Monday, December 20, 2004

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

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