Referrs to Understanding Weblogs: A communicative perspective and emergent democracy.

I have also come across a Habermasian blog today

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

One of the most interesting recent pieces on Habermas' changing views on justification and its need Farewell to Justification by Farid Abdel Nour

Farewell to Justification
Habermas, Human Rights, and Universalist Morality
Farid Abdel-Nour
Department of Political Science, San Diego State University, CA, USA

In his recent work, Jürgen Habermas signals the abandonment of his earlier claims to justify human rights and universalist morality. This paper explains the above shift, arguing that it is the inescapable result of his attempts in recent years to accommodate pluralism. The paper demonstrates how Habermas’s universal pragmatic justification of modern normative standards was inextricably tied to his consensus theory of validity. He was compelled by the structure of that argument to count on the current or future availability of a unified framework within which all can potentially articulate their needs and interests. With his abandonment of the justification Habermas has rid discourse theory of this controversial assumption. In weakening its defense of human rights and universalist morality against the charge of ethnocentrism, he has strengthened his theory’s foothold in the lived pluralist world.

Key Words: argumentation • ethnocentrism • Habermas • human rights • justification • legitimacy • pluralism • rational consensus • Rehg

Habermas and Idealism

Habermas continues to cleave to key idealist premises and presuppositions even after the linguistic turn and detranscendentalisation. Habermas holds fast to the fundamental idealist premise that empirical order and rational order are mutually exclusive. Habermas’ claims about the detranscendentalisation of the subject and reason, and his claim that reason is a ‘thing of this world,’ does not in any way mean that he has given up the fundamental idealist belief mentioned above. Rather what he does, in his own words, is to bring down the idealisation “from transcendental heaven to the earth of the lifeworld. The theory of communicative action detranscendentalizes the noumenal realm only to have the idealizing force of context transcending anticipation settle in the . . . heart of ordinary, everyday communicative practice.” (Between Facts and Norms p. 19). Habermas does not aim to abolish the noumenal realm; so much as to bring it back to the earth.

Hence Habermas does not abolish the realm of pure intelligibility- the realm of reason devoid of any empirical impurities. He detranscendentalises it, i.e. brings it back to the earth. However by effecting this relocation he does not aim to merge the empirical and the rational order. This is what he means when he talks about the tension between facts and ideals. Habermas wants to preserve the transcending power of reason even in the face of detranscendentalisation. The problem for him now becomes how to show that the transcending power of reason emerges from within a world that is empirical and contingent. Habermas dubs his strategy ‘transcendence from within and into this world.’ Now he has to show not only how ideality and factuality coexist in this world without merging into each other, but also how ideality emerges from within the contingent world in the first place.

related posts 1: transcendence-from-within.html

related posts 2: Validity claims, Unconditionality, Universality and Modernism in Habermas: A reappraisal

Habermas and Naturalism

One of the key features/characteristics of Habermas’ long oeuvre is his constant attempt to go beyond empiricism and idealism/ naturalism and anti-naturalism. Empiricism and Idealism as well as naturalism and anti-naturalism are to be taken in the broad sense of the terms.

Habermas’ purpose has always been to combine the ‘empirical’ and ‘transcendental’ in his constant effort to go beyond transcendence-less empiricism and highflying idealism. The project is in fact a continuation of Kant who was on of the first in modern philosophy to combine rationalism and empiricism through his transcendental/empirical project (hence transcending empiricism rationalism dichotomy). However Habermas wants to do this without reproducing the two-world dichotomy Kant ended up with. Kant, as Habermas reads him, on the one hand posited a world of pure intelligibility (the realm of necessity, transcendence and unconditionality) and on the other hand he posited a phenomenal world (the realm of contingency, natural and conditional). Habermas’ overall position is naturalist (as against Kant for example) in the sense that he wants to preserve the Kantian distinction between ‘empirical’ and ‘transcendental’ however without reproducing the two world dichotomy. In other words, Habermas wants to incorporate the Kantian distinction in an overall naturalistic picture of the world (in the broad sense of the word natural).

Habermas’ another great model is Marx in this respect. Marx on the one hand rejects idealism fiercely and ferociously and puts forward a position that is thoroughly materialist and naturalist. However Marx retains certain anti-naturalist premises of idealism, such as his notion of human action as a truly creative force rather than an adaptive mechanism. However Marx wants to reformulate these anti-naturalist premises within an overall naturalist and materialist position. Thus Marx tries to overcome the naturalist anti naturalist dichotomy within an overall naturalist position, so he wants to arrive at an overall naturalist position however the one which is compatible with certain idealist insights about the necessity of explaining the spontaneity of human action and rationality in non reductionist terms. Habermas agree with Marx in this aim however he does not think that Marx ever achieved his goal.

related posts

Habermas’ Between Facts and Norms:Legitimizing Power?

Habermas’ Between Facts and Norms:Legitimizing Power? by Abdollah Payrow Shabani

Related post 1: Transcendence from within

Related post 2: Between Facts and Norms

Monday, October 25, 2004

matthew piscioneri's recent Ph.D dissertation on Habermas

Matt's thesis is available here for download

Myth of Reason 1

Myth of Reason 2


In this thesis I explicate and assess the second phase of Jürgen
Habermas’s programme to reconstruct the normative conditions of possibility for
undertaking a critical theory of society. The publication, in 1981, of Habermas’s

The Theory of Communicative Action (Habermas, 1995) signals the transition from the first phase of his reconstruction of Critical Theory that commenced in the 1960s with his critical theory of cognitive interests to the second phase of his project. I include Habermas’s Between Facts and Norms (1996) in the second phase of his reconstructive programme for it represents, I contend, the third and completing volume of The Theory of Communicative Action.

I argue that an informed assessment of Habermas’s reconstruction of Critical Theory can only proceed once the domains of application for his project are clarified. I position Habermas’s project first within the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, and second, within the more general tradition of Western Marxism. Clarifying the socio-historical and discursive background to Habermas’s project also indicates the practical objectives of the second phase of his reconstructed Critical Theory.

For, in contrast to conventional Marxian approaches, I argue that Habermas intends his reconstructed Critical Theory to intervene practically at the site of discourse. I locate the critical practice of Habermas’s project in his response not only to
Max Horkheimer’s and Theodor Adorno’s critique of instrumental reason, but also to the re-emergent influence of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy, via the French post-structuralist school, in the West German discursive milieu during the 1970s and 1980s. My thesis is that the practical or applied moment of Habermas’s critical theory of communicative action is discernible in his undertaking to sustain the persuasive signifier of “reason” in the adversarial socio-philosophical discourse of modernity taking place in the West German polity of that period. His critical theory of society responds to the threat posed by these critiques of reason to the very fabric of the Occidental social order in general, and the continued viability of
the West German political, moral and cultural traditions, in particular.

Habermas’s strategy here, I suggest, indicates his normative appropriation of
Emile Durkheim’s theses on the integrating function of collective ideals in the
consolidation of a social order. In assessing Habermas’s project I argue that on a formal level his reconstruction of Critical Theory effectively theorizes a viable
space for a “positive” critical social theory that resists Horkheimer and Adorno’s
totalizing critique of instrumental reason. On the substantive level, however, I argue Habermas’s Critical Theory is an under compelling alternative to the critique of instrumental reason that Horkheimer and Adorno detail in their later Critical Theory. The strong thesis I develop in Chapter Seven is that Habermas’s project is unable to overcome convincingly the aporetic pathos of pessimism that is generated by Horkheimer and Adorno’s thesis on the dialectic of enlightenment. Furthermore, I
make the case that the social systems model of participation in the critical-emancipatory project Habermas outlines, especially in Between Facts and Norms, ironically risks generating its own aporetic pathos of pessimism.

His depiction of the near-inevitable contribution communicatively-empowered social movements make to the maintenance and reproduction of an existing social order, I suggest, compromises the emancipatory aspirations of these social movements. It is on this basis I conclude that the second phase of Habermas’s reconstruction of Critical Theory remains problematic.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Arguably one of the best reviews of Professor Matuštík's book.

Overcoming Emancipation

Gopal Balakrishnan on Martin Beck Matuštík, Jürgen Habermas: a Philosophical-Political Profile. Bends in the thought of Germany’s leading philosopher, and its engagement with history, across half a century.

"Confronted with current US assertions of America’s eternal supremacy, as the Pentagon gears up to seize Baghdad, Habermas has not been moved to revise his confidence in the West’s new mission civilisatrice. While expressing conventional European misgivings about the dangers of ‘unilateralism’, he has deplored Schroeder’s declaration that Germany would not join an invasion of Iraq, even were the Security Council to mandate one, as failing to display ‘unreserved respect for the authority of the UN’. The more loyal attitude of Foreign Minister Fischer—a favourite of both the State Department and the philosopher—was preferable. For Habermas, once again, the decisive question is the language to be used in justifying the latest state of exception, as if this is what determines the final architecture of world politics. Here is the distinction with which (in a recent Nation interview) he garlanded motives for the Balkan War:

In Continental Europe, proponents of intervention took pains to shore up rather weak arguments from international law by pointing out that the action was intended to promote what they saw as the transition from a soft international law toward a fully implemented human rights regime, whereas both US and British advocates remained in their tradition of liberal nationalism. They did not appeal to ‘principles’ of a future cosmopolitan order but were satisfied to enforce their demand for international recognition of what they perceived to be the universalistic force of their own national ‘values’.

The shell game of principles versus values defines the parameters of the only debate that the later Habermas considers worthwhile. Conversations with Rawls and Rorty—‘the heirs of Jefferson’—boil down to justifying the writ of liberal democracy in different idioms. Acknowledgment that ‘the idea of a just and peaceful cosmopolitan order lacks any historical and philosophical support’ does not deter Habermas from concluding that there is no alternative to striving for its realization, even if its military expressions, for all their good will, so far leave something to be desired. The suspicion that such wishful thinking might preclude historical and philosophical comprehension of the real world has been successfully kept at bay. Habermas recently wrote of Herbert Marcuse that he believed he had to introduce a vocabulary that could only open eyes clouded to realities that had grown invisible ‘by bathing apparently unfamiliar phenomena in a harsh counterlight’. But reconstructing this forgotten language, and learning how to speak it, is the sole vocation of a theory that is genuinely critical."

more here

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Transcendence from within

Transcendence from within

Please note that this is a work in progress. Later much improved versions of this article are available on request. I have kept the original (at points full of errors piece) in order to demonstrate the difficulties involved in grappling the issue at hand.

Related post 1: Habermas’ Between Facts and Norms:Legitimizing Power? by Abdollah Payrow Shabani

Related post 2: Transcendence from within

Related post 3: Between Facts and Norms

Generality, Rationality and Morality . . .

Thus rational argumentation in itself requires the possibility of detachment and reflection (which in a crucial sense requires the production of generality), however moral discourse requires generality more than other discourses because it requires agents to bracket their whole particular orientations and be open to the “other” and her perspective in her unique and irreplaceable otherness. This can not happen without the all inclusivity that involves generality. All rational argumentation requires bracketing particularity, but in moral argumentation this happens in a more radical and all pervasive ways. Moral argumentation like the truth claims and theoretical argumentation, it does not exclude any one in principle. This can in turn happen only to an extent that we are convinced that the particular value orientations and lifeworlds in which we are embedded do not play any essential direct role in regulating human relations as relations.

Decentration . . .

Decentration is a central concept in Habermas and is closely related to his concept of rationality and hence generality. Decentration consists in a possibility of detachment from the specificity and particularity in which individuals and communities are by definition embedded. Decentration can in fact be defined as the condition that makes possible for agents to detach from the specificity and particularity of their respective lifeworlds. This possibility imputes reflective character on the lifeworld concerned and gives it priority over other lifeworlds.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Particularity, generality and Rationality

Particularity and distrust of particularity is fundamental to the Enlightenment thought, at least for its mainstream strands. Utopian thought is so crucial for Enlightenment mainly because it transfers it beyond the particularity, beyond the present (which is by definition specific and particular).

Furthermore, freedom, especially negative conception of freedom, is the core concept of Enlightenment because freedom is nothing but the distrust of particularity.

The will to formality is a will not to be bound by any particularity.

Habermas, though thoroughly reconceptualizes the relation between particularity and generality in relation in positive terms, ultimately he still remains faithful to Enlightenment’s privileging of generality.

The role of a certain conception of generality and its relation to particularity and its bearing on the possibility of reflection is crucial to understanding Habermas’ conception of rationality. Strangely enough it remains an under-researched topic in Habermasiana. I am currently writing a short paper on the topic. Any suggestions, comments, collaborations are most welcome.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Habermas and Rawls

Habermas calls Rawls’ strategy that of avoidance (Habermas, 1998b: 99) and his own strategy a ‘straightforward Kantian strategy” (ibid.). Habermas is right to the extent that Rawls does not justify Liberal political conceptions with reference to Liberal comprehensive doctrines (at least not directly and exclusively). Rawls as we have seen tries to situate Liberal political conceptions in a wide variety of religious and philosophical comprehensive doctrines including the Liberal comprehensive doctrine. Obviously situating a conception and embedding it within a wider spectrum of possible reasons increases the probability of its truthfulness and not the other way round. Why does it bother Habermas then that Rawls’s strategy is not straightforward and is that of avoidance?

Perhaps Habermas thinks that by treating different comprehensive doctrines at par Rawls obliterates the distinction between different levels at which different comprehensive doctrines might be true or false. My impression is confirmed by Habermas’ insistence that “autonomy is not just one value alongside others” (Habermas, 1998b: 99) implying that Rawls does not treat autonomy as the prime value. This is strange given Rawls’ insistence on the priority of liberty or first principle of justice throughout. Habermas is right to the extent that in PL Rawls only endorses the political conception of autonomy and does not argue for the moral conception of autonomy (at least directly). However it should be kept in mind that the political conception of liberalism is treated by Rawls as intrinsically moral and it conditions each and every comprehensive doctrine from behind and establishes its reasonableness. In that sense political Liberalism indirectly maintains the priority of Liberal comprehensive doctrine at least by making all other comprehensive doctrines succumb to its core insight. So I do not think it is right to criticise Rawls for being neutral towards “practical reason” (Habermas, 1998b: 100). Rawls is not neutral towards the conception of “practical reason”, however he realises that today Kantian conceptions cannot be justified in straightforward terms.

The reason why Rawls finds it hard to defend Liberalism in a straightforward way lies in the distance that separates him from Kant and his times. Rawls implicitly realises that the belief in Enlightenment as a comprehensive doctrine has waned beyond any salvaging. When Rawls admits that reasonable pluralism is a fact of Liberal constitutional democracies he implicitly admits that constitutional democracy can only be defended in a roundabout way. It is impossible today to justify Liberalism on its own terms. It must take detours (long detours) to have a semblance of conviction (see Dombrowski, 2001: 3-11). I believe that this is what Rawls tries to do. However from a Ghazalian perspective Rawls’ strategy is very dangerous and effective. Rawls has the humbleness of a theorist and the cunningness of a strategist. He tries to turn the weakness of Liberalism into its strength. As we shall see on the theoretical level the strategy is contradictory and without any justification. However on the practical level it is very dangerous and can be very effective.

On the other hand Habermas still thinks that Enlightenment can be defended on its own terms. He claims that Enlightenment philosophers were unable to do this job adequately because they were caught in what Habermas calls the philosophy of consciousness and the philosophy of subject. In an amazing stroke of generalisation he punishes with this stick philosophers from Hegel to Foucault and beyond. Habermas believes that with his principle of intersubjectivity and linguistically mediated communication he can arrive at the universally valid principles of communication and rationality (Habermas, 1987).

According to Habermas’ straightforward Kantian strategy:

There seems to be no way around the explanation of the moral point of view in terms of a procedure that claims to be context independent. Such a procedure is by no means free of normative implications . . . for it is intertwined with a concept of autonomy that integrates “reason” and “free will;” to that extent it cannot be normatively neutral. Freedom in general consists in the capacity to choose in accordance with maxims; but autonomy is the self-binding of the will by maxims we adopt on the basis of insight. Because it is mediated by reason, autonomy is not just one value alongside others” (Habermas, 1998b: 99, emphases in original).

Habermas rightly differentiates between freedom as a capacity and autonomy. Freedom is a capacity to choose. However autonomy is a particular choice and as any meaningful and controversial choice needs to be defended and cannot be presumed. The claim that since autonomy is mediated by reason it cannot be just one value among others is a claim without any proof. Again consider the following claim “A procedure that operationalises the moral point of view of impartial judgment is neutral with respect to arbitrary constellations of values but not with respect to practical reason itself” (ibid; 100). This is typical Habermas. We ask whether the notion of ‘practical reason’ already contains the notion of autonomy (presuppose it) or not? If ‘practical reason’ implies the notion of autonomy then defending autonomy through practical reason is tautological. It is no defence at all. If however ‘practical reason’ does not contain (imply) the notion of autonomy then ‘practical reason’ must be neutral towards it as well. But if autonomy defines practical reason in the first place as it seems it does here, then defending autonomy on the basis of practical reason is obviously circular. It is due to these reasons that Rawls leaves aside the notion of practical reason and turns back to a much diluted notion of public reason. To be sure Rawls still defends the notion of autonomy but in a roundabout way, which at least indicates a realisation on his part of the difficulty of defending Enlightenment and Kantian notions under postmodern conditions.

Habermas does not seem to realise this. He thinks that he can defend Enlightenment in a straightforward Kantian way! This involves him in the sort of bogus argumentation I have mentioned above. As Cynthia Kaufman perceptively writes, “(t)he notion of the force of better argument must always rely on the interpretive framework out of which a person is operating and there is no way to bridge the gap separating different positions using nothing but argumentation” (Kaufman, 1999:357). Thus the cogency of Habermas’ argument depends on the ‘interpretive framework’, which is presupposed by his argument. This is how minimum neutral rationality works. Habermas assumes that the interpretive framework of Enlightenment is universal. However as many commentators have noted, Habermas has not demonstrated that the Enlightenment interpretative framework is a universal framework. Habermas’ argument for the rationalisation of lifeworld is based on the key notion of ‘decentration’, a term which he borrows from Piaget and applies to understanding society. Roughly speaking ‘decentration’ is an ‘ability’ through which a child begins to differentiate between himself and his surroundings. It happens when children grow up. It is the symbol of expansion of and maturation of a child. Habermas applies this to society. But even if we give Habermas all his moves (which is a very charitable act anyway), it does not prove anything. The fact that a society is more capable of learning and differentiating does not prove that it is normatively superior. It is a simple category mistake on the part of Habermas. As Kaufman again writes perceptively, “It is not clear why we should interpret the fact that people in the so called modern world have more of a tendency to separate themselves off from the world than members of some other cultures as a sign of progress, rather than as a sign of how our worldview organizes experience”(Kaufman, 1999: 358, cf. Rizvi, 2003a).

In sum Habermas as against Rawls does not really appreciate the odds which one faces today in defending Enlightenment on its own terms. This is the reason he is more straightforward than Rawls and more blunt. Thus what he says on religion is not much different from Rawls but much more bombastic and less effective (Habermas, 2003a: 6ff, cf. Habermas, 2002, also see comments on Rushdie in Habermas, 1998: 224).
Cynthia Kaufman (1999) “The Unforced Force of the More Familiar Argument: A Critique of Habermas' Theory of Communicative Rationality” Philosophy Today 43(4): 348-360.

Daniel A. Dombrowski (2001) Rawls and religion: the case for political liberalism Albany, N.Y. : State University of New York Press.

Jürgen Habermas (2002) “Das Bild von einer verstummten Gesellschaft passt nicht: Eindrücke von einer Reise nach Iran” [interview]. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung June 2002, English translation entitled “The Unrest is growing” is available at [ accessed May 9, 2003).

Jürgen Habermas (2003) “Letter to America” The Nation [, accessed May 5, 2003].

Jürgen Habermas (2003a) “Intolerance and Discrimination” International Journal of Constitutional Law, Volume 1, Issue 1, January 2003: 2-12.

Jürgen Habermas (1998) The inclusion of the other : studies in political theory ; edited by Ciaran Cronin and Pablo De Greif, Cambridge, Mass. : MIT PRess.

Jürgen Habermas (1998a) “Reconciliation through the public use of Reason” in Habermas, 1998: 47-73.

Jürgen Habermas (1998b) “Reasonable versus “True”, or the Morality of Worldviews” in Habermas, 1998: 75-101.

Jürgen Habermas (1987) The philosophical discourse of modernity : twelve lectures translated by Frederick Lawrence, Cambridge : Polity in association with Basil Blackwell.

Ali M Rizvi (2003a) “Reading Owen’s Between Reason and History, Habermas and the idea of Progress” (forthcoming).

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Habermas and the universality of Enlightenment (some crucial pointers)

"As is well know, Piaget distinguishes among stages of cognitive development that are characterized not in terms of new contents but in terms of structurally described levels of learning ability. It might be a matter of something similar in the case of the emergence of new structures of worldviews. The caesurae between the mythical, religious-metaphysical, an modern modes of thought are characterized by changes in the system of basic concepts. With the transition to a new stage the interpretations of the superseded stage are, no matter what their content, categorically devalued. It is not this or that reason, but the kind of reason, which is no longer convincing. It is not this or that reason, but the kind of reasons, which is no longer convincing. A devaluation of the explanatory and justificatory potentials of entire traditions took place in the great civilizations with the dissolution of mythological-narrative figures of thought, in the modern age with the dissolution of religious, cosmological, and metaphysical figures of thought. These devolutive shifts appear to be connected with the socio-evolutionary transitions to new levels of learning, with which the conditions of possible learning processes in the dimensions of objectivating thought, moral-practical insight, and aesthetic expressive capacity are altered."

"The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 1 : Reason and the Rationalization of Society, p. 68

Compare with the following:

"The religious forces of social integration grew weaker in the wake of a process of enlightenment that is just as little susceptible to being revoked as it was arbitrarily brought about in the first place. One of feature of this enlightenment is the irreversibility of learning processes, which is based on the fact that insights cannot be forgotten at will; they can only be repressed or corrected by better insights. Hence, enlightenment can only make good its deficits by radicalised enlightenment . . . ."

"The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, p. 84

And also note the following:

My thesis is] that anyone who has grown up in a reasonably functional family, who has formed his identity in relations of mutual recognition, who maintains himself in the network of reciprocal expectations and communicative action, cannot fail to have acquired moral intuitions of the kind articulated in propositions such as that of James.* The maxim asserts the reciprocal dependence of socialization and individuation, the interrelation between personal autonomy and social solidarity, that is part of the implicit knowledge of all communicatively acting subjects; it does not merely express a more or less subjective opinion concerning what some person believes is the good life. That proposition articulates an intuition we acquire in various different contexts on the condition that we grow up in surroundings that are not completely undermined by systematically distorted communication."

Justification and Application, p. 114

* The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual, the impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community - William James.


Note in the quote above the presupposition of functional family and also (and more importantly) note an illicit move from "individuation" to "personal autonomy." See further my post on Habermas on Rushdie and Fundamentalism


"I think the crucial point in this debate is whether we must take account of an asymmetry that arises between the interpretive capacities of different cultures in virtue of the fact that some have introduced "second-order concepts" whereas others have not. These second-order concepts fulfil necessary cognitive conditions for a culture's becoming self-reflective, that is, for its members' adopting a hypothetical stance toward their own traditions and on this basis grasping their own cultural relativity. This kind of decentered understanding of the world is characteristic of modern societies. What the argument is about, therefore, is whether such cognitive structures represent a threshold that demands similar processes of learning and adaptation of any culture that crosses it"

Justification and Application, p. 157

This is a crucial passage in understanding Habermas' whole argument about the superiority of modernity over all other systems of thought, so I shall buttress this by two concrete examples Habermas gives.


"Only once did I experience what you could call a barrier among the people I was talking to. A young mullah who graduated in Montreal had traveled from Qom, the old pilgrimage center where the central university for the Shiite clergy is based. He turned up for our meeting with a young son, three fellow-believers -- including one American -- and an interesting question. The latter related to my proposal to translate the semantic content of religious language into a philosophical, also secular language. He said this was all well and good, but would this not cast the world itself in a religious light?

The mild tone of our discussion took a turn when I asked him a question of my own. Why does Islam not rely solely on its own medium of the Word, why doesn't it abandon political means of coercion? The mild, ascetic guest opposite me replied quite brusquely to my request for a religious explanation. It was a moment when the veil appeared to lift for a second, revealing a dogmatic rock of granite. At the end of the discussion, after listening in silence to his pupil, the old ayatollah made an attempt at appeasement by giving me a book -- a textbook he had written that was translated into English by a Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts in the United States. I later discovered that it really does read like a medieval text."

Unrest is growing

And finally have a look at this:

“As the Rushdie case reminded us, a fundamentalism that leads to a practice of intolerance is incompatible with constitutional democracy. Such a practice is based on religious or historic-philosophical interruptions of the world that claim exclusiveness for a privileged way of life. Such a conceptions lack an awareness of the fallibility of their claims, as well as a respect for the “burden of reason” (Rawls). Of course, religious convictions and global interpretations of the world are not obliged to subscribe to the kind of fallibilism that currently accompanies hypothetical knowledge in the experimental sciences. But fundamentalist worldviews are dogmatic in a different sense: they leave no room for reflection on their relationship with the other worldviews with which they share the same universe of discourse and against whose competing validity claims they can advance their positions on the basis of reasons. They leave no room for “reasonable disagreement.”

Habermas on Rushdie and Fundamentalism

Freedom and bondage

"As historical beings we find ourselves always already in a linguistically structured life-world. In the forms of communication through which we reach an understanding with one another about something in the world and about ourselves, we encounter a transcending power. Language is not a kind of private property: no one possesses exclusive rights over the common medium of those communicative practices we share intersubjectively. No single participant can control the structure, or even the course, of processes of reaching understanding and self-understanding. How speakers and hearers make use of their communicative freedom to take yes or no position is not a matter of their discretion. For they are free only in virtue of the binding force of the justifiable claims they raise toward one another. The logs of language embodies the power of the intersubjective, which precedes and grounds the subjectivity of speakers."

Jurgen Habermas, "The Moral and the Ethical: A reconsideration of the issue of the Priority of the Right over the Good""Pragmatism, Critique, Judgment:Essays for Richard J. Bernstein pp. 38-39

Monday, October 04, 2004

"Flirting with fascism - or 'flirting' with Habermas?"

"At the beginning of September, Sloterdijk published an extraordinary letter (Die Zeit, 2 September) accusing Habermas of agitating against him. The tone of the letter is petulant: `you have talked about me with numerous people, never with me.' It appears that Habermas - who has not published anything on this affair - did, however, write letters and make phone calls to criticize the Elmau address. Sloterdijk also accuses him of sending copies of the text to ex-students working in the press, marked with instructions on how to misinterpret it. All of this is summed up in the claim that Habermas `objectifies' Sloterdijk. Habermas's criticisms position Sloterdijk `as a mechanism, not as a person'. This makes Sloterdijk feel free to vent his own spleen: `You belong to the inhuman heirs of the ideology critique style of thought.... You are, in this, only an average supporter of a problematic habit that one once glossed over with the honorary office of critique.' All very entertaining. The letter rises to its hyperbolic finale in which - on the grounds that Habermas chose to discuss his speech among colleagues and not directly with him - Sloterdijk accuses Habermas of performatively contradicting the premisses of his own discourse theory. If Habermas (of all people) achieves his polemical goals in such an underhand fashion, then what remains of the inheritance of the tradition of Frankfurt Critical Theory. Not much, says Sloterdijk.

Critical theory is, on this Second of September, dead. She was long since bedridden, the sullen old woman, now she has passed away completely. We will gather at the grave of an epoch, to take stock, but also to think of the end of an hypocrisy. Thinking means thanking, said Heidegger. I say, rather, thinking means to heave a sigh of relief. (Die Zeit, 9 September)

Even if we take Sloterdijk's letter seriously, it is still a source of surprise that the author of The Critique of Cynical Reason is overcome in the face of the outrage his own provocation has caused. Manfred Frank (Die Zeit, 23 September), himself no fan of Habermas, dismisses Sloterdijk's claims as a `pointless flirtation with embarrassing material'. Ernst Tugendhat, in his contribution, says Sloterdijk's claims are `rubbish', asking `what have things come to when critique must always first obtain the consent of the author?' If significance is to be granted this exchange then perhaps it could be found in elaboration of Sloterdijk's failure to live up to his own call for bold, kynikal, provocation ?" ["more here"

Saturday, October 02, 2004

". . . empirical, evaluative, and moral statements differ in terms of the category of reasons that are in each case appropriate for justifying the statements in question. And the type of reasons differentiates the sense of validity of the corresponding utterances, that is, their illocutionary meaning"

"Truth and Justification, p. 320

The category of reason is defined by the type of 'evidence.'?
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