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

No comments:

Locations of visitors to this page